You’ve decided this is the year to create a readers’ workshop where all learners can flourish and develop into their truest reading selves. You’ve studied the research about providing long blocks of time to read. You’ve filled your classroom library with texts that reflects who your students are and what they’re interested in.
What else might learners need to make this a grand success? After all, readers’ workshop might ask them to live very different reading lives than they’ve experienced in school years past. If they’re accustomed to having bits and pieces of literacy learning assigned to them or are used to having their reading time micromanaged by timers and center assignments, readers’ workshop creates choices and responsibility students might have to grow into.
Yours . . . Mine . . . Ours
One of the most important promises of workshop teaching is its simplicity. There are really only three ‘slices’ any workshop needs to support learning.
Crafting – A bit of precise, carefully-crafted instruction designed to move learners toward important reading goals
Composing – A long stretch of work time to try on new learning
Reflecting – Time to gather back to comment on new insights and wonderings
For each workshop ‘slice’, it’s important to name what everyone should be doing and why. In our classroom, the kids and I thought of it in terms of yours, mine, and ours.
For example, during crafting, my job was to provide a specific piece of new learning that nudged the whole group toward deeper understanding and independence. The kids’ job was to listen in, ask penetrating questions, and envision themselves giving the teaching a go.
During composing, learners were responsible for trying on the new learning as they dug into their ongoing reading work. My job was to gather data about successes and possible next steps via one-on-one conferences and/or small invitational groups. Our shared work was to uncover new insights we could bring back to the whole group.
During reflecting our collective job was to share ideas and lingering questions – things we could build on the next workshop.
In order for a workshop to really hum, readers need a few key ‘tools’. In addition to buckets of post-its and highlighters, we needed:
- A book stack filled with rich, appropriate texts each reader couldn’t wait to swim around in. In our room, learners always had a ‘thick book’ to read across many days, a picture book for studying author’s craft and text structures, a collection of poetry to feed their love for words, a text that supported our content studies, and a magazine for short reading spurts.
- A reader’s notebook to keep track thinking. Our notebooks included room for taking notes during crafting sessions, a place for collecting shared texts, space for writing/reflecting about our reading, and a few pages to record all the texts we read (and hoped to read) across the year.
A final essential piece to this puzzle that often goes overlooked is explicitly building the stamina readers’ workshop demands. Far too many learners walk into their classrooms with little or no experience being in charge of their reading time. Just like developing soccer players or novice pianists, readers need to build their literacy muscles.
For my students, this meant:
- naming what fed or depleted their capacity to do challenging, worthy reading work
- studying the life stories of others who built great stamina
- charting individual and shared progress as engaged readers
For me, this meant:
- learning to trust that learners were capable of doing important work without constant micromanaging
- making certain that the work I invited them to go after during each workshop was truly worthy of their time, energy and effort
Creating a beautiful, self-sustaining readers’ workshop isn’t easy, but the results are well worth it!