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Yesterday, I posted some background on writer’s workshop and today, as promised, I’m going to get into the nitty gritty of how I’m going to roll mine out this fall. I showed you the rough schedule below, but I wanted to add that there are many ways to organize this. For example, if you have long periods, you could do both reader’s and writer’s workshop in the same class, with half the time devoted to reading and half devoted to writing. Regardless of what you choose, just plan to have some sort of schedule, one that can be flexible, but also one that the kids can count on to get lots of time to read and write.
During my first days of reader’s workshop, my mini-lessons will focus mostly on introducing the workshop, getting them to understand the importance of increasing their reading stamina and setting some goals for themselves. We will work on establishing the routines and on selecting novels that they want to read. I will do a lot of book talks during this time as well. When we switch over the writer’s workshop, I will again introduce the procedure and spend some time reviewing the whole concept of the writing process. We will get to know the writer’s notebook they will use, and students will spend a lot of time in the ideas section of the notebook, generating possible topics for their writing. Along with that, we will do a number of quick-writes, designed to get them thinking about their interests and passions. After the first week of establishing procedure and idea generation, my focus will switch to the elements of good writing: word choice, syntax, showing, etc. My mentor texts will be short — one sentence or short paragraphs — so students can zero in on very specific skills.
Next, during reader’s workshop, I will focus on things like point of view, setting audience and purpose, openings and closings etc. The mentor texts that I use for this can, likewise, be used during writing workshop. Students will be asked to experiment with each of the techniques I illustrate with the texts and to apply them to their own writing. I will spend time illustrating how writers – even in non-fiction – use devices like simile, metaphor and analogy to develop their ideas. In fact, most of my mentor texts in the first few weeks will illustrate the different ways that writer’s develop their points and ideas. It’s a skill that students definitely need work on, so my mission will be to show them how to do it.
How do I decide what skills to work on when? Backward design. Before the semester begins, I will sit down with pen and paper and brainstorm the skills I want my students to have mastered by the time they leave me. Then I make a plan for the best way to introduce these skills and to scaffold them with others throughout the semester. I told you already that the first thing I review are the elements of good writing. Then it’s on to idea development. After that, we’ll work on coherence and tying it all together. You get the idea. The key, with any of it, is that I have good mentor texts, exemplars that they can use as models. In order to roll this out in a way that makes sense, you need to spend sometime in the planning stage, making yourself a road map to guide your lesson planning.
So after the workshop is mapped out and your lessons are planned, how do you manage it all? How do you assess your students? That’s the next post. Stay tuned.