I’ve mentioned before that I have two new “preps” to which I’m slowly adjusting. I’ve had a tendency to shoulder forward into new experiences with mixed results. Sometimes enthusiasm and energy carry me through the learning part at the beginning. Other times, I’ve made mistakes caused by my straight-line approach that could have been avoided. Perhaps I’ve trended more towards the Hulk, when a more intentional, Bruce Banner style might have served me better.
Patience, I’ve learned in my old age, is truly a virtue.
Moving into the realm of an advanced class that focuses on rhetoric is a challenge all to itself. Couple that with a move to sophomore English where students have different literacy needs than the freshman I worked with last year, and I’ve gotten myself into a situation that demands open-mindedness, near constant reflection, and growth.
While these classes appear to diverge completely in content, I would argue that they have something important in common: an environment where workshop works. In one class we learn about building narrative, in the other we explore the rhetorical situation. For me, success lies in the “invitation.” I can’t drag them towards a greater understanding of reading and writing anymore than I can make my daughter move faster when we are headed out the door in a hurry.
Examining the structure of a Rhetorical Precis recently, I took the risk of holding back the “notes” and letting the students tell me what they thought the elements of an effective rhetorical precis might be. I had MY notes, of course, but the students built the anchor chart that we use. Unsurprisingly, each of the three classes noticed elements that the other classes didn’t, providing me valuable data and helping me understand the learners even better.
As I shared my writing with them, I had to be vulnerable. When they asked me about my writing decisions, I needed to have answers. This held true across both levels.
Our sophomores learned about creating effective characters, and it was their search through the mentor texts that informed their understanding, and those elements found their way into the writing.
We read self-selected books and utilize reader’s/writer’s notebooks in all my classes. They may diverge in content, but the importance in those connections remains paramount.
Conferring with readers and writers dominates the time before and after mini-lessons. The effectiveness of one-on-one instruction doesn’t change because one student might read or write better than another.
One size does not fit all, and I know that teachers deserve autonomy. The autonomy afforded me empowers our workshop to work in two totally different environments with totally different sets of students. Their needs, however, are the same. They need to move forward in their literacy; be better tomorrow than they were today. The skills are different, but that’s where my work comes in.
This journey can not be survived alone.
I’ve learned, in a few short weeks, that the only path to success this year runs through a few very specific places: the office of our instructional coach, the room of my department head (from whom I’m learning how to teach rhetoric), and the room in which our sophomore team gathers as we plan our units and our lessons. It’s going to take a village to raise this learner.
I remain steadfastly committed to a workshop that centers on readers and writers, and the first five weeks of this school year have only strengthened that resolve.
Many of our readers at 3 Teachers Talk have brilliant ideas, and I hope to learn from our writers and our readers. If you want to collaborate, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Moore loves watching his son play football for the first time ever. He loves to read, write, and learn along side readers and writers. Check out his twitter at @ctcoach. If you headed to ILA, come see us at 11 on Saturday October 12th for our presentation on novels in verse. Our clothing will coordinate… I promise.