Establishing an authentic readers-writers workshop community isn’t easy for teachers or for students. Our discussions this week–on student and teacher buy-in and how to get students to thrive–have focused on helping both teachers and students to grasp the many moving parts of workshop. While they’re straightforward, these non-negotiables are unfortunately often ones that neither students nor teachers have experienced firsthand in a learning setting:
- A reading community filled with a diverse classroom library, frequent talk about books, and time to read
- A writing community centered on a writer’s notebook for play and practice, frequent revision, and constant talk about writing
- Choice in all matters–in what to read, how to read it, and at what pace, as well as about what to write, how to write it, and at what pace
- Choice for the teacher, too, in what units to design based on what all parties are interested and invested in
- Talk, talk talk: structured talk in the form of student-teacher and peer conferences; discussion about the day’s topics and mentor texts; and an atmosphere of frank honesty
It’s sometimes tough to fit all of those things in every day (or to conceive of how to plan for them) but when we can manage it, it pays off. Below is a reflection from Carleen–whose thought processes I wrote about here, too–that illustrates her journey from English disenchantment to workshop engagement. This reflection is from Carleen’s winter midterm, and helps reinforce the value of the non-negotiables of a strong readers-writers workshop.
In the past, I’ve always dreaded going to English class. It was always the same every year with grammar, vocabulary, reading classics that were really boring, and writing about subjects I could care less about. I especially disliked English last year because it was AP. That class always put me in a bad mood. Writing rhetorical analyses almost every day as well as working on the dreaded ORP, which consisted of reading a nonfiction book and writing 20 journal entries and an essay, almost killed me. That class kind of depressed me because I couldn’t understand any of it. … I just stopped caring about my assignments because I didn’t see a good end result. On the bright side, I got a 3 on the AP exam; however, my high school English experience was basically ruined because of that class.
This was a lot of pressure for you, Mrs. Karnes, because you had to deal with my bad experiences. Yet, you have made this class my favorite (out of all my high school classes) and made me actually enjoy English. This semester I actually feel like I’m learning and improving my writing skills, which I’ve always been self-conscious about. I have definitely been reading more and trying to challenge myself with reading books outside my comfort zone. You made me care about my work and in return I worked really hard on my projects and assignments.
I’ve grown more as a writer this year more than any other year. I looked back at my first one-pager, which was dreadful because my sentences were super choppy, and compared it to my recent writing. I found that over the course of the semester, I have become more confident in my writing and I started to really enjoy writing my fanfics. You gave us the freedom to choose what we write about, which helped my writing immensely because I CARED about the topic and I enjoyed doing it. I realize that I’m eventually going to write about things I don’t care about and I probably won’t enjoy doing it, however I have been looking at writing differently now. I don’t really see it as a chore. It’s just something that I do on a weekly basis and it’s become a habit. I no longer see writing in a negative way, which helped me grow as a student.
In the beginning of the year, when you told us that we had to read two hours every week, I got super excited. I was always looking for an excuse to read, which my parents restricted me from. You know I’ve been an avid reader since the beginning of the year and I probably have been reading the same amount since the beginning of the semester (which is to say A LOT); however, with your recommendations, I have read books that I thought I would never read. This class helped me expand my reading repertoire, and I’m really grateful for it. I’m always excited when I leave your “Karnes and Noble” with a new book.
Share your students’ stories of workshop success in the comments!
Tagged: Structures and Non-Negotiables