Reflecting on Reading Workshop

My school is on spring break this week and I am enjoying some much needed rest and relaxation. However, I am also using this week to do some reflecting and planning. Last night I ordered a few books that I want to use in planning our April Poetry Month and our upcoming Holocaust unit. But today I finally sat down and did some of the professional reading I have been putting off.

I read about half of Franki Sibberson and Karen Szymusiak’s Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop: Making Informed Instructional Decisions in Grades 3-6 and can’t wait to read more! As Franki and Karen say in the beginning of the book, there is a dearth of professional literature related to reading and writing workshop in the intermediate grades. As a 6th grade teacher, I have a hard time finding appropriate professional reading. Books either focus on early readers or middle school readers. Perhaps if my 6th graders were in a middle school environment it would be easier, but we are in an intermediate school. In our district, 7th and 8th graders are in the middle school. Thus, I have been looking forward to reading this book. I had no idea how awesome it would be!

Franki and Karen have broken down their reading workshop into manageable chunks. I am thrilled that each chapter deals with a different routine in reading workshop, including how much time is spent on each one. Very few books get into the nitty gritty of a teacher’s routine and even fewer include as much real classroom anecdotal evidence. I’ve been reading, flagging, reading more, jotting ideas, and flagging more. I’ve already come up with a few new ideas to integrate into my workshop. Even better, I have a new perspective on my reading workshop. I’ve struggled with assessing my readers this year. While I know I have succeeded in creating a room full of passionate, habitual, and critical readers (Atwell) I also know I have not done the best I can in terms of assessment. I need that hard data to back up my choice to use reading workshop (it’s not used in the intermediate/upper grades in my district) and Franki and Karen’s book is full of authentic and realistic assessments that I can integrate into my workshop routines.

This type of reflection and reading energizes me.  I am brimming with new ideas for my classroom and can’t wait to implement some of them!  I am also planning to attend TCRWP Saturday Reunion this coming weekend, which will also be an inspiring bit of professional development.  I should be rested, relaxed, and re-energized when we get back to school next week!

I’m only about halfway through the book right now but I expect to finish it tomorrow. I expect I will re-read it over the summer when I am planning for next year. I can not recommend this book enough!

Parent Visitation

This upcoming week is Parent Visitation. I’ve been looking at my plans and I’m not really sure what lessons I will be doing. I’m not nervous- I enjoy having parents stop by. However, I do like to do something semi-interesting and something that keeps the students interested. Parents coming and going will be disruptive, no matter what, and I want to make sure that there is little opportunity for the students to be distracted.

Parents can come in from 9-10:15 on Wednesday and Thursday, so that is during Reading Workshop and part of Writing Workshop. Right now we are reading Tuck Everlasting and working on our NaNoWriMo novels. In reading, we are on a writing about reading unit, working our way towards writing reader’s responses. Most likely I will just stick with the plans I have down, but any suggestions out there in the blogosphere?

How do you handle parent visitation?

Meetings

I have been thinking lately about the many meetings we have at school. A few of these meetings always focus on language arts and the “best” way to teach. Over and over I hear that while “independent reading is not a waste of time” it is not possible for students to read for any extended period of time. Just recently, I was told that students will read for 7-10 minutes, and then just stare at the page, pretending to read. I dare not tell these administrators that my current classes can read for 50 minutes, uninterrupted, and beg for more when we stop! While they read, I float around the room checking pages, holding conversations (which check comprehension without the student even realizing it), and looking over reading logs. While I agree that there are those students who we must work with very closely in order to build their stamina, I think it does our children a disservice to assume that reading for any length of time is an impossibility for them! Teaching is about expectations. I expect my students to read during workshop, they know my expectations, and they read.

Many districts seem to think that the average American child will only read short pieces of text and only with a specific purpose in mind. For example, we should give a 1-2 page piece to our students + a graphic organizer. This graphic organizer will ensure that they do the reading we ask of them while not staring at the ceiling. I fully support the use of graphic organizers as organization tools and guidance, but why are we making our students completely reliant on them? Why can’t a middle school child read a novel and actually enjoy it? It seems that student+novel+enjoyment just does not equal out for many administrators. Instead, we shortchange many students by giving them one page to read plus a one page organizer to fill out as they read. Too many teachers have removed independent reading and choice from their classrooms. Instead of spreading a love of books and a passion for reading, they are making reading a chore.

In my classroom this year, my students are readers. Everday they recommend books to each other, to me, and to their parents. I have had 3 parents approach me since Back to School Night to say something along the lines of, “I don’t know what you are doing in that room, but my son is READING!”. The most telling sign? My two classes have the highest combined amount of Scholastic orders each month so far. Instead of the average $20-50 ordered in the other classes, my two classes order over $100 of books each month.

Somehow, we need to convince more administrators and superintendents that the workshop model is the way to go. Lectures and textbook readings are not grooming students to be readers. They are building a hatred of reading and books. It has to stop!

Reading and Writing Workshop Controversy

Man, I am all about the controversy today!

Over at Two Writing Teachers, Stacy pointed me in the direction of this article from Education Next. As a proponent of Lucy Calkins’ Reading and Writing Workshop approach, I was slightly offended by the article’s tone. While I do agree, slightly, that TCRWP has become more scripted over the past decade, I think it is something that was bound to happen when 10,000 educators in one city become bound to the program. However, I use a lot of my TCRWP experience in my own classroom. I think because I teach 6th grade, I avoid a lot of the problems some people have with the program (ie. phonics vs. whole language, etc). I see the difference in my room. Most notably? My students are reading. And reading constantly. Voraciously. Passionately. And critically! I mix Calkins’ methods with Nancie Atwell’s in my reading and writing workshops.

After reading the aforementioned article, I googled for some more Lucy Calkins news. The first site returned was this article from National Review Online. It concerns controversy in NYC schools over TCRWP Reading Workshop.

This article angered me. My library does not consist of trash. I have classics, Newbery winners, Printz winners, and new novels on the best seller list. Name me one adult who reads classical, canon literature all the time. I can list on one hand the adults I know who read, period! I want my students to love reading. If that means sometimes they are reading the middle school equivalent of chick-lit, then so be it. Over the course of the school year, my students will read at least 30 books each, from a variety of genres. Some books are destined to be classics, some already are, and some never will be. Does that make them less of a reader?

What do you think?

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