We spend eight hours a day (Ha! Nine? Ten? Should I just sleep here?) in our classrooms.
Four walls, seating for 30 (Ha! 35? 78? Does flexible seating come in bunk style these days?), and an endless array of inquisitive minds, needs, and beliefs.
At Three Teachers, we speak with full hearts and buzzing minds about the opportunities that Readers and Writers workshop afford. From choice to challenge, talk to Twitter, and many, many elements in between, we explore, question, wrestle with, and embrace the opportunities that come with relinquishing control over a classroom to instead move together with our students as readers and writers.
As I look around my classroom this year, full of some familiar components (budget-busting classroom library, inspirational posters touting the beauty of words and books, and my space age rolling furniture), I also see evidence of my growth as a workshop teacher.
So, in much the same way that one might suggest that it’s what’s on the inside that counts, the following suggests some of the ideas I’ve collected from great workshop teachers, Twitter searches, fellow colleagues, and my professional reading over the summer to reflect the beliefs of our community and what we value as readers and writers:
I’ve completely abandoned any traditional rules in the classroom. On the first day of school, I joke with kids about their vast knowledge of how to “play the game of school.” As long as we can, as high school students, keep from putting gum in each other’s hair, we can focus on the more important “rules” that will guide our philosophy of learning and engagement. These rules from Amy Fast, are referenced each and every day. Mostly rule #2. We need a LOT of work there.
I am NOT an artist, by any means. In the past, I’ve let this limit what I try to do when it comes to anchor charts in my room. NO MORE! With a projector and pencil, I am tracing my way to borderline copyright infringement (Don’t worry, I promise not to try and sell them). This beauty comes from the Disrupting Thinking by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst, which rocked my world over the summer. I wanted my students to have a solid reminder of what their books, brains, and hearts mean to their reading. We refer to this chart that I found through Google Images almost daily.
Giving students a place to share what moves them in their reading means we have a constant reminder of the power of words, and motivation to write as we reflect on the great beauty we find through the published word. This reading graffiti poster illustrates the baby steps my students are taking to feel comfortable in sharing what speaks to their hearts and minds while reading. Once I finally broke the seal and put a quote up myself (Thank you, as ever, Patrick Ness), students have added insights such as “When you tell a lie, you steal a man’s right to the truth” and “You can’t take it with you, right?!”I love the brave souls who are sharing their reading lives with us without even being asked.
The back wall is a revolving homage to mentor text study. Early in the year, my sophomores started their study of narrative by emulating Kelly Norman Ellis’s poem “Raised by Women.” These days, creations from my AP Language students grace the walls. They utilized authentic informative writing in the creation of biographies modeled after the work of James Gulliver Hancock in Artists, Writers, Thinkers, Dreamers.
In the space behind my desk, I have inspirational words that help frame my work each day, provided by people that I love and respect. I have pictures of my family, notes of gratitude from students, and art from my daughter Ellie. I am a firm believer that as a reader and a writer in the room, my story matters too. I love to share with students how the belief that we can always improve, grow in reflection, and benefit from a positive attitude, can shape their experience in English class each day.
Our classrooms, both full of students, and basically empty, suggest who we are as teachers. I love what mine says about the work we do everyday in the workshop.
What does your classroom say about your workshop journey? Please share in the comments below!
Lisa Dennis teaches English and leads a department of incredible English educators at Franklin High School near Milwaukee. One of her classroom walls is painted in a burnt orange color. It’s fall all year. Follow Lisa on Twitter @LDennibaum