A classroom built around flexible seating is amazing for kids building their literacy. Comfy chairs, tall stools, and bean bags take a student out of a “classroom” mindset and into a creative work space that encourages ideas to flow across boundaries that might have been impermeable with rows and rows of sterile desks.
It works just as well for teachers building a workshop from thin air. You can imagine how comfortable that tan couch felt on the last Friday morning before the start of school.
Sitting in that room for this much anticipated planning session felt as comfortable as if I’d been there for a decade. Five teachers with a singular focus gathered their resources and experience to put together a plan that was student focused and built on the foundation of workshop. I got to know this group well at the Literacy Institute but I’m still trying to learn the full extent of their individual and collective power.
It is important, on our team, to be intentional and explicit with our lesson design. The kids should know exactly what we are doing and why we are doing it. They should recognize the moves their teachers make and take comfort that those moves were selected specifically for them. There is no reason to keep the “why” and the “how” a secret.
On this team, we typically build lessons with an eye towards a learning focus that starts with something like: I want you to know that readers/writers ….. do something. (Thanks Amy, Billy, and the Lit Institute.)
For the first three weeks, though, we talked about using: I want you to know that members of a Reader/Writer Workshop….do…one of the six pillars. You get it.
Our curriculum documents, designed by teachers, contain a section devoted to the six routines of workshop instruction and the following are the routines around which we built lessons:
The Reader’s/Writer’s Notebook
Lesson Focus: I want you to know that members of this Reader’s/Writer’s workshop use a notebook to explore thier literacy.
Our “notebooks” look very different teacher-to-teacher. Some of our classes will use traditional composition notebooks and some will use Microsoft OneNote in our explorations. Either way, the point of having a safe and personal place to plan, draft, revise, reflect, etc. remains consistent across our classes. Its not enough for us to ask the kids to have a notebook, they need to know the importance of having it. Some of the kids struggled with following my set-up instructions because they were intentionally vague.
Student: “Mr. Moore, what categories do you want us to use to track our reading this year?”
Me: “That’s up to you. Its your notebook.”
Self-Selected Independent Reading:
Lesson Focus: I want you to know that members of this Reader’s/Writer’s workshop take ownership of their reading and writing experiences.
I remember back to last year, and how much the kids struggled genuinely connecting to a book. Maybe it was the hurricane sitting out in the Gulf or that they really only had one year of workshop leading up to their senior year. What ever it was, we worked hard to take ownership of our reading, so much so that I wrote about it here and here. (Looking back at those words is like seeing the words of a different writer, but I digress…)
Lesson Focus: I want you to know that members of this Reader’s/Writer’s workshop use mentor texts to guide their learning.
We use mentor texts to teach kids how to read and write like a writer. The students need to know that we looking at the writing of others with specific intentions in mind. Its important to delineate the separate lenses of craft and content and constantly reinforce the importance and interconnection of both.
We planned for ways to write beside them. When I write in front of my students it invites them to connect to a writer from their community. This connection is between a student and a person that shakes their hand every day and smiles when they make eye contact. That’s an incredibly deep connection and one that I’ll leverage every chance I get.
Lesson Focus: I want you to know that members of this Reader’s/Writer’s workshop look at specific skills that we want to learn and then apply those skills to their reading and writing.
The skills we choose to highlight are intentional and our students need to understand that they aren’t chosen at random. Not only that, but we aren’t going to spend more than a few minutes in our mini-lessons before we move back into reading and writing, with an emphasis on those specific skills.
Lesson Focus: I want you to know that members of this Reader’s/Writer’s workshop listen to others share and provide feedback that supports their growth.
I can’t teach all 30 of them all the time and maintain any level of effectiveness. We have to build a supportive community that allows me to widen the feedback cycle from one, typically confident student, to 30 who are confident to share with their confidants. They need to know that the days of me asking a question and calling on one person for the answer are far behind us. We practice the routine over and over. Ask a question, discuss in group. Ask a question, practice their thinking through written response. Rinse/Repeat.
Oh, and they have to be trained not to shoot up their hands or shout out an answer when they are asked to notice something. Instead, they will learn to sit in the silence and let their thinking wash over them in waves. Or maybe the metaphor is to peel back the layers of their thinking like an onion. Whichever you prefer.
Lesson Focus: I want you to know that members of this Reader’s/Writer’s workshop take advantage of opportunities to talk one-on-one with the expert in the room.
The importance of regular one-on-one conferences can not be understated. I’m not just “checking-in” on them while they read and write. I’m digging into their thinking for places I can provide support. We will explain to our students how important it is for them to be honest and open when we confer. They can’t hold back due to nervousness or fear. Like Jerry Maquire said, “Help me, help you!!!” with that typically creepy look on his face.
Based on our planning sessions, impromptu secret meetings, and the genuine happiness in which we approach each other, I know this year will be my best ever and it is because of the work this team will do together to move our freshman class forward in their literacy.
Now, in all seriousness, lets cross our fingers and hope nature and fate don’t hit us with the same intensity as last year. We all need time to heal a little more. Let’s do it together.
Charles Moore had a quiet Friday night and went to all four of his son’s soccer games this weekend. He passed El Deafo by Cece Miller back and forth with his daughter this weekend. He put more than two thousand words to the page this weekend between his grad classes and this blog post; a new record. He can’t wait to get back into the classroom Monday morning and learn alongside the students. And he wishes you the same happiness he’s enjoying right now. Visit him on twitter or instagram.