“How do you do reading workshop with distance learning?” This was actually a question I got recently in a text from a colleague. We had just been informed that we were moving to online teaching and were discussing what’s on the minds of many of us these days. How will it all work?
When I told him that I wasn’t too worried about delivering daily lessons to my students, that’s when he asked the question about online reading workshop. Not a problem, I told him. Living in Canada, where we get lots of days off due to snow storms, I’ve had some practice keeping kids working at home.
This situation is more long term than a snow day, but I’m confident I could use what I’ve learned to move reading workshop online. Here’s what I’d do:
(Note: I know that not all students will have Internet access. What follows is for those who do. Any of my students who are not online will get packets of the handouts I usually use in class).
Access to books at home:
First of all, let’s deal with a pretty important issue: access to books. If your students don’t have books at home – or a way to get them – reading workshop online is not going to be easy. Luckily, my district has all of our workshop selections available in e- and audiobooks, so my kids can still get lots of great titles online. If you don’t have something like that, there are companies that have waived their monthly fees and students can sign up without inputing credit card information. SCRIBD is one of them, and they have a wide variety of titles that kids can access. Newsela is also offering free access to teachers if you want to use nonfiction articles.
Compacting Outcomes: zero in on what’s important:
With online reading workshop we can’t do all of the things that we did face-to-face, so we need to decide what to drop and what to keep. Hopefully your district will be giving you guidance on this, but if they are not, you just need to think about the skills you want your students to have for next year.
For me love of reading tops that list, and bogging students down with too many tasks is not going to foster that. I think this is very important to consider when they are at home and we can’t motivate them with some of our usual classroom activities.
So I plan to replicate the workshop format but to do so in a way that keeps everything simple and focused. Every day I will ask the kids to read, and a couple of times a week, I will give them a writing prompt to do based on their reading. (I’ve converted my Writing Prompts for Independent Reading to Google Slides so if you own those, you can download again to access that option. I also have a digital option for my Independent Reading Stations).
I will provide short mini-lessons that focus on one skill or concept; then kids will be instructed to read their novels and apply the skill. After several lessons spanning over two weeks, I’ll give them an assignment to do.
Use slideshows or videos that kids can read/view at any time
I’m going to keep my online reading workshop pretty low-tech and use my slideshows to replace me. In my mini-lessons the text will be my voice, and the kids can click through them at whatever rate works best for them. In a way, it’s better than a face-to-face lecture: those who “get it” can click through quickly and get to the task; those who need a little more time to absorb and think about the instruction and examples can do so. They can also do these on their own time, rather than all of us meeting at a certain time of day.
Once students have gone through the mini-lesson, they will read and do a task based on the lesson. The slide above is from one that focuses on how writers use dialogue to develop character. Students will have to read for fifteen minutes and note places where this happens in their book.
They will also get a slide that explains what I want them to do and then submit, as well as ones with examples of what that looks like.
Each of my lessons will focus on a different way that writers develop character: the way they speak, their thoughts, their actions/reactions, and what others say about them. By the time they work through each one, they will have an excellent understanding of how a character is developed in their novels. You can check out my lessons here.
After our look at character, we will start to look at how writers use them to develop themes – as well as the many other ways they get messages across to their readers.
What if the kids are all in different places in their novels?
That’s an excellent question – and I’ll answer it the same way I do with face-to-face teaching: it doesn’t matter! All of my lessons are designed so that kids can do them no matter where they are in their novel. If I do a lesson on how point of view affects our understanding of a character, students can read and look for examples of this whether they are on page ten or 110.
What about conferencing with distance learning?
Do it if you need to – or if you want to. If you feel like it’s the best way to keep your kids accountable, then you can set up online meetings using whatever technology you are comfortable with. Or, you can give yourself and your students permission to let this part of workshop go. I know it’s an important one, but it may be harder to make work from home. It’s ok. These are special times and we have to adapt.
If you do choose to have an online conference, just keep on doing what you did in class. Get the kids hooked up digitally and have a chat. It’s also a great time to connect and make sure they are doing ok.
And book talks? How do I do them?
You can no longer stand in front of your students and enthusiastically promote a book you are holding in your hand. However, you can still do that on video. But what if you don’t have anything new at home? Find reviews on Goodreads or Amazon, choose a few and record yourself telling the kids about them and why you think they sound intriguing. Send them the link if you can find it on SCRIBD and they can immediately add it to their collection.
Another thing you can do is ask kids to write or record book talks that they can share with the rest of the class. This can double as an assignment so you can kill two birds with one review.
You can also get kids to gather in a virtual group to talk about the books they are learning. Facilitate and join a Google Hangout or Zoom meeting where you can observe their discussion. You can give them specific tasks to discuss or, with a more independent group, just let them go to it!
If my kids were in class, I’d be putting them in groups and using these task cards. However, now that we are doing everything online, I would post a document with the topics from the cards that I want the kids to use.
If using something like Zoom or Google Hangouts just won’t work with your students, you can create a Google Doc and ask them to “chat” about their books on there.
Assignments and Assessments:
I’m not feeling stressed about this because I will still have my students pass their work in through Google Classroom. However, just like in the “old” days, I won’t be grading everything. They will get completion grades or feedback for doing the daily (or weekly) work, and then they will have an assessment at the end of the unit. And these units will likely be much shorter than they have been in the past.
Let me show you how I think it will work (The reality is that I won’t know for sure until we’ve done it!)
At the beginning of the week I will send my students the series of lessons on character and ask them to do three a week for the next two weeks. They will have to submit the work for three of the lessons by Friday. I considered asking them to do them Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, but I thought I’d like to offer more flexibility. Mine is not the only course they will be working on, so maybe they will want to do a little bit of English each day, or devote one day to reading and doing all of the assignments at once. By asking for the work on Friday, I give them options.
At the end of the two week unit, I’ll ask them to choose one character trait and then write a one page analysis of how their author develops this trait, using multiple methods of characterization. They will be able to use all of the evidence and quotations that they collected over the previous days – so the daily lessons are a form of scaffolding to get them to the assessment that counts.
You could also instruct your students to use what they’ve learned to write a short narrative that develops a character if you prefer that they do some creative writing.
Preventing Copying & Cheating:
If I had the answer for this, I’d be a gazillionaire. Unfortunately, the Internet has made it infinitely easier for kids to copy and cheat. Expecting them to do this all on their own at home is probably going to increase the number of those who do. We just can’t change that. I’ve spent many hours stressing about this in the past, but for this very special situation we are in, I’m just going to have to let it go. There are other things I need to spend our time and energy on.
That doesn’t mean that I won’t address it. I plan to “speak” to my kids and explain to them that I trust that they will make wise choices and to do what’s best for them. We all need to work together to make our way through a bad situation, and if they cheat and take the easy way out then they are only hurting themselves even more when it comes to being prepared for next year.
I’ll leave it at that and hope for the best. I’ll control the things I can right now.
I hope this long post has helped answer some of your questions about online reading workshop. If it hasn’t feel free to reach out and I’ll try my best to answer! Take care and stay safe!
Other Products That Could Help with Online Reading Workshop:
Writing Prompts for Independent Reading If you already own this, the option to use it via Google Drive has been added to it.
You can also sign up for other remote teaching ideas (all free!) here.
*Full disclosure here:
I’ve finished the reading workshop portion of my pre-IB class, so what I’ve shared is what I would have done if that’s where we were in the course. Our next step was to look at how authors develop theme, and I will be doing that using a full class text with my students. However, I’ll be working on ways that you can do it with reading workshop too. Stay tuned here and on Instagram to see how my remote learning evolves!
If you would like to get my characterization mini-lessons for distance learning, you can check them out here. They are also now part of my Literary Elements Lessons and Reading Workshop Bundle , in case you already have them.