Sunday, March 2, 2014

Wonderings on Workshop

Like many other teachers, I continue to reflect on my reading and writing workshop, even after teaching for many years.  I sometimes wonder if I've "arrived" yet with the proper way of teaching using the workshop model.  I think about what else I need to do to ensure that my instruction and routines are truly preparing my students to be the lifelong readers I want them to be.  As a start, I know that my key components are in place:  
  • Mini lessons help to structure their focus for reading.  These lessons them to think purposefully about a new or revisited strategy to use in order to better comprehend their reading and think deeply about their characters, the plot, and the overall theme the author is trying to convey.  These lessons help us to gather as a community and discover aspects of language and texts.
  • Read Aloud gives me a wonderful opportunity to bond with students:  to think aloud, to question together, to share in emotions of characters, to practice strategies, to share fluent reading, to respond verbally and in writing.  
  • Independent reading is one of the most critical aspects of the workshop.  Voracious reading at school is what allows my students to see the incredible priority about what's important.  I almost look forward to the moment when my students groan after I announce that it's time to stop independent reading for the day.
  • Conferring is something I have grown to love doing with my fifth grade students.  When I confer, I give individual students my absolute attention.  For those few minutes, I am not addressing the whole class, but am giving them my full attention.  I think my students value this conferring time quite a lot, because together, we look into their reading lives a bit more deeply:  I can talk with them about their Language Arts binders, look at their reading history over the year, chat about the book they are currently reading, and set goals going forward.
  • Small guided group times prepare students to think about areas of focus or need.  I enjoy seeing students of similar needs working together and sharing about ways to comprehend text.
  • Share time is something I've been working on increasing in my workshop time.  It is undoubtedly the one thing I struggle to keep in place when time is an issue (and it is usually an issue every single day).  But, I know that this share time helps bring back a focus to our day, about what we've practiced or what reflections students have about a shared or independent text.  It truly helps us come full circle for the work we've done during the day.

So, if all these things are in place consistently for most days of my teaching, why do I still worry?  I think in part, it is because loving to read and being successful with a variety of texts over time is not an exact science.  I want them to love reading and become more and more passionate about it even when they leave my classroom and enter middle school.  I want them to be "book nerds" like me.  Why do I want this so much for them?  Some reasons are:
  • Reading truly enriches their lives.  
  • It helps them become critical thinkers.  
  • It opens up their worlds and their imaginations.  
  • Reading helps answer questions about life.  
  • Reading promotes imagination.  
  • It gives rest to the soul.  
  • The life lessons embedded in the books they read helps to prepare them for life.  
  • Reading gives perspective.  
  • Reading promotes empathy and hope, it provides comfort in sadness, celebrates with the reader in happiness.  
  • It is magical.

I suppose one of the best ways I can be sure that I am on the right track as a reading teacher is to observe how my students interact with me and with other students about the subject of reading on a daily basis.  I have several students who come up to me first thing in the morning to tell me they finished another book.  Or, students will tell me how many pages they read the night before.  Or they inform me that they cannot wait to read the next book in the series. They sometimes talk with their classmates and swap books.  I don't do "bell ringer" types of activities in the morning, but kids are often reading quietly when they get to their seats in the morning. 

By choice.  
On their own.  
Because, books are that good.

I suppose all of these things point to workshop doing what it is supposed to do:  help kids LOVE to read.  Their behaviors are evidence that it is working, indeed.


  1. You have all the elements of a successful reading workshop in place, especially the key: the whole point is to help kids foster a love of reading. Well done!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Tara. Teaching reading is an art, isn't it? Even after 20 years of teaching, I know that reading instruction is something we have to continue to revise and reflect upon each year. I think the reflection piece and the ability to observe my students and what they are showing me about their love of reading are two things for me to continue to practice.

  2. I just had Parent Teacher Conferences and one of the greatest compliments I have ever received in my life was a parent telling me that I had made their student a reader. I know that he was already a reader, he just hadn't been reading. I have students that are reading nightly and handing in written reflections about what they read, but I know they have not "become readers"; they are doing their homework and expected work. I recently got my hands on Donalyn MIller's (Book Whisperer) new book, Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer's Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits, in the hopes that that would have some insights into how to bring reading into these kids lives long after they have left my classroom. As a fifth grade teacher, I think I plant the seeds, the cultivation and fruition comes after they leave me.

    1. Thanks for your response, Chris. I love that one of your parents gave you that compliment, and I agree it is one of the best a parent could ever give us as a teacher! That is wonderful. I have read The Book Whisperer many times, and I just bought Reading in the Wild and started reading it yesterday! I, too, think that planting the seeds for loving to read is key, and I like how you said that the cultivation and fruition comes after they leave our classrooms. :)

  3. My post today is really similar to your thinking here! With all the other pressures we face, it's so important to remember what really matters: turning kids into real readers & writers.
    By the way, I'm so glad to see that you are slicing! When I taught Spanish, yours was always a classroom I loved coming into because it was always positive and welcoming. You're one of the teachers I wish I would have watched more closely back then, because you're the kind of teacher I hope to be now that I teach ELLs!

    1. Hi Jennifer! Thanks for commenting here! Thanks for your kind words; I really appreciate that; it means a lot to me. I'm glad you are doing the SOL challenge also. I'll look forward to reading your posts also. It's great to read so many others' thoughts about influencing kids to love reading and writing!