I want you to think about a favorite teacher. My favorite teacher was Ms. Hall, 5th grade. I don’t remember much about her EXCEPT, she took the time to learn about who I was as a person. You see, I talked A LOT! So much that, according to school rules, I had to be assigned detention – frequently! But, Ms. Hall had worked with me enough that she knew I was a good student and a responsible citizen, so she gave me the privilege of helping her after school instead of silently sitting in a non-air-conditioned school room. You see, she spent time with each and every one of us and knew our strengths and did not judge us for our weaknesses. I had been told year after year that I was a disobedient student – less than capable. Mrs. Hall recognized my love for school, my enthusiasm and built on my strengths. She taught me to take my verbal skills and learn to channel them on paper, so that my talking too much became my love for writing. She took my high energy behavior and coached me in areas where it could be best used, helping her in the classroom. That is what workshop does in my opinion – the teacher finds the students’ strengths in reading or writing and builds on them.
When you are creating the workshop community inside of your classrooms, you are doing just that…creating communities, building relationships. You are meeting with each student and getting to know who they are as learners and individuals. Let’s think about just one part of the workshop model. Let’s consider the conferring portion. You meet with one or several students and listen to what they are doing. The verb there is listen. Typically I ask “What are you working on as reader today?” A book discussion begins and somewhere in that conversation I get a small glimpse of what they do as a reader. I take that information and I build on it. Why? It help me find areas of interest and confidence. For example, let’s say the reader is discussing a book and seems to be focused on characters traits. My next step could be to bring their attention to some additional character work that they could be doing – like some individual characters actually have relationships that affect the problem of the story. Characters cause the story to go one way or the other. I would encourage the reader to pay attention to what the characters are doing and how they contribute to the story’s problem or resolution. When I leave that student, I have left him/her feeling good about the work they are doing, and I have taught them something new, If I were to focus on what they were NOT doing I would only discourage them as readers.
I will leave you with an article that discusses something referred to as the 2×10. It is not exactly an academic article on how to help your students become better readers. It challenges you to take 2 minutes for 10 days to have meaningful, casual conversations with your most at-risk students. Only 2 minutes. The predicted and documented outcome is that the student’s behavior and productivity changed for the better. I know from my own experience that if you stretch that 2 minutes and 10 days to the entire year, the outcome is very powerful. If you include providing that student with confidence of what they are doing correctly and teach them new skills and strategies, you will end the year feeling like a master teacher.
(The article can be accessed through the link below:)
I hope you think about this topic this week. If you are just starting to use the workshop model, I encourage you to challenge yourself in this area of building trust and individual attention with your learners. If you are an experienced workshop teacher, reflect on the relationships from your previous year and make adjustments.
Make it a reading and writing –tastic week!
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