My Workshop is Kind of Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears

ocsWhen I first got my teaching assignment for this year, I was a little overwhelmed, although I probably shouldn’t have been:  I chose to have three preps. Yes, I chose three preps. Crazy, right?

I’ve never had the exact same assignment two years in a row, which definitely has its pros and cons. (I was recently diagnosed with ADHD–at 48–I know, right?–so the changes have worked pretty well for me.) I don’t mind the planning. I don’t mind the difference in student maturity. I do mind not feeling like I’ve ever done anything really really well.

It’s not like you can get everything perfect in every lesson in every class throughout a whole year. So I keep notes of what worked and what didn’t, and I make plans to bend and stretch, tweak and toss things the following year. I am rarely satisfied and always looking for improvement  I’ve just never had the chance to practice my new and improved plans.

Until now.

But it’s not what you are thinking.

It’s a bit daring, and I appreciate my administrators for trusting that it will work, but I am teaching all three of my preps the same lessons in the same way–almost every day. My Pre-AP English I class gets the same instruction and the same assignments as my Pre-AP English 2 classes and my AP Language and Comp classes. See, I have my own built in vertical alignment, and I can teach the same skills–sometimes a little slower, and usually with a different expected outcome–to all of my students at all three levels.

“What about the differences in the standards?” you might say.

Well, look at them. They really aren’t that different. The real differences are in the depth and the complexity of how our students show us mastery of a skill. Reading and writing is still reading and writing at any level, advanced or otherwise.

Mine is a readers/writers workshop, and students lead with choice. They choose what they want to read, and they choose what they want to write about in their assignments. I facilitate discussions around mentor texts, and they model the professionals in their writing. I talk about books that beg to be read, and they open the pages and read them.

Take for example their first major writing assignment. We’ve been studying narrative. (Please do not say, “But there is no longer a literary essay on the STAAR test.” Yes, I know.) Think about the power of story. It’s the thread that wraps us all together, the binding that prevents our civility from turning to chaos. And, oh, the relationship builder our stories become as we share our souls in our learning community! We learn to relate and empathize with people who might be vastly different than we are. We grow as individuals and as peers. Not to mention the feelings of accomplishment students have when they produce a piece from the heart and are successful at it at the beginning of the year. Every literary device we want students to know, understand, and use can be modeled in narrative mentors. Every literary device we want students to be able to produce and analyze for AP English exams can be taught in a narrative unit. Why would we jump right into rhetorical or literary analysis, when we can get so much growth from passionate personal essays?

I know it’s early in the year, and I haven’t been trying this approach out for too long. I get that my high hopes might deflate and plop right on my desktop. But right now, my students are engaged. They are reaching to meet my expectations. They are thinking. And that’s what I really want.

If I can get my students to think–well, that is my personal definition of rigor. And isn’t that what an advanced class is supposed to be?

So about practicing and improving my plans? This year I get to do that every single day while the learning is happening instead of my reflection afterward. It’s kind of like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, except better. My students get to taste a rich and authentic approach to learning, and I get to differentiate depending on their individual needs: too hot or too cold until I get it just right. by Harry Webb

I spoke to a good friend this morning. She, too, has three preps, and she’s trying to streamline. She and I share the same perfectionist tendencies, and planning and planning and planning to come up with the “just right” instruction for all three levels is exhausting. There has to be a better way.

I’m pretty sure I’ve found it.

What do you think of using the readers/writers workshop model to teach all levels the same skills in the same way at pretty much the same pace?


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4 thoughts on “My Workshop is Kind of Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears

  1. Lisa Kenny October 12, 2013 at 8:46 am Reply

    Amy- awesome post! You are an inspiration! I’m so glad I met you this summer at UNH and good luck on your book!


  2. Erika B. October 5, 2013 at 10:43 am Reply

    I just reread this post, for the third time, within a week. I am in awe of how ‘on target’ you are (pun intended) with your humorous info-graphic, analysis, and ideals on streamlining. I was recently meeting (with my trusting principal) and discussing ‘what I’m up to’ this year and found myself explaining, rather than defending, this new way of being…I mean educating. 😉 It really is a beautiful thing.


  3. amyrasmussen September 30, 2013 at 9:19 pm Reply

    Mindy, come visit! Where are you? What age students? How can I help?


  4. Mindy September 30, 2013 at 6:40 pm Reply

    I wish I could see how your classroom works. No one in my class wants to read at ALL!!! It is so frustrating.


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