Thursday, March 6, 2014

Two Essential Things

In Reading in the Wild, Donalyn Miller challenges teachers to think about what we consider to be critical components of the reading and writing block each day.  Certainly, in a workshop classroom, there are specific elements that are present (mini lesson, guided practice, read aloud, independent reading, conferring, small guided groups).  There are certain "non-negotiables" that we must establish for ourselves, or we will no doubt find that something will slip from our schedule once things get busy.  And, when are our days not busy? 

In thinking about this, two things really stand out for me lately in reflecting on the "must have" elements of my workshop time with students.  Even though all parts of workshop have a purpose, one "absolute" for me, like Miller, is independent reading, and the other is conferring.  These two pieces of reading/writing workshop speak to two slightly different, deeply-held convictions.  I admit:  A long time ago, as a new teacher, I would perhaps have seen independent reading as one of the things I may have let slip from the schedule if things got too chaotic in a given day.  Now, I feel very differently.  Planning for daily independent reading time for my students every single day (pending major interruptions, like an assembly or a field trip) says that I value the reading experience so much, that it must be part of our day. It says that I believe that benefits of independent reading will enhance a child's life going forward. Most students in my class do read at home, as it is part of my reading expectation for students, but I cannot guarantee that they are reading at home.  So, I must build in time with them at school for this essential part of reading workshop.  I agree with Donalyn when she asserts, "I never sacrifice independent reading time for the sake of other instructional activities.  Never (page 38)."

Conferring is another aspect of my workshop block that is becoming very meaningful to me (and for my students, also).  Conferring with students helps me to individualize instruction.  It allows me to build community with my students as individuals.  I love sitting with them, taking time to discuss a current book, goals to set, or evaluating them on a particular area of reading. It helps me to take the next step in processing something specific with them about their reading lives. When I first started conferring with students several years ago, the process seemed a bit stilted and methodical.  I was unsure of how to keep record of our conversation.  While I haven't mastered the one "best" way to track my observations in conferring yet (I change my anecdotal record-keeping each year, it seems), I feel the conversation flows much more easily now, because I know the focus of our conferences.  Students often request conferences as well, which shows their ability to know what they need the most support with at any given time in their reading or writing.

As Miller reflects, "I must find time for daily independent reading even if it means that I cut something else (page 38)."  Although all parts of the workshop model promote learning, independent reading is one of the most essential parts of my day.  I'm so excited to be on this journey with my students, helping them, supporting them, showing them, as best as I can, to see this reality in their reading lives each day.


  1. I totally agree with this - "I value the reading experience so much, that it must be part of our day" We should encourage this every day! Thank you for the insightful post about the workshop model and what is most important.

  2. Love, love, love this post. I recently overheard my principal tell a colleague that she was glad to see her using meaningful centers in her classroom instead of having the kids "just read." I'm already planning my "Why we just read in my room" post. :) Independent reading and time for conferring is so very important.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Julie. I cringed when I read above in your comment about centers versus "just reading." I can think of hardly anything more meaningful for students to do than read. It's just that important.

  3. I'm glad to read the post of another Donalyn Miller fan! The lessons I learned in The Book Whisperer made a huge impact on my classroom at the time, and now I get to share that with my new campus as a librarian--and they are having similar success. I'm about halfway through with Reading in the Wild. Thanks for sharing your insights!