Would you love to try reading or writing workshop in your secondary classroom, but don’t because you aren’t quite sure how to run one?
I know — because I’ve been there — that one of the reasons secondary teachers shy away from a workshop approach is because it’s outside of their comfort zone. I get it. We know today that a teacher-centered approach is not always the best pathway to learning — but a student centred one can be hard to manage. It’s so much easier to teach a full class text, or to assign one writing assignment, that we can tightly control. We can see the road ahead and how to get there. We even have lots of tricks for keeping students’ eyes on the road. That’s what made the switch to workshop so hard for me — I had two decades of well-honed lesson plans that were easy for me to roll out and manage. Why mess with what’s been working?
Because there are methods that work better.
Reading and writing workshop gives students more choice and freedom, but it also puts more onus on the them, making them more accountable, more likely to do their work AND more likely to engage in learning.
Even though we know this to be true, it’s still harder to manage a workshop approach, especially in the beginning when you and your students are not used to it. One of the biggest problems is keeping the kids on task while you conference with individuals or work with small groups. For me, stations were the answer, because they keep everyone – myself included – focused.
Once I started using stations during independent work time, everything fell into place. I could conference with my students or work with small groups while students had a clear procedure to follow and tasks to complete. Also, they love the fact that they can get up and move around the room, which always helps with focus and engagement.
During Writer’s Workshop, students can move between stations that require them to work on pre-writing, creating or revising. They can also go to stations for skill-building, inspiration and feedback. The beauty of the process is not just that they are busy and focused while I work with students, but that they have the freedom to go to the area that they most need to work on. With writing workshop, students are working on different things at different times, and these stations provide them with a focused way to do so.
Reading Workshop Stations provide the same opportunities. I especially like them for getting students to work on their notebooks or to spend time discussing their books with each other – without me being there to direct them.
So, how do you organize the stations and the students’ journey through them? Well that depends a lot on your class and what you want them to accomplish. I teach high school, and once I establish my routines, I can depend on them to work well on their own, with a little bit of reinforcement from me. For the most part, I let them go to the stations they want (or need) to work on and then they move to the next one when ready. If you have a class that needs more structure, however, you can group them and have them move through each station together, after ten or fifteen minutes. I tend to use the less structured approach with writing workshop, but when we switch to reading, I find it makes more sense to have them move through the steps together. That said, if I have a very independent group of readers, I’ll give them more freedom.
There are many ways you can keep your workshop focused and organized, but stations are what work best for me. What are your favourite methods for keeping your students on task? Please leave your ideas and/or questions in the comments!
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