I recently realized the best word to describe a workshop teacher’s behind-the-scenes work when addressing a group of parents at our district’s Literacy Night. While explaining the principles of choice and independence in the workshop classroom, I wanted to emphasize to parents that this principle does not mean students are working without intention or direction. A good workshop teacher (here’s my word!) ORCHESTRATES all that happens within the classroom. S/he knows student reading levels and which books to push them toward, understands student’s struggles and how best to scaffold them, and understands the social-emotional needs of the class and is ready to build those skills. All without the student realizing just how “negotiated” their choice and independence really is.
As we roll into book clubs in our district, I’ve been thinking a lot about how prep work done ahead of time can really set us up for success. The more ORCHESTRATING we do behind-the-scenes prior to clubs starting, the more they will run smoothly.
For the purposes of this post, I will focus on the management of book clubs– the routines and procedures teachers can put in place.
To begin, it’s helpful to have a schedule in place for when clubs are meeting to talk. Clubs DO NOT need to talk long each day. In fact, it might be best if clubs meet for discussion 2-3 times per week only. These meetings should last somewhere from 8-10 minutes–middle schoolers will have a hard time sustaining purposeful talk any longer. Plus, we want the focus of the day to be on their reading. I am a strong proponent of protected reading time, and I don’t want club conversations to eat at that time.
Your week might look like this:
A set schedule allows for predictability, which allows students to work with more independence. Because they are aware of the routines in place, they can better prepare for the work expected of them each day.
You can help students set-up and prepare for this schedule by providing them with reading/meeting calendars. Here, students plan out the pages they will read each day as well as the thinking work that goes along with it. They can determine their reading lenses and club conversation topics ahead of time. Here is an example:
This can then become a tool that you use to track student progress and keep groups accountable. You can access an editable (!) copy of this calendar on my Resources page.
If you are looking for a little bit more structure in how you track club conversations, another helpful tool is a Book Club Accountability Sheet. This is a student completed account of their conversation and club behaviors (preparedness, focus, etc.) that is filled out each day. It also helps students track/plan pages to be read and their next focus or lens. For example,
You can also access a copy of this Book Club Accountability Sheet on my Resources page.
Finally, it’s helpful to know what you are on the look-out for in terms of student work and club talk When assessing clubs, I like to look at five areas: preparedness, preparation, interpretation, evidence-based support, and collaboration. On the rubric below, you can see my vision of what the ideal would be.
As with all assessments, students should be aware of these criteria and standards. You might expose them to your expectations via a mini-lesson and post an anchor chart outlining what book club members do.
Another powerful tool is having students self-assess their book club behaviors. This helps them set goals for improvement. Here is a simplified version of the above rubric in the form of a self-assessment.
I also capitalize on peers keeping each other accountable by using a group assessment, where group members assess each other’s behaviors. If you’ve never done peer assessments, you might be surprised at how honest (sometimes brutally!) middle schoolers will be. The combination of the Self-Assessment and the Group Assessment provides me with a clear picture of who is doing what in a book club.
And yes–you guessed it!–these can also be found on my Resources page. 🙂
Stay tuned for my next post. I plan to highlight how to support club’s structure and organization.
Let’s keep the conversation going-