I’ve been asked this question in several different ways: How do we do this for college prep courses? How does workshop work in an AP English class? If I’m not teaching books from the canon, how am I preparing students for college? And we’ve written about it a lot on this blog. (See here and here and here and here and here and here for starters.)
Sometimes I think we have misplaced ideas about what is expected of students in college — especially if we were English majors, and our students may not be — and perhaps some skewed ideas of what rigor looks like when it comes to high school English classes.
I first clued in when I read Readicide by Kelly Gallagher. No doubt, I killed the love of reading — and the love of the literature I loved — the way I “taught” the books I expected my students to read. (Most didn’t.) Since then, I’ve studied, practiced, implemented, revised, and stayed up late thinking about how I need to revise my instruction in order to best meet the needs of my students. All of my students — not just those in a college prep or AP English or those going to college — but every student in every English class in preparation for the rest of their lives. I want them to be fully confident in their literacy and all the gifts that will give them in whatever future they choose.
My students, not just those in advanced classes, or on a college-bound track, need to know how–
- to think critically about their ideas and the ideas of others
- to articulate their thoughts in writing (in multiple modes) and orally (with clarity and confidence)
- to support their thinking with valid sources
- to revisit their ideas and revise them when they encounter viewpoints that require them to extend, modify, or change their thinking
- to verify sources, and identify and analyze bias
There’s power in these skills, opportunity and freedom — for our students and for ourselves. We do not need a list of “AP suggested novels” to teach them.
What we need is to build communities in our classrooms where students feel safe to engage in inquiry, share their thoughts, receive feedback, and give themselves to the learning process. Study guides, worksheets, TpT lesson plans, and the same ol’ same ol’ approach to teaching the same ol’ books will not cut it. Just because a book is considered of literary merit does not make the learning around it rigorous. Rigor is not in the text but in what students do with the text. (For more on this, see Jeff Wilhelm’s article “Teaching Texts to Somebody! A Case for Interpretive Complexity“)
What we need is to to know our state ELA standards or the AP English Course and Exam Description as provided by College Board. (I think the AP English Course descriptions scream “workshop.”) Then, begin thinking about and hunting for mentor texts, written in a variety of modes, that 1) prompt students to think in different ways about a different topics, 2) engage students in inquiry and class discussion, 3) spark ideas for research, and all along the way, invite students to write beside these mentors: What do you think? What do you notice? What do you wonder?
At least this is the genesis of answering the question: How does workshop work to prepare students for college? There’s so much more to it.
Resources that have helped me: Write Beside Them and Book Love by Penny Kittle, Dr. Paul Thomas’ blog. Currently reading: Why They Can’t Write by John Warner, and the #1 on my summer reading list Handbook of Research on Teaching The English Language Arts 4th edition, edited by Diane Lapp and Douglas Fisher.
I once did a two day workshop, helping a district coordinator move her teachers into the readers-writers workshop model. In a reflection after our training, one teacher-participant wrote: “I’ve been teaching for 24 years, and feel like I’ve been told I’ve been doing it wrong all along.” Nope.
But. . .
What if we could do instruction better?
Amy Rasmussen lives in North Texas where she thinks, ponders, and writes about how to motivate, engage, and teach today’s adolescent readers and writers. She will be spending a lot of her summer facilitating PD focused on readers-writers workshop in secondary English classes. Follow her @amyrass — and she’d love it if you follow this blog!