Friday, October 23, 2015

The Anatomy of a Workshop Model

When I envision a reading/writing workshop model, I see a lot of moving parts, parts that are predictable, sequential, seamless and flowing.   The pieces of a workshop model in either reading or writing share the same major components. They are:

  • The Mini Lesson
  • Independent Reading or Writing Time
  • Individual or Small Group Conferring
  • Sharing and Closure

I try, and I use this term very loosely because success with this is tough, really tough!  However, when I plan out my workshops I truly aim to keep a  20-70-10 percent ratio in mind.  Namely, 20% of the time for the mini-lesson, 70% of the time for independent work/conferring and 10% for sharing and closure.  This is much easier to do with a 60 minute class, the shorter the class, the greater the challenge.

The Mini-Lesson
The mini lesson is the foundation of the workshop model.  My greatest challenge remains in keeping the lesson short, concise, and to the point so that kids quickly get to the heart of the workshop and spend their time reading or writing and I spend my time conferring.  It's a great goal, but in a 40-50 minute class those 8-10 minutes fly!  Yet, I still remain optimistic that one day it will be short, and it will be good!

Independent Reading or Writing Time and Conferring
In her book, The Art of Teaching Reading, Lucy Calkins stated, "We can't learn to swim without swimming, to write without writing, to sing without singing or to read without reading."

The heart of workshop is when kids are engrossed in reading and writing.  Independent reading and writing time for kids is just that, it's kids reading and writing.  During this time teachers confer with individuals and/or small groups.  Reteaching, coaching, encouraging, and even prodding kids along is the bulk of a teacher's workshop.  A time when we watch kids set and achieve goals, master new skills, and practice others.

Sharing, to be honest, is the part of workshop that gets the most neglected in my classes.  Although I know how important it is, how much it means to kids, how much it lets me see their growth over time, time is the culprit.  I've promised myself that we'll start sharing earlier, we'll make sure everyone has a chance to share in some way with a partner, a team, whole class, something! Some days it works, others it doesn't, but it doesn't mean I don't keep trying, it's a goal, I'm working on the strategies to achieve it!

What does your workshop look like?  What are your successes?  What personal goals have you set for yourself?  Keep at it, it will happen!  Some days will be better than others, but they'll all be worth it!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

What's your vision of a workshop?

What do you envision when you picture a workshop?  Is it a tool shed, your garage, a place for toy making? Or, is it like mine, a classroom filled with children involved in authentic reading and writing experiences?

I was first introduced to the "workshop model" almost 30 years ago through a graduate course at the University of New Hampshire.  UNH was lucky enough to have Donald Graves, one of the true, great pioneers of the writing workshop on its faculty.  I was fortunate to benefit from his tenure there, alas, my career with the workshop model was born.

Fast forward to the present, the workshop model continues to be the cornerstone of my teaching and literacy work with students and teachers.  From Don Graves and Nancy Atwell, to Lucy Calkins and the Teacher's College Reading and Writing Project, my belief in the workshop approach to instruction has continued to grow and gain momentum.

What does a workshop look like to me?  It's an approach to reading and writing instruction that provides authentic reading and writing experiences for all students.  The workshop allows students the time and opportunity to spend extended periods of time reading and writing in their classrooms.  The approach includes opportunities to talk about reading and writing and share experiences with literature. It is an approach that is rich with opportunity for students to develop into life-long, passionate readers and writers.

It's hard to choose what features are essential to my philosophy of the workshop model, but here are five I hold near and dear. (The order is purely alphabetical!)

  • CHALLENGE-Workshops need to be challenging and rigorous.  They need to adhere to high standards with crystal clear expectations and accomplishments.  Through a workshop, students need to feel the struggle to develop their self-confidence and self-esteem.
  • CHOICE-Choice about what books students will read, and what text they will write.
  • COMMUNITY-A classroom community that is supportive and rich with opportunity to learn and grow as readers and writers together.  A classroom environment filled with wonderful resources that engage students.
  • RESPONSIBILITY-Responsibility relies on the student and teacher to set clear expectations and goals for individual growth.  This includes assessing need and achievement while tracking progress along the way.
  • TIME-Time for students and teachers to read and write.  Time to interact with text, reading and writing with each other and independently. 

My vision of a workshop is a classroom that "buzzes" with the "hum" of readers and writers.  One that is joyfully filled with engaged students and teachers.  A classroom where growth is evident, sharing is expected, and the love of the written word  is fostered.  What's your vision?

Soon to come...component pieces of the workshop!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Be a Storyteller!

We're in the thick of our narrative units of study in writing here at EMES.  It is amazing to see our narrative writers at work and watch the learning progression grow all the way from our 4 year olds in PreK to our sixth grade students.

In her blog post this week, at Two Writing Teachers, Elizabeth Moore, stressed the importance of narrative writing.

 "Narrative is how human beings organize and make sense out of experiences — it’s not only a genre, it’s a way of thinking. It’s a tool that applies not only to writing, but to business, history, art, and nearly every aspect of social life. Not only do kids need narrative writing as a tool for the future, many kids need personal narrative now as a tool for organizing their experiences, and making sense out of the ups and downs of life as a kid."

This week I spent a bit of time with the PreK-4 year olds. The importance of oral storytelling as the first step to becoming writers was the intent of my very mini, mini-lesson for these mini people!  They were such a terrific audience when I told them my story, "The day we saw a BUNNY in a stroller!" Foremost, students love to hear stories, our stories, true stories.  If we share our stories with them, students very quickly have their own stories to tell.  The rehearsal of the spoken word is their foray into the world of a future writer. The 4 year olds immediately had their own stories to tell, it was amazing how many true bunny stories there were, and many others as well.  These little people were doing the first step in being narrative writers, telling their own stories.  

As I journey through our building, talking with students and teachers about narrative writing, I'm reminding them about telling their stories first, then writing them.  The telling, rehearsing and practicing is so important for narrative writing.  We can't forget it!.  I've told the bunny in the stroller story over and over again with different audiences, different approaches, different lengths and different details.  The one constantt is that it is a true, interesting story of my life, (or at least I think so!) one of many I'm willing to share so that my students can use it as an invitation to tell their own stories.  Tell them first, then write, write, write. Our lives are FULL of amazing stories, no two ever the same. What little life experience will you share today?  What story will you tell your students today?  What will they share in return?  I can't wait to hear!  

Friday, October 2, 2015

Our BEST teachers are all around us!

For the past five weeks I've been working with a group of 6th graders on narrative writing.  We've focused on the structure components of writing: organization, leads, transitions, and endings as well as development in elaboration and craft.

As this work evolved it became crystal clear that these students needed many examples of writing that they could emulate.  After looking at some mentor texts, we started using a protocol for sharing their writing.  It was a simple protocol, each student shared his/her piece, and everyone in the group gave feedback, both warm and cool. It wasn't okay to "pass" when it was your turn, and it wasn't okay to skip giving feedback either.

So, what did we consider warm and cool feedback? For my sixth graders "warm feedback" was complimentary, yet specific.  It was no longer okay for these kids to say, "I liked your writing."  They provided specific feedback, often using language from our writing checklists.  For example, "I like how you used a flashback to fill us in on what else we needed to know about your story."  Or, "When you started your piece with a feeling, it put me into your story.  The descriptive words like, startled and shocked help me understand."

"Cool feedback" was feedback that asked the writer to think more deeply about his/her writing and consider revision. Respecting the writer was a key factor in giving cool feedback.  Again, feedback was specific and aimed at helping rather then pointing out downfalls.  Students in the group became very thoughtful and specific, such as, "It would help me see your story if you could put in some more details about the setting."  Or, "I think the heart of your story was really when....maybe you could elaborate more there."

During the course of our work these students became their own best teachers.  With support and a bit of coaxing they became much more skilled at giving each other feedback.  They showed courage when it came to sharing work in progress, showed empathy toward each other, and realized along the way that taking risks as writers is part of the process.  They are their own best teachers, and I'm very proud of them!

PD Week of October 5-8

Oct. 5-9
KID TALK-Alicia will facilitate
Planning for Reteach Cycle #2
Please Bring
Any necessary student data.
*Reviewing dot placement on the new writing data wall.
*KC will share some resources from the TCRWP Reading Units of Study.  
  1. Building a Reading Life Progression
  2. Bands of Text Complexity Chart
  3. Bottom Lines-What to Look for in the Teaching of Reading Grades 3-8
*Reading focus:  We will revisit The Common Core Lesson Book K-5 by Gretchen Owocki and decide on next steps in regard to working with this text.
KID TALK-Will take place on October 14th at Staff meeting time!
Please Bring
The Common Core Lesson Book K-5 by Gretchen Owocki
PD Binder
*Review dot placement on the new writing data wall.
Reading focus
*KC will share some resources from the TCRWP Reading Units of Study.  
  1. Building a Reading Life Progression
  2. Bands of Text Complexity Chart
  3. Bottom Lines-What to Look for in the Teaching of Reading Grades 3-8

Look at the Calkins Reading Units of Study
Jennifer Serravallo The Reading Strategies Book-these have been ordered for you!
PD Binder
*Sharing of Lessons taught using The Reading Strategies Book Goal #13: Improving Writing About Reading
We will use the “Constructivist Protocol for Adult Work” (SRI book p. 90-91) for our discussion.  
Please Bring
The Reading Strategies Book
Any artifacts you would like to share from the strategy lesson you chose to teach.
KC will bring protocol info.
*We will use the “Consultancy Protocol” (SRI p. 33-34) for group discussion, strategizing, getting feedback, etc.
*What are your current needs in regard to technology at EMES-this will set the stage for next week’s work.
Please Bring
Bring an idea or a dilemma you are currently dealing with in regard to a student or class, lesson or unit.
KC will bring protocol info.