How A Year of Readers/Writers Workshop Is Like Getting a Puppy

As I mentioned in my previous post, my family decided (on a whim and while I was away at a conference) to get a golden retriever puppy. Meet Abby!





It had been many years (10 to exact) since we’ve had a puppy in our home so it was quite an adjustment (and in some ways, it still is). So as I snuggled on the couch with Abby recently, I was hit with the idea—starting your classroom in the workshop method is like getting a puppy.

  1. As you look at all the information, it feels very overwhelming.

Two days after Abby came home, we were lucky enough to get an evening appointment with a veterinary in town so we could start her off on the right foot. As we left the appointment with a folder full of papers (“Welcome to Puppyhood” packet, upcoming shots list, pamphlets on various tick and flea options, pet insurance fliers, etc.), my husband and I felt a bit overwhelmed by all the information.

Transitioning to a workshop approach can be information overload too– but in a good way. There are so many amazing resources here on 3TT and with amazing mentors like Atwell, Kittle, Gallagher, and Miller. Here are a few resources to start you off or to continue to inspire your journey.

7 Moves in My Workshop Schedule

My Classes are Only 45 Minutes — How Do I Do Workshop?

Back to Basics: The FUNdamentals of Teaching High School English

Every Teacher a Reader. Every Teacher a Writer.

  1. It can be tiring at first but gets better as you adjust.

Our first couple of weeks with Abby was exhausting! We were up two to three times a night plus many, many trips outside to avoid accidents in the house. I had no problem getting my steps in those few two weeks.

We do the same in our classrooms–we are writing alongside our students, conferring with students about their current reading and writing goals, modeling from the document camera, and circling the room so we can hear every small group discussion. I’m tired just typing that all. But– it does get better. Still tiring at times but so rewarding! The first time a reluctant reader finishes a book and asks for another suggestion or a student rushes into class bursting to talk about their narrative draft is worth all the self-doubt and sleepless nights of “Am I doing this right?”.

  1. Training is important– it’s never too soon to start.

We signed Abby up for puppy classes as soon as she had her rabies shot. We wanted the best for her and to have tools from experts so we could be the best puppy parents as we could be. Armed with training treats and a clicker, we’ve taught Abby how to sit and stay in such a short time period.

Training our students with workshop routines is also important– and I learned this one the hard way. Last school year I was so inspired by 3TT and the work of Nancy Atwell and Penny Kittle that I jumped first and thought later. By December, writer notebooks were left in lockers and I was struggling with keeping up with conferencing. By February, I was back to my old habits, unable to keep myself going because I just felt so overwhelmed.

This year I spent the first month establishing our routines for reading and writing in our classroom and have found more success in students bringing their items to class and their engagement in our task. We set the tone and purpose the whole month of September and it has carried forward, albeit not perfectly, the whole year.

  1. Take it all in because the time flies by.

While Abby is still a puppy, we already notice a change in her puppy face. She’s a lot longer and taller than the small puppy we held in our arms weeks ago. It’s sad to see her growing so quickly but we’re excited for what lies ahead of us this summer: hiking trips, swimming at the lake, and road trips that include stopping for ice cream.

The same thing happens with our students. They come to us with sometimes little to no experience with workshop teaching but leave at the end of the year with confidence, stamina, and a passion for reading and writing. Although we are in the time of year where the bags under our eyes are as heavy as our teaching bags, we know the finish line is in sight. Students we’ve laughed with, cried with, encouraged, and even nagged will leave our room ready for the next step. For some, that is a college campus or it could be just down the hallway with another colleague. Either way, we’ve done our part in helping our students think differently about not just reading and writing but the world we live in. There’s something magical about that.
Kristin Seed teaches 10th grade English in Massachusetts. Her summer reading book pile is growing out of control and she’s okay with that. Her plans for June 29th is to take a long walk with her puppy, Abby, and to read a book in one sitting. You can find her Twitter @Eatbooks4brkfst.


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