While I love the reader’s workshop concept and what it does for student engagement, I also see the value in a full class study. But, there’s only so much time in the semester, and we high school teachers teach with the incessant ticking of the clock in our ears, pushing us to get it all done before finals.
FINDING A BALANCE
So how do I do an effective job of both workshop and the full class novel?
To be honest, I’m still experimenting. I’m not here to say I am an expert at this balancing act; I’m just going to share my journey as I try to find the perfect formula.
I have always done independent reading, but for many years I treated it as an add-on, something we did when there was extra time in the class. It was filler, and didn’t get the attention it needed. More recently, when I switched to using reader’s workshop, I would start the year with it, panic halfway through as I watched the rapidly turning calendar pages, and ditch workshop to dive into full class novels and plays.
This year will be different, because I am starting with a plan and sticking to it. I’m doing this because I know how effective the workshop approach is to turning my students into life-long readers.
I started by looking at the texts I love to teach and the skills I want my students to build. Then I divided the semester and each week into segments, with the weeks of the semester divided between workshop and full class texts. The first half of the semester will have more days devoted to independent reading, while at the end of the semester, the scales will tip toward full class study.
So, in September and October, we will have three days of workshop and two days of full class study. I always start with non-fiction, as I find it’s a great way to get students engaged. Reader’s workshop mini-lessons — after my initial ones on active reading — will focus on elements of the non-fiction genre, and I will use memoirs, biographies etc. as my mentor texts. We have several copies of Outliers, Breaking Night, The Glass Castle and Night. I will book talk each of these and when I do so, point out different ways that the authors tell their stories. Then, whether the students are reading fiction or non-fiction, they can look for similar elements in their own texts. By focusing on the elements of good non-fiction during workshop, I am also priming my students for what we will do together later in the week. When they discuss the articles we will read, they will have a good starting point.
In October, we will focus on short stories (with some poetry mixed in), and so mini-lessons will focus on elements of fiction. Again, the mentor texts I use will be ones that illustrate these elements. For example, I do a short story called “The Spaces Between Stars” that is an excellent excellent example of how an author can use symbolism to develop theme. During full class study we will work together to understand how the author does this, and then I will ask them to explore how the authors of their independent texts may be using symbolism. Likewise, all of the short stories we do revolve around the importance of self-discovery, so as we read them, students will reflect on how this theme evolves in the texts they read during workshop time.
By November, it’s time to put more focus on the two major texts I do in the twelfth grade: Macbeth and Animal Farm. (By this time, I’m hoping that the independent reading the students have done in the first two months will have turned them on to reading and that they will be more likely to actually read these texts.) The focus of the course is on the power of persuasion, and Macbeth & Animal Farm work perfectly with helping students understand how we humans can use language to control and manipulate–for both good and bad. So, as we work through the texts, they will also look at their independent novels to see how author’s use language to persuade.
That’s the plan. I know I will have to tweak it and that by second semester, when I switch to tenth grade, I will have an even better one. That’s the wonderful challenge of trying something new–learning along with our students.
I’m including the schedule I plan to follow. I hope it helps you as you try to find your own balance. If you have any tips to share, please leave them in the comments below!
You can read more of my blog posts about reader’s workshop HERE.
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