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Defining Readers-Writers Workshop

“I need a visual of a ‘workshop.’ That word confuses me still.”

This is not the first time I’ve been part way through facilitating professional development and a participant has made a similar request. There’s a lot for me to learn here.

Before we can begin really sharing the excitement and benefits of a readers-writers workshop model of instruction, we must get on the same page as to what we mean by Workshop. I’ll try to do that here.

Let’s start with the dictionary definition of workshop and zero in on #2.

workshop definition

Based on this definition, let’s consider this essential question:

How do we create open spaces where the children we teach can grow as readers and writers?

To me “open spaces” equates to “workshop.” Open spaces means teachers let go of control, remove themselves from center stage as the holders of the knowledge, and invite students into a space of curiosity and discovery. It’s a space where students thrive in a community of trust and sharing, where they talk about their identities and experiences as readers and writers, where they play with language and take risks as they explore what it means to develop their comprehension and analysis skills — and their craft as writers.

Opening spaces requires planning. It is not willy-nilly choice in books or topics, or stations without specific guidelines and instructions, or seats moved from rows into small groups without modeling the thinking that makes it possible to “engage in intensive discussion and activity” around our content. Teachers must model what this looks like. And we must trust that our students will engage and learn in this model.

They will — if we let them.

Readers-writers workshop is a method of instruction that often requires a paradigm shift, a shift from the teacher making all the choices and telling students what to learn within a text, to students making choices, and through practice and application of skills-based lessons, learning as they read and write.

I’ll return to some definitions found online to help clarify:

“The Reading Workshop is a teaching method in which the goal is to teach students strategies for reading and comprehension. The workshop model allows teachers to differentiate and meet the needs of all their students.”

For our readers, we open the space for students to choose the books they read. By doing so, we meet students where they are in terms of their interests and abilities. The teacher becomes a coach, teaching skills specific to the needs of each learner. This requires time. We must reserve time for students to read when they are with us in class, and we must confer with students about what they are reading — and how they are reading it. This is reading instruction in a workshop model. We teach the reader, not the book. Readers must predict, visualize, infer, comprehend, analyze, and evaluate. These are all skills we model and teach in readers’ workshop.

What about writer’s workshop?

“As in a professional writer’s workshop, each student in the class is a working author. The teacher is a writing professional and peer coach, guiding authors as they explore their craft. … Teachers write with their students and share their own work as well.”

To teach our writers, we must be writers ourselves. We must model the moves writers make as they use language to craft meaning. We must validate our writers and help them recognize what professional writers do to think of ideas, organize those ideas, and convey those ideas in a way comprehensible to readers. In a workshop classroom, we use mentor texts:  sentences, paragraphs, passages, essays, poems, stories to teach writing skills that students apply to their own writing. We teach the writer, not the writing.

workshopquestion

So, what do I mean when I say “workshop”? I mean students doing the work of readers and writers, “engaged in intensive discussion and activity on a particular subject” — specifically related to growing as readers and writers. This work happens because teachers open the spaces in their classrooms which allow for it.

Questions about your move to a workshop model of instruction? Please ask in the comments.

Amy Rasmussen lives in north Texas and teaches AP English Language and English 4 (new prep in ’17. She loves talking books, daughters’ weddings (two this year), and grandbabies (five). She also loves facilitating PD for other teachers making the move into a workshop pedagogy. Amy adheres to the words of Emerson: “We aim above the mark to hit the mark,” and Jesus: “Love one another.” Imagine a world if we all aim higher. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass. And she really hopes you will follow this blog!

 

 

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6 thoughts on “Defining Readers-Writers Workshop

  1. […] substitute teachers to facilitate your workshop. Maybe they cannot teach a mini-lesson, but they can give students a reading passage to read and […]

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  2. Kiersten June 23, 2017 at 11:04 am Reply

    Love this!! This last year I moved from teaching reading and writing workshop in a first grade classroom, to teaching seventh grade language arts. I love middle school like I never thought I would! However, I am needing some resources with mini lessons and how-tos for workshop models in upper grades. Do you have any book suggestions? I have thought about buying Lucy Calkins writing units for seventh grade because I am familiar with it, but I would be the only one teaching that curriculum in my school. I should also add that we don’t have a set writing curriculum, that is up to the individual teacher (our curriculum is to: teach the standards). I am open to any and all suggestions! Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Amy Rasmussen June 23, 2017 at 1:51 pm Reply

      Kiersten, how exciting for your middle school students! I think sometimes we forget that the instruction we give our littlest learners, like your former first graders, will work with our bigger learners, like your 7th graders. If you search the categories here at 3TT, you will find many resources for mini-lessons — and some ideas for structuring your workshop classroom in middle school.

      Regarding Lucy Calkins’ units of study: If you want a plan that’s pretty much line-itemed out for you, hers is probably a good one. I only know what I’ve heard from other teachers. I’ve also heard that units of study is quite prescriptive. Personally, I like a lot more flexibility. I draw mini-lessons primarily from the needs I see rise in my students. I find mentor texts from my own reading and writing life.

      When it comes to planning, I always begin with the end in mind. I learned this from Grant Wiggins’ work Understanding by Design. For example, I know my students need to write effective arguments. The end goal would be “Write an effective argument.”

      Then I work backwards thinking: how much time will we need to draft, re-draft, revise, give peer feedback, polish, publish, and celebrate? how much time will students need to read and study the work of writers, so they get ideas on how to structure and writer their own pieces?

      I think through the mini-lessons I know I will need to teach: thesis statements (always), organization ideas, supporting evidence. I plot those out in my planning. And I leave room in the plan for mini-lessons that emerge — and they always do, depending on the writers in my room.

      I suppose this response could (and probably should) turn into its own blog post. It’s hard to simply answer your questions when there’s a whole-wide world of possible out there to choose from.

      You asked about books: you might enjoy The Journey is Everything by Katherine Bomer and Writing with Mentors by Allison Machant and Rachel O’dell, and I’ve just started reading Renew by Shawna Coppola.

      I hope this response helps at least a little. Wishing you all the best!

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  3. Sheri June 20, 2017 at 6:43 pm Reply

    I’m interested in creating workshops, however, because my middle school has separated reading and writing instruction, I’m not even sure where to start. I teach the writing class. We learn how to read informational texts and to use information to support a thesis/claim in both high interest expository and argument writing . We do write a creative story once during the year. If my reading is strictly nonfictional texts as starting points can I still create writing workshops?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Amy Rasmussen June 23, 2017 at 1:56 pm Reply

      Hi, Sheri. Thanks for the comment — and the answer is YES. Writing workshop is an approach to writing in an authentic way that teaches the writer over teaching the writing. How do writers talk to other writers to get ideas and feedback? How do writers sharing their thinking to grow their thinking? How do writers respond and give feedback to help one another grow in their craft?

      The simple answer is — they need time to read, talk, write, study good models of good writing, and to read, talk, write more. That’s where students get the intense experience we call writer’s workshop.

      You’ll just do it all with information texts in your high interest expository and argument writing.

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  4. Smith-Chavira Terri June 20, 2017 at 7:00 am Reply

    Beautiful ~ thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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