Middle School Microcourses

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Creating a Text-Based Culture
Introduction to Argument: Writing About Literature
Reading and Writing About Informational and Literary Nonfiction
Writing Across the Types: Narrative, Exposition, and Argument
Analysis, Explanation, and Argument: Reading Nonfiction Like a Detective
Reading and Writing About Poetry

Creating a Text-Based Culture

Students arrive in our classrooms as active and even avid users of language. But if they are to perform and thrive in academic and real-world settings, they must develop the stamina, tenacity, and habits of lifelong readers and writers. These foundational studies focus on creating the contexts and tools that make that learning possible. Topics include setting up literacy notebooks, establishing independent reading projects, and exposing students to the problem-solving strategies and practices of avid readers and published authors.
Grade 6Unit 1Introduction to the Reading Life
Unit 2Introduction to the Writing Life
Grade 7Unit 1Reading as Problem Solving
Unit 2Writers on Writing: Advice and Publication in the Writing Life
Grade 8Unit 1Vantage Points: A Reading Life Study
Unit 2Studying Craft: Apprenticeship and Independent Writing

Introduction to Argument: Writing About Literature

These grade-level introductory studies are specifically designed to provide students with in-depth orientations to the development of text-based arguments about literature. Students engage in carefully sequenced and integrated cycles of reading, rereading, writing, and discussion that culminate in formal, written arguments about engaging and important pieces of short fiction.
Grade 6Introduction to Interpretive Work (Bambara and Baxter)
Grade 7Introduction to Interpretive Work (Hughes and Jackson)
Grade 8Introduction to Interpretive Work (Updike and Rivera)

Reading and Writing About Informational and Literary Nonfiction

Each microcourse contains two units. In the first unit, students work with thematically linked pairs of complex informational texts to determine the central ideas and to analyze how they unfold over the course of a text. Students also work to describe and understand the language and methods writers employ to develop content. In the second unit, students work with complex literary nonfiction to build the skills and tenacity acquired only by encounters with difficult texts. In both units, students experience sequences of reading, writing, and discussion specifically designed to ensure support, engagement, and success in culminating writing tasks.
Grade 6Unit 1Story and The Brain
Unit 2Dealing With Difficulty (Doyle and Dickinson)
Grade 7Unit 1Texting and Language Change
Unit 2Dealing With Difficulty (cummings and Dillard)
Grade 8Unit 1Superstitions, Patterns, and Control
Unit 2Dealing With Difficulty (Reed and Thomas)

Writing Across the Types: Narrative, Exposition, and Argument

An individual is literate in proportion to his or her ability to do work with and across texts that grapple with big ideas. Each of these writing-intensive units is structured around a cluster of texts linked by theme or genre. Whether they are wrestling with questions about why fairy tales matter, exploring how other people’s stories and ways of storytelling can give shape to their own experiences of growing up, or investigating the impact of the ways in which essayists reveal or obscure themselves in a text, these multi-text studies invite students to participate in “conversations” with texts about ideas that matter. In addition to text-based argument tasks, students also take on significant narrative and informative/explanatory writing projects in each study.
Grade 6Reading and Writing Fairy Tales
Grade 7Growing Up: Essays and Stories
Grade 8Faces of the Essay: An Orientation to the Form

Analysis, Explanation, and Argument: Reading Nonfiction Like a Detective

It isn’t enough for students to merely comprehend informational texts. To navigate a world brimming with information and argument, students need critical instincts and know-how. These microcourses invite students to create “reading like a detective” theories that they test and refine through progressions of experiments in reading nonfiction. The key in all of this work is engagement: Detective fiction by Carl Hiaasen and Roald Dahl, reportage by award-winning writers including Michael Pollan and Jonathan Kozol, and cutting edge ideas about how our language and worldviews are shaped by metaphor—these texts and ideas ensure “reading below the surface” experiences for students that are, at once, empowering and illuminating.
Grade 6Reading Nonfiction Like a Detective
Grade 7Investigative Report Writing: Explanations and Arguments
Grade 8Metaphorically Speaking: Reading Nonfiction Like a Cognitive Linguist

Reading and Writing About Poetry

These grade-level microcourses center on clusters of poems written by poets from different times and traditions. The studies feature sequences of work designed to stimulate collaboration, while, at the same time apprenticing students to the close reading of poetry. In addition, students practice writing text-based arguments about literature and take on poetry writing tasks where they try writing poems like those written by the poets they study.
Grade 6How Poems Are Built
Grade 7Creating Characters in Poetry: A Study of Two Poets
Grade 8Poems as Puzzles: A Pair of Poets Study