With teachers in grades 3-8 transitioning to the ELA Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS) over the course of the past two years, much conversation has centered on the best methods for helping students meet those standards. Will my textbook be best? Should I look into the modules? Is there another option? As teachers at Pioneer can attest, reading and writing workshop is definitely a viable option for marrying the expectations of CCLS rigor and student-centered teaching.
Author and writing workshop expert Amy VanDerwater has worked with teachers at Delevan Elementary, Arcade Elementary, and Pioneer Middle School for the past two years to bring workshop to district classrooms. Professional development sessions have focused on various aspects of the writing workshop, including designing effective mini-lessons that deliberately target specific skills, fostering student choice to build investment, and incorporating various writing celebrations when finished with units. Additionally the emphasis for units of study has shifted from narrative and memoir based modes of writing to those that require students to write from sources, such as informational and argumentative. Both the quantity and the quality of student writing being produced have grown exponentially thanks largely to the work done in writing workshop.
Students are meeting the demands of CCLS with the work being done in reading workshop as well. Like the writing workshop, during reading teachers are developing targeted and rigorous mini-lessons, selecting texts that challenge all learners, and including student choice in leveled reading materials designed to build a lifelong love of reading. Units often are built around a central text supplemented by relevant, nonfiction materials that build students’ background knowledge base on the topics or themes of the central text. Opportunities for students to engage in text-based conversations both in whole groups and small groups reinforce the skills being taught at the time, and those skills are then applied to the students’ independent reading selections. Ultimately students’ time with eyes on print is greater than ever, and that time will pay off as they progress through school.
Teachers who are looking for the right fit for their classrooms may very well find that reading and writing workshop is an instructional approach worth pursuing. A workshop model provides a balance of structure and flexibility that responds to student needs while targeting the various standards.
By Amy Windus, CA BOCES and Pioneer Central School