I believe in the workshop model. Wholeheartedly. I know that it is what works best for kids.
But honestly, when I implemented the model, I had a bit of skepticism regarding one aspect. I never quite understood (or believed?) how young learners could learn a repertoire of reading and/or writing strategies and then just “magically” recall and apply them “independently” during the work period. Early in my workshop teaching, I questioned, “Wait. No task? No assignment? No specific instructions to go back and try (insert mini-lesson strategy here)?”
I was curious how the youngest learners could be so self-directed and purposeful during independent time. Like most people, I was afraid to let go.
Now, I see many of the teachers that I work with grappling with the same concern. However, like a field of dreams, if you build it they will come.
I recently visited a third grade classroom where magic was happening! The class was in the middle of a mystery book club unit and after the mini-lesson students were sent back to their desk with their “quiet critters” (small craft pom-poms outfitted with feet and eyes) to read.
Immediately, I was impressed with how quickly the students transitioned from the carpet to independent reading. Two students (who were in differing book clubs-I noticed because they had different books) sat together at the carpet and created twin Venn-diagrams in their notebooks to start character comparisons for the characters they were reading about. Another two met the teacher at her table for a quick small group. Everyone else? They returned to their seat, opened their notebooks to the next fresh page, and started reading.
Needless to say, I was impressed and I wanted to stick around.
I started to read over students’ shoulders as they paused (when they decided they were ready) in their reading to do some stop and jot reading notebook work. What I saw was so impressive! Students were independently choosing various reading responses to use in their notebook. Most surprising to me was that students weren’t just jotting once. The majority of students had chosen to do at least two different types of thinking that day. For example, some predicted and then chose to do a character comparison. Others created a suspect chart and wrote about character traits. But all were reading…. and thinking!
This teacher, through meticulous patience and belief in the workshop model had created what we all strive for. Her routines and expectations were working!
Look at this example from one student’s notebook:
When I spoke with this student she told me that writing in her notebook helps her reading “go from good to great.” That sometimes she doesn’t understand something, but then she will write about it and it would become much clearer. She explained that she chooses what to do based on what Mrs. G has shown them before. There is no menu of activities to choose from pasted into each reading notebook or listed posted on the board of what to do next. Strategies had been instilled into each learner in the class and they were drawing upon that knowledge independently.
I moved over to another student who was sitting next to Mrs. G’s anchor chart, and from what it looked like, copying the chart into her notebook. I asked what she was working on. She gestured to the chart and told me that she was taking questions from the chart and answering them in her notebook. And she was! I remembered that she was one of the ones who had started a Venn diagram earlier and I wondered if she had abandoned that task for this one. I asked her about the Venn diagram. She flipped back a page and said, “That’s right here. I didn’t finish yet.” And then after a moments pause, “But I guess I can use the answers to these questions…” She flipped back to the answers based off the anchor chart questions, “…to finish filling in my chart.” She returned to her Venn diagram with urgency and fervor. I hadn’t even said a word.
After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I immediately went to commend Mrs. G. She was making it happen! Her kids were readers and independent thinkers and doing all the things we want students to do in the workshop model! I was so excited!
But Mrs. G was busy… quietly conferring with a student.
So, I tiptoed out with a smile on my face and let them continue doing their thing. I felt assured in the good work that we do and the value of the workshop model. It IS possible! She had built it and they had come.
Let’s keep the conversation going-