Thursday, July 31, 2014

Reading & Writing Workshop in Middle School: Is it Really Possible in 42 Minutes?

I learned about Reading and Writing Workshop when I read the first edition of Nancie Atwell's In the Middle after finding it at a book sale nearly 15 years ago.  I was a first year teacher, had never been taught about this pedagogy in college, and knew after reading the first few pages I had discovered the golden ticket for a classroom that fit my philosophies.                                                                                                                                                                       Since then, I've experienced a great deal as a teacher, and despite the hundreds (could it be more than a thousand??) of students whose 7th or 8th grade years have been spent with me in English class, I've never leaned toward "traditional" methods of teaching.  To think that I was taught that way (taught being used loosely here) horrifies me, and I constantly strive to give more to my students than the sit-and-get I withstood for so many years.

Unfortunately, the more one learns, the more one realizes how far she has to go!

Within the past 4 years I've trained as a Middle Level Literacy Coordinator through Lesley University.  This experience left me, as a middle school educator, with eyes wide open to the disservice I give to students when I do most of the work in my classroom and fall back on those traditional stances that sometimes just seem so much easier.  My heart knew this already, but the power of reflection helps the head put the heart into action, and I knew I needed to solidify my classroom instruction.  I have all the knowledge, the resources, and the support -- now I need to sift and sort to create the larger picture these puzzle pieces create.

Where Do I Begin?

Reading Workshop
The foundational pieces of a traditional Reading Workshop are:

  • Structure of time:  minilesson -- model -- supported practice -- independent work -- share
  • Independent Reading ~ students self-select texts in which to practice focused reading skills; teacher confers with student individually
  • Guided Reading ~ homogeneous small group work in which teacher selects text to focus on reading skills specific to the group
  • Literature Study ~ student-led group of students reading a self-selected book together; meet for discussions
Writing Workshop
The foundational pieces of a traditional Writing Workshop are:

  • Structure of the time:  minilesson -- model -- supported practice -- independent work -- share
  • Independent Writing ~ students self-select topics, guided by minilessons; teacher confers with students individually
  • Guided Writing ~ homogeneous, temporary small group work to guide students in writers' craft, etc.
  • Investigations/Research ~ long term projects in which students research and produce writing around a specific topic, sometimes teacher-selected

  • When I look at this list, my heart beats faster.  How will I ever, ever, EVER fit this into 42 minute periods with my 7th and 8th graders?  How would I manage the amount of planning, paperwork, and differentiation necessary to move students forward as readers and writers?  (When would I take my own children to soccer and football practice, make dinner, clean my house, say hi to my husband, and maybe keep in touch with a friend or two !?!?)

    Therefore, although I STRONGLY believe in this pedagogy, I need to find a way to make these pieces fit into the time that I have.  Knowing that, now where do I begin?  My goal this school year focuses on digging into my experience, knowledge and resources to create a classroom that melds my philosophy with the time I'm allotted.  I know this will require letting go of some pieces and being firm on some work I require students to do outside of my classroom.  I will need to make some decisions about what I truly believe works for kids.  It will take some serious organization, work and reflection, for sure.  

    All I can say is: I'm glad it's summer and I have some time to sort through all this information before September comes around!  Please follow my journey as I work through these phases of research and development . . .