Getting Started with Reading-Writing Workshop

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This year I’m experimenting with a workshop approach to reading and writing instruction. In my mind, this means three things:

  1. Student choice in what they read and what they write.
  2. Time for students to read and write in class.
  3. Authentic writing tasks—Students write for real audiences and purposes.

Logistically, trying a workshop approach means I’ve had to make major shifts in my instructional practice. I am teaching less in order to do more. If I plan to give students at least half the class period to read and write independently, I simply can’t teach as much stuff. In practical terms, I teach one minilesson daily. If I do more than that, students don’t have enough time to work.

Another important factor is classroom management. Most junior high teachers know that you can’t simply tell 12 year olds to work on whatever they want. You have to teach them what that looks like. So far, it’s been a combination:  Sometimes I tell students exactly what to do and sometimes they have a choice.

I’m still fine tuning the process, but here is our current routine:

  • Monday: Minilesson / Reader’s Workshop
  • Tuesday: Minilesson / Writer’s Workshop
  • Wednesday: Minilesson / Writer’s Workshop (includes “flipped” lesson on conventions—more on this later)
  • Thursday: Minilesson / Writer’s Workshop
  • Friday: Minilesson / Reader’s Workshop

Daily Homework: Read 30 Minutes, Work on Daily Pages (Due Thursdays), Weekly Conventions Topic (Due Wednesdays)

Of course, this routine can easily fall apart. What happens when there is a school assembly, a common assessment, a district- or state-mandated standardized test, or some other disruption? I find that any time the routine is broken, I have to re-teach my expectations.

It helps to have clear rules for students. I constructed mine with help from Nancie Atwell’s book  In the Middle. I re-teach these rules often, and students paste them in their Reading-Writing Notebooks.

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I am still playing around with how to best implement the workshop approach in my current teaching environment. It’s been tough because class periods are short (52 minutes) and there are conflicts when it comes to district and school common lessons and assessments.

Still, the reading-writing workshop may be the best way to meet the needs of 21st century learners and the Common Core State Standards. At it’s center, the reading-writing workshop encourages creativity, independence, and excellence. Students need to care about what they are reading and writing in order to do it well. It isn’t enough to tell young adolescents that they need to do something because it is “on the test” or “they need it for high school or college.” Instead, students deserve the chance to write and read and discuss and create because they are intrinsically motivated to do so. That’s the kind of learning that will last.

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