September 4, 2017
School started for me last Monday, and with it my journey into Reading Writing Workshop. Lucky for me I have three colleagues who were ready to try something new, too. Why try Workshop? So many of our students were not reading. They were disengaged, and so were we. We were feeling discouraged and something had to give.
At the end of the school year, we invited anyone in our English department who was interested to join us to discuss the possibility of implementing Reading Writing Workshop. Attendees discussed why we wanted to try this method, and teachers had time to ask questions and voice their concerns. We left that meeting feeling excited and energized by what could be, and committed to reading and studying about Workshop over our break.
Over the summer, we read Penny Kittle’s Book Love, participated in the Book Love Summer Book Club, and read everything we could get our hands on about the ins and outs of running a workshop in the high school classroom.
Fast forward to last week. With summer over we met back at school to figure out how this workshop thing was going to actually look in our classrooms. We quickly realized that we needed to make peace with being uncomfortable and tolerating the ambiguity that comes with the territory of trying something radically new. We are pioneers, and we have each other and a host of mentors online via Twitter and some amazing professional blogs like this one to guide us in our first steps.
The Three Teachers Talk blog has been a godsend to us. Every day there are thoughtful articles, engaging lessons, and practical tips on doing workshop from real teachers who are teaching real students. The authenticity of this work shines through every post as well as the encouragement we get from teachers who are doing what we aspire to do.
So how’s it going so far?
We just finished our first full week with students and the four of us are feeling so energized and excited about our first starts at establishing workshop classrooms. Some background on the range of classes we are teaching this year: I am teaching four year-long sections of English II Honors (on an A/B day schedule). All of my students are also takingAP Seminar, the first AP class in theAP Capstone program. Capstone is new to our school this year, so again, more new territory for us as teachers. I work closely with my students’ AP Seminar teachers and my plan is to support the work my students do in that class in whatever way I can. I also co-teach one section of ESL Sheltered English I. My workshop colleagues are teaching English III & English IV inclusion and honors sections. Here are some of the reading/writing activities we used to begin establishing community in our classrooms:
Day 1 was “Book Speed Dating” in the Media Center. Students had a chance to “speed date” at different tables (each table was set up with different fiction genres). All students left with a book that day. We wanted students reading from Day 1.
Day 2 Students began their independent reading at the start of class. Students read for 10 minutes and recorded the number of pages. Next, they filled out their Independent Reading Record sheets to calculate their weekly reading goals (using Penny Kittle’s formula). We will use these records when we confer with students to help them design their reading ladders and to guide choices for next books.
Students also completed aReading History Timeline. This is something I’ve used before but haven’t done in a while. I like seeing a visual timeline of my students’ literacy development. Students were supposed to choose 8-10 events that helped shape their reading lives. Positive events were to be placed above the line; negative events below the line (some students forgot this part, so I had to have them clarify for me). Students placed their completed timelines on their desks and we did a gallery walk. Afterwards, we discussed common themes, beloved books, shared experiences with literacy. One common theme was students’ loss of interest in reading as their lives have become busier. Almost all mentioned a lack of time to read as being a major contributor to this problem. This only reinforces my belief that if we intend to help students grow as readers, we must give them time to read in class.
Day 3 we created aPersonal User Manual. I loved the idea of students writing guides to what matters to them. I shared the mentor text, and then wrote my own User Manual to share with students. I explained to them that I would be doing all of the writing assignments (and setting my own reading goals) with them. They loved this idea!
I am only halfway through reading my students’ Personal User Manuals, but so far I am thrilled with the results. Notice the voice that is evident in their work. This is such a great beginning to the year to be able to identify a student’s voice and encourage it right from the start.
What insights I have gotten into my students after only the first week of class!
Here are some student samples:
All of these activities helped us to get to know each other as well as build community and excitement for books and writing from day one. A great example: even my most skeptical student, a young man I taught last year in English I, found a book he was willing to read. This is the message I received from him this morning that made my day:
What’s next? Students will be experimenting with writingAuthor’s Bios. I plan to have them include their picture with their bio, and I will print these out and post around the room.
Student response to these first steps into establishing a Reading Writing Workshop have been overwhelmingly positive so far.
Thank you Amy Rasmussen andThree Teachers Talk,Penny Kittle, and all of the amazing Workshop teachers out there who generously share their work and enthusiasm for this practice. My colleagues and I are encouraged by the changes we see in our students and ourselves, as we are more engaged and energized than we’ve been in a long time. We hope to inspire others around us who are curious about workshop but are not ready to take that next step.
I look forward to sharing more adventures in Workshop with you.
Gail Stevens teaches 10th grade Honors English & 9/10 ESL Sheltered English at Cary High School, in Cary, North Carolina. This is her 18th year teaching, third in high school, after teaching middle school for 15 years. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jerseygirl_1021.