The (Reading or Writing) Workshop Essentials

The (Reading or Writing) Workshop Essentials

Welcome back to our balanced literacy series! Today the focus is on the essentials of workshop model teaching.  This post is meant to build a collective understanding of the workshop model used for readers and writers workshop. If you haven’t read the first two posts of the series, take a minute right now to read about the framework and the components. Don’t forget to stop by every Tuesday to gain a better insight on using a balanced literacy framework within your classroom!

Workshop Shifts In Understandings

One of the major shifts in moving to a balanced literacy framework is the role the teacher plays and the role the student plays. The role of the teacher used to be to have all the knowledge and dispense that knowledge to students. The teacher was the expert in the room and the students trained to catch as much of that expert knowledge as they could. This is style of teaching is often referred to as a sage on the stage. If you were to peek into a classroom often we would see students sitting around a teacher probably at their desks and the teacher standing in front of the classroom for the majority of class time. The focus was on the teacher giving information to the students. This teaching style doesn’t match best practices anymore and it doesn’t work for developing 21st century learners.

In a workshop model the teacher is often seen sitting one on one with kids thinking about all that this child knows and pushing their thinking slightly further in one area or another. Think back to the zone of proximal development post. A teacher knows where each child is in the continuum of learning to read or write. She can then analyze student errors, miscues or self corrects (in reading) and then guide the child with teaching directly targeting a skill in their zone of proximal development. A teacher in this model is a guide on the side. Instead of having children spend the majority of their time listening to the teacher dispense knowledge they spend the majority of the time practicing skills that their teacher had taught them. In a workshop model the teacher only gives whole class direct instruction for 10 minutes. Then the role of the teacher shifts to coach as she walks around and guides each student individually or in small groups. 

This shift in how time is spent in the classroom allows students time to practice their craft. What good does it do if one day I teach you all the ways to decode multisyllabic words and then I give you 5 minutes to practice it at the end of class through a worksheet? It doesn’t help you at all. What if I teach you two ways to decode multisyllabic words and then give you 35 minutes to read a book and try it there? Not only letting you try it on your own but I spend a few minutes with you listening in and then coaching your specific need. That sounds like it is extremely beneficial for students. I can tell you from experience that it is. The workshop model allows students more time to practice skills through authentic situations. 

As I’m sure you’ve gathered differentiating using this model of teaching is extremely easy. First of all, each child will be reading or writing on their own at their own level. Then the teacher is pushing in and coaching 1:1 or in small groups to target the ZPD of each student. Each student is getting exactly what they need. It doesn’t matter if in your third grade class you have a child reading at a fourth grade level and one at a first. Both students are receiving the instruction they need to move forward as a reader.

The workshop model also promotes independent problem solving in students. The role of the teacher is not to provide right answers but to guide students to right answers.  Through workshop I teach my students many independent life skills. My little gems are taught how to staple in writer’s workshop. What do I do if my pencil breaks? What if I finish reading all of my books? These are situations where students traditionally might come and ask a teacher what they should do or sometimes as for permission to do things. In a balanced literacy framework a lot of responsibility falls on the students. This is a good thing! It helps to create independent thinkers. Kids in your class don’t need to ask you for permission to do everything. Supplies should be accessible to them. They should know how to problem solve on their own! We want our students to be independent thinkers and doers. Workshop helps to foster those skills.  

Structure

The workshop model is designed to use one hour of instructional time. This means that if you are teaching reading and writing workshop you would need two hours of time. Now, I don’t have this amount of time in my classroom and I only ever have had it once. At one school they had enough time in the schedule carved out to implement workshop with fidelity. I’m going to explain the ideal circumstances here and then let’s talk real world. 

Workshop begins with all students called to the gathering area for a mini-lesson. This means that you’ll want to create a gathering area in your classroom if you don’t have one there already. At my first grade gathering area kids sit at the carpet. When I taught third grade kids were allowed to drag chairs with them but they had to be sitting at the same level as their reading/writing partner. Teachers do this in different ways to meet the different needs of their students. I will say that kids should be gathered close and in one area. Kids sitting around the room at desks doesn’t create the atmosphere desired for workshop. 

Once the class has gathered the teacher begins a 10 minute mini-lesson. Here she goes through a format that is predictable to both the teacher and the students. During the mini-lesson a teacher has one teaching point. Only one! She models how to do the teaching point, she has students try out the methods on their own and then she says the magic words, “off you go!” Once these words are said all students get up off of the carpet and go off to work. There aren’t a million questions asked. The teacher doesn’t start giving a million reminders. It is quiet and calm as readers and writers go off to try new things and grow into even better readers and writers. 

After the words off you go,  I currently go off to read or write for the first three minutes myself. I started this practice when I was teaching third grade in the States.  I began one day sitting next to a reader who typically would try his best to avoid books during workshop. I say next to him for 5 minutes reading before going off to confer. In those five minutes he didn’t pick up a book but he watched me as a reader. He said things like, your face is smiling right now or why do you look confused? He started picking up on my facial expressions. When he tried to interrupt I simply stated, “I’m working on my reading right now and you should be too.” I started doing this again in my grade 1 writing classroom. I have some students who can come up with a million questions they want to ask right after I send them off. Now I get my writing folder and find a spot to write. During the three minutes I might move around the room, calming kids with my presence and encouraging that they write. If someone attempts to interrupt I calmly state, “I am working on my writing right now and you should be too.” Then once I go off to start conferring the kids are already working independently. 

After the magic words off you go, a teacher gets to work on meeting with students one on one or in small groups depending on student need. During this time the students are working independently. While conferring the teacher is studying the student and watching to find what they can do, what they are almost doing and what they can’t do yet. The teacher then makes a powerful choice and teaches the reader/writer one skill or strategy that fits within their zone of proximal development. The students continue working even if the teacher doesn’t meet with them. If they encounter a problem, they solve it on their own.  The students are trying out all of the various strategies that the teacher has taught. The teacher continues the important task of coaching in and guiding each student forward on their journey. 

After about 40-45 minutes work time it is time for share. Share is sometimes the most neglected piece of the workshop model but it is very important. The students gather again in the gathering area of the classroom. Sometimes they bring something with them as prompted by the teacher. The students then share out what they are trying, what they are succeeding in, and what they are struggling with. The community of readers or writers comes together to give advice, compliments and ask questions. The share is carefully planned by the teacher. Sometimes share might be a quick turn and talk. Share ties the lesson together and brings it to a close. During share the teacher will reference the teaching point again and now ask for student voices to share what happened when they tried things out. 

What do I need to Get Started?

Here’s a list of things you may want before diving into the workshop model. 

  • A gathering area within your classroom
  • An easel to hang things on
  • An organizational system for tracking student notes and records
  • Assessments of your students as readers and writers. Do you have a general idea of where kids are in your classroom? 
  • Books for kids to read during reader’s workshop and paper for them to write on during writer’s workshop
  • Start to look at your schedule and your language arts time blocks. Do you have 1 hour to carve out for reading and 1 hour for writing? If you don’t, do not panic. Next week we’ll be talking about scheduling and what to do if you don’t have the perfect amounts of time. 
  • Write all of your questions, comments, concerns in the comments of this post so I can help you out along this journey. 

What's Next?

We’re going to stay with workshop a while so we can really get into all of the pieces together. Hopefully you’re starting to feel like taking on workshop and balanced literacy won’t be such a large task. We’re going to break it down into manageable chunks. Start to shift around things in your classroom to prepare for workshop. Let me know all of your questions too so I can help you out.  

Each Tuesday a new post will appear giving you more insight into the life of a balanced literacy teacher! Next week our post will center around scheduling. Maybe you’re realizing that you don’t have enough time in the day for this, neither do I. We’ll talk all about what to do about this next week. 

 

Use the comments section to ask any lingering questions or leave any comments so I can better help you on this journey to implementing a balanced literacy framework within your classroom.

Books I Read This Week

Books I Read This Week

"When a teacher reads aloud, it is a bonding between the teacher, the children, the books, and the act of reading." -Lester Laminack

The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors

I saw so many teachers post about this story on Instagram and I wanted to read this tale so badly. Finally, one of my students checked it out from the library, came back and said I hd to read it to the whole class. I was so glad I did! 

This is the hilarious legend of how the game rock, paper, scissors came to be. The kids loved the story and the illustrations. It also helped us review our own rock, paper, scissors rules. Sometimes we just need a reminder that we shouldn’t be hitting each other super hard.

 

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Battle Bunny

I love this story. Birthday Bunny is the original title of this story but, as you can see, it has gone through a bit of editing. The story is no longer about a birthday bunny, oh, no, it is about a bunny that is ready to take over through battle. Will he be stopped? Will the other animals allow this?

Now, I will admit that it was a little tough to read with all the crossing outs and changing of words. Perhaps I should have reread it again closer to the day I read it aloud, but life doesn’t always work that way. I had to model rereading a lot with this one for both fluency and understanding. It’s always good to model these skills to young readers. No reader is a perfect reader.

 

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Owl Babies

This week we had a celebration of writing. We invited in parents and read them our published stories that we had worked on for so long. After our celebration so many of my little gems were feeling sad because they missed their moms and dads. What’s a teacher to do when the kids are feeling sad? Read to them, of course! 

Owl Babies is a great story about three baby owls. One night mom leaves and they worry that she might never get back. While one little owl just cries for mom the whole time, the other two show bravery and faith that mom will return. I don’t want to spoil the ending… but, guess who returns in the end? It’s a good tale to remember that moms and dads come back and even if you aren’t together now, you will be soon. 

Added Bonus: I had the British version of this text so every time I said Mommy I was told it was actually pronounced Mummy… oh kids!  I love how they pay attention to every detail. You can’t get away with anything!

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George and Martha One Fine Day

My first grade teacher Ms. Schultz read us George and Martha. Plus there was a mural of George and Martha on the public library walls. It was one of my favorites. While I was in the States over Winter Break I saw this book at Half Price Books and I just had to buy it. 

My kids absolutely loved it. They loved the way it told the story in five short parts. They loved George and they loved Martha. There is just something about these two. They may not be the most popular but they certainly stand the test of time. My little gems were so sad when the story ended that some of them decided to continue the story on their own.  Gosh! I just love when books inspire young minds. 

 

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This Is How We Do It

This year we started a cultural book project at our school. Click here to read more about it. This was a story that the grade 5 teacher shared with our class. This book is so cool and it afforded a really amazing opportunity for us to discuss our different cultures. This book tells a day in the life of seven different children all over the world. It talks about where they live, what they eat, what school looks like and so much more!

Our grade 5 friends created their own versions of this story about their own cultures. We got to hear about life all over the world and compare and contrast them to our own. It was really neat to see the kids comparing cultures. They came to their own conclusions that differences aren’t always bad; instead, they are interesting and they are what makes all of us unique. 

 

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My Current Teacher Read

Conferring with Readers

It had been a while since I had reread this goodie so I decided I needed to again. If you teach using the workshop model but haven’t read this, I highly recommend that you do. This text written by Jennifer Serravallo and Gravity Goldberg goes over the art of conferring. I love the structure of this book and the readability. 

I currently have two teachers in my classroom during reading that I am mentoring through conferring. While conferring comes naturally to some teachers for others it is a real struggle. This text lays out the path to conferring so beautifully. It is truly helping us take on conferring and helping us get over some of the hurdles that teachers face when switching up their practice. 

 

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A Cultural Book Project

A Cultural Book Project

The Problem

When I taught grade 3 in the States my students asked if they could take a look at our classroom library after seeing the hashtag #weneeddiversebooks. We dumped out all of our books on the floor and separated them into categories. Books with animals as the characters, books with white characters, books with black main characters and so on. The kids were horrified to realize that we had more books about animals than any minority. We had no books about Native Americans- a fact that crushed my student’s hearts. Educators all over should recognize this problem. We need diverse books in the classroom that reflect the backgrounds of students in the our classroom. As an International teacher the same problem persists. This time the cultures are different but there is a lack of representation within my classroom library. 

Why Representation Matters

Children learn about the world through literature. They learn about friendships through the ups and downs of their favorite characters. They learn about the lives of others when they pick up biographies. Children learn about families and love. They learn values like respect, compassion, and responsibility through books. Stories help children make meaning of the world. When students don’t see themselves represented in texts it doesn’t help them find their place in the world. When they continually see families, children, or friends that don’t reflect their own lives they begin to understand that they might not have a place in the world. They start to see themselves as different and other instead of the important members of society that they are. When we don’t expose our majority students to characters and people who are different from them we are also doing them a disservice. We are teaching them that everyone in the world is just like them. This doesn’t prepare them to function in a society with many cultures. 

Windows and Mirrors

I try to teach my students that books are a mirror, reflecting their own lives, and a window, giving them a peek into someone else’s. -Donalyn Miller

Mirrors

Mirrors offer the opportunity for a child to see themselves reflected through the plot and characters.

  • Kids who physically look like them
  • Families who are have a similar structure to their own
  • People who love the same way they do
The list can go on. Students should be able to find books within the classroom that reflect their own lifestyles and interests. They need to see these texts to find their place in the world. They need these to know that they belong, they are valued, they belong and they will do great things. 

Windows

Windows offer the opportunity for a child to see different lifestyles reflected through the plot and characters. 

  • Kids who look differently than they do
  • Families with different structures than their own
  • People who love differently than they do
Windows are equally as important as mirrors within the classroom. Children need to be able to pick up a book and learn that people are different than themselves. Differences do not divide people. People who are different than what we know are not bad or scary. They have lives that are similar to our own and differences should not set us apart.

Our Project

I’m currently teaching grade 1 in Poland. While we have different cultures reflected in our classroom than in the States, I believe that this project could be recreated anywhere. 

At the start of the year we invited parents to come into our classroom to share books about their culture in order to begin to grow the mirror books (and for some the windows) within our classroom. First we requested that parents find a book, preferably in English, that reflects some aspect of their culture. 

Culture is a loose term and it can be defined in many different ways. In the international setting it can also be a difficult thing to pin down. Many students have parents from different cultures and grow up living in cultures other than their own. Letting families identify their own culture is extremely important. Having parents select books about their culture also ensures that the text represents the culture accurately. As a teacher, choosing texts about cultures other than your own can be difficult. You might not pick up on inaccuracies or biases that present themselves in the text. 

We asked that parents bring two copies of their book if possible. One intended for our classroom library and one for our school library. Once families found their text they could sign up for a time slot through a Google Sheet. Parents listed the culture they would be representing and the topic they would be discussing. When families came they introduced their culture, shared their story, and answered any questions that students had. These presentations built up a community celebrating differences and working to understand each other.

We had families come in and share about sports, holidays, legends, and so many more interesting things. I shared a story about cheese because I am from Wisconsin and it is a big part of our lives! The stories are now kept in a special gold basket in our classroom. Here they can read their own story and many other stories to learn about each other. 

How to recreate this project

  1. Recognize the need to add more diverse texts to your classroom library.
  2. Create a block of time for parents to come in and share cultural stories with the class. We used social studies time once a week to do so. 
  3. Explain the project to parents. Instruct them to choose texts that represent their culture. These texts can be fiction or nonfiction about any aspect of their culture. 
  4. Have parents sign up for times to come in and read. 
  5. Parents will come in and read. Make sure that parents feel comfortable within your classroom. For some parents reading in front of kids can be intimidating. Help them feel welcome and at ease within the classroom. 
  6. Find a cool basket to put these books in. Kids in my classroom love going to the gold bin and choosing their book or someone else’s book and reading it together. 
This project helped to create such a strong culture of readers and a family like aspect to my classroom. Kids love when parents come in and share. They are so proud to share a little bit about their culture. Kids love to listen and learn about each other and it allows them windows and mirrors through stories.

If you try this project out in your classroom, please let me know! I would love to hear about it! 

9 Read Aloud Essentials

9 Read Aloud Essentials


“Smart readers ask themselves very effective questions as they read to reduce their uncertainty about what they are reading; they know when they are more or less on-track.” – Marie Clay

Read Aloud is an essential part of the school day. Students get to see and hear how a fluent reader make meanings of texts and they get to try it out in a highly supportive environment. 

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Let’s gather for read aloud!

  1. At least 20 minutes of your day- Developing readers need to see a proficient reader interact with text. It needs to be a routine part of the school day and it needs to be a significant amount of time if we expect students to grow as readers. When I taught 2nd grade I would usually read a picture book a day during read aloud and a chapter from the chapter book we were reading during snack. That means that by the end of the year my students had heard AT LEAST 200 stories read aloud to them. Mem Fox says that children need to hear a thousand stories before they can learn to read and it is no different with developing readers. As a third grade teacher I often read a chapter or two in our text during read aloud as well as a picture book during snack time. Children need to continue to hear stories and watch how they should interact within texts. No child is too old for read aloud. In fact, I used read aloud frequently when teaching middle school Spanish. Read aloud can be in any subject at any grade level.
  2. Has to be planned for and prepared- Read aloud is so much more than just sitting down with your students and sharing a text. It needs to be interactiveWinging read aloud shouldn’t be an option. When planning, I like to first sit down and read the book for my own enjoyment- even if I’ve already read it many times. Then I think about what I want my students to learn from this text. It could really be anything. It usually aligns with my current reading unit and is a lesson I will be teaching the students in the next few days. It could be a strategy you notice most students have been taught but aren’t using. Once I know what I want students to learn I plan crucial moments to model interacting with the text and places for students to interact with the text. I write down the exact questions or comments I will say and place them in the book at the exact places I would ask them. I also read it aloud to myself to see how the flow goes. You might find you planned too many stops in a short amount of time or you might find that you need to work on your fluency while reading. (It happens!) After that I can read to my students prepared with a focus in mind.
  3. Are Interactive! Students should be talk, talk, talking during read aloud. When we were in school teachers shushed kids who were talking when we were reading a story, now any child should interrupt the reading to make meaning of the text. We need to teach our students to interrupt a read aloud but once we do we need to let them build meaning themselves and help them build that meaning. The more kids talk during read aloud the more you know they are understanding the text and practicing vital skills you are teaching them. Have meaningful conversations based off of what you had planned. Let students ask questions to help build their meaning. LET THEM TALK!

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    Turn and Talk! Before you have students turn and talk they need to be taught who they turn with, what they do as a listener and what they do as a speaker. Once that has been taught turn and talk becomes a simple move to use during read aloud and at other points in the day.

  4. Log Your Read Alouds!  I am always telling my students to log their reading. This is a huge struggle for me as a teacher. I am constantly asking myself if it is worth it because students don’t see value in it. This year I have really been focusing on why my students log their reading and have even started my own personal reading log. If we want students to see value in logging their reading we should log our read alouds too! This year I stared by only logging our read alouds and not having students log their reading at all.  Once the kids saw the reasons we logged our reading they were literally begging to log their own reading.

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    This is our class reading log. When we finish a log we hang it up outside our classroom door. Everyone can see what we have read and can talk to the students about different texts.

  5. Read alouds = mentor texts-  Children need to be shown the connection between reading and writing time and time again. In writing I frequently pull out old read alouds and use the authors we know as our mentor authors. Students will also begin to notice author’s craft in read aloud and point to the different ways the author wrote the words or the way the illustrator drew the pictures. When students are using a beloved book as a mentor text they begin to take on the skills the author uses much faster. When you tell them what writers do that is one thing. When you can show them what their favorite writers do and that they can do the same thing it is so empowering. 
  6. Reread! So often I know teachers will read a book once and be done with it. As a reader myself I frequently revisit old texts and reread; children should have the same opportunity. A class favorite of mine has always been The Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco.  Each year I reread that story at least 10 times. Each time we reread we look through a different lens. The first time students read we often have a pretty surface level conversation with a few deep ideas sprinkled in. As we continue to reread a text students can have deeper thoughts. They already know the story now they can begin to ask big questions and really dive deep in their understanding. When I said earlier they should hear at least 200 stories, it might be the same stories over and over again.That’s ok! When we reread we also are modeling that rereading is an important skill. So often students think that if they read it once they are done. In fact, when we continue to reread we learn something new about ourselves and the world around us each time. Rereading is such an essential skill for readers.
  7. Great place to build conversational skills- During read aloud discussions students discover basic understandings about having a conversation with other people. We often talk about not speaking over someone, not raising hands, waiting for a pause or silence and then jumping in to the conversation. While all of this is happening students are beginning to understand how to communicate with others, a skill that will help them forever. Read Aloud can be a fantastic jumping off point for classroom conversations. 
  8. A time for high support modeling- I know I’ve said it a million times already in this post but it deserves its own number. If you are going to be asking your students to take on a new task in their own reading, it has to be modeled in read aloud first. Let me repeat that again! If you are going to be asking your students to take on a new task in their own reading, it has to be modeled in read aloud first. AND it has to be modeled several times. They need the opportunity to see a proficient reader try out a skill. During a read aloud you are the one with the text. You are the reader showing how to navigate a text. They are watching you and now is the time to show off skills that you want your students to be doing. Show them exactly what you want them to do. If you want kids to stop and jot and they aren’t show stop and jots during your read aloud. If you want kids to infer about characters show the exact steps you take as a reader to infer. Show them! Show them so when they get to try it on their own they already have an idea of what happens when you do it as a reader. 
  9. Go where your students lead you- After an entire blog post stressing the planning of read aloud… I have to say that we should go where our students lead us. At times I have had a phenomenal read aloud planned around noticing how characters respond to problems and then students really latch on to the theme of the story. I have a choice. Sometimes I redirect their attention to my goals and trick them into going along with what I have planned. Other times I let them latch on to theme (or whatever they are grasping) and plan to come back to the read aloud another time (maybe the next day) to engage them in the work I had planned. There are times I have to add in more turn and talks throughout a story because the room is bubbling with excitement. There are times when I eliminate a turn and talk and model it myself because I am noticing kids need more modeling this time and less talking. Remember we can plan lessons all we want HOWEVER if our lesson isn’t in the direction the kids are heading it might be best to put our lesson on the back burner and come back to it another time.

BONUS TIP!! It is also important the think back and reflect later on why the kids weren’t being led where we wanted to lead them. Did I not model things well enough? Was my wording confusing? Was I trying to model too many moves all at once? What could I do better next time? Even when I think read aloud goes really well I always can find one thing that I can tweak to make my teaching even stronger. Teaching is all about self-reflection. Make sure that you are reflecting after your read alouds to grow stronger as a teacher!

Action Steps:
Now that you have these essentials what are you going to change or add on to your read aloud? I recommend sitting down by yourself and planning a read aloud from start to finish this week. Think about what your students are working on as readers. Think about where they need to go next. How will read aloud help them get there? What specific teacher moves will you make during read aloud to help your students become stronger, more proficient readers?