There are many things that are frustrating about teaching in general, and teaching SENIORS. They are almost adults who think they are already adults, and say they want to be treated as such, but show that they want to be treated like a child for just a little while longer.
Me too, guys. Adulting is HARD.
This makes for quite a few venting sessions during our PLC time. A few days ago, a fellow teacher was venting about our Shakespeare unit. She and another colleague noticed that the feedback from walkthroughs seemed to be nudging us more toward skill teaching rather than teaching whole works, especially in Shakespeare. She then began to vent about college readiness. They will HAVE TO read whole works in college. If they’ve never read anything cover to cover, they will never survive in college!
Obviously I began to feel my Reading/Writing Workshop senses going off. They’re much like Spidey Senses, but possibly even more dangerous. These topics are often thin ice with teachers, and if you stomp too firmly into the conversation, you’ll break right through and be left to freeze on your own in the frigid pool of, WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU DON’T WANT TO TEACH SHAKESPEARE? In an effort to be heard and not misunderstood, I gingerly began to ask questions.
- But will they need to have read THESE works, specifically?
- Do you think non-liberal arts majors will encounter an entire work of Shakespeare during their time in college?
- Do you think what they need to know is the stories of Shakespeare, or how to parse difficult language in general?
Then, finally, quietly, with the shaky hands I often get when I’m about to make something dear to me vulnerable to scrutiny, I asked: Have you ever read Book Love by Penny Kittle?
I’m surprised how many issues have come up this year during PLC to which the best solution would be, emphatically, give them choice on what they read; write more than you can grade; give them choice on what they can write; start where they are and gradually encourage more challenge and nuance.
I thought it would be helpful to write about some of the most Frequently Asked Questions I’ve received about RWW, even with less than a year under my belt of these practices. Here they are, in no particular order:
- How do you make sure your students are reading challenging books?
- How do you test their knowledge?
- What if they lose your books?
- What do you mean, use mentor texts? Are you talking about your Creative Writing class?
- How do you grade if they all do different stuff?
- Why are you making this so hard on yourself?
I have to tell you, I don’t know a definitive answer to all these questions. By no stretch of the imagination have I perfected Reading/Writing Workshop. (If you have, I’d love to borrow your brain for a day or five.)
What I do know, is that it works.
Don’t other things work, too? Maybe, but it depends on your goal. If the goal is for students to know facts about the plot of a handful of works, and know how to fill in a graphic organizer, sure.
Now, if only I could figure out how to answer questions on the spot, we might be in business!
Jessica Paxson is an English IV and Creative Writing teacher in Arlington, TX. She also attempts to grapple with life and all of its complexities and hilarities over at www.jessicajordana.com. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram @jessjordana.