Teaching high school English is a difficult job. In a world overrun with cell phones and gadgets, getting students to actually sit down and read a book seems like an impossible task. Every year that I taught the classics, students would depend on outside sources to get them through the reading, and sometimes completely ignore the book.
It was when a former student came back to me and proudly declared “Ms. Scoffield, I never read one book in your class!” that I decided to restructure my class and implement a Readers Workshop. While researching, I heavily relied on books by Nancie Atwell and even traveled to Maine to see her school first hand.
After implementing the workshop in my classroom, I have eventually come to the conclusion that allowing students to pick their own books in the English classroom drastically increases student interest and allows them to take a more active role in their learning.
During the introductory unit, I hold a book tasting in my classroom. I hold conversations with the students and direct them to genres they would be interested in. Between my classroom and the library, they find their top three books.
After finding their selections, I introduce them to Goodreads and have them read the reviews of their chosen books. Once they make a final decision, we are finally able to launch into the unit. The process of choosing books takes several days.
Topics that we cover in the unit are:
- How to read your book
- Elements of a Plot
- Analysis of major passages
In my classroom, we use the Station Rotation model of Blended Learning. When a student walks into my classroom, they look at the board and decide what assignment they want to complete that day. They are required to come to “Table One” sometime throughout the week, because that is a teacher led and often the hardest assignment for the week.
What do the assignments usually look like?
Book Talk: For this assignment, students are required to start a Twitter conversation with a classmate on Twitter. They have specific questions they answer and a hashtag we use for the class. Check out #mhhsfreshies for ideas! This is also a good way for the students to ask authors questions. You never know who might respond!
Journal: Using excerpts from a mentor text, we practice skills like analyzing passages or creating a character profile. Once the skill is practiced, they apply it to their own books.
Blog: Students work on a blog post once a week. The question focuses on what is currently being discussed that week in class. Students are required to respond to other classmates. This is also a great opportunity to connect with other classes across the globe.
Supplemental activity: This can be an assignment that the teacher uses to help students learn the skill that is being discussed. I have used it as an opportunity to do Cornell notes, make videos, or create Buzzfeed character quizzes.
Because I allow my students to choose their own books, a love of reading has been developed throughout the classroom. I have students zooming through books and talking about them with their peers. I even have two students going through a book a week.
As a class, we have a class goal of reading 70 books by the end of the semester. Students are constantly checking the thermometer on the board to see our progress and they are excited to see the number go up.
One of the biggest concerns I hear about this way of teaching is students not being able to read a piece of text deeply and get an analytical experience with a piece of text. While this concern is valid, I would like to state that I have never had students read more deeply.
Give your students time to read and make their assignments worthwhile. Fewer and yet more meaningful assignments are more impactful. It also gives students more time to read in class and hold meaningful conversations with the teacher.
I also believe that teachers need to remind themselves who their audiences are. Teaching kids in the 21st century is hard and it is vastly different from our own high school experiences. We need to think carefully about our students and what will help them be the most successful. For me, it means implementing a readers workshop.
Shelby Scoffield is a high school English teacher. She loves reading, writing, and playing with her nieces and nephews. You can find her on Twitter at @sscoffield.