How to Advocate for Reading and Writing Workshop: Slice of Life #sol18 29/31

I am all in when it comes to reading and writing workshop. I could make my own video for workshop, a la Mr Sharp LOVES Reading (which I show at the beginning of nearly every course I teach for preservice teachers). I, too, feel like hopping on desks and shrieking about how much I LOVE WORKSHOP!

It’s simply the best, most authentic, most meaningful, most effective, most challenging, and most awesome way to teach and learn. It meets the needs of all learners in our classrooms more effectively than any other approach. Every way I know to assess a methodology—common sense, personal taste, quantitative research, qualitative research, observation, assessment of student engagement, assessment of student work product—confirms that this is it: this is what we should all be doing for the good of our students, the good of ourselves, the good of literacy.

And yet.

Every English teacher doesn’t teach this way.

Despite what pretty much all of the research says. Despite what the seminal teaching texts in our field say. Despite what every article about best practices says. Despite what students say. Despite what classroom workshop teachers say. Despite what our common sense should tell us. (Want to improve reading and writing? Then READ and WRITE.)

I don’t know why there is such a disconnect between what nearly all of the research says about best practices in teaching reading and writing and what’s happening in most English Language Arts classrooms. I’m sure the reasons are complicated.

But for those of us who are now fully indoctrinated and keen to proselytize, it can be challenging and frustrating to keep talking up workshop to our colleagues and have no takers.

We know that workshop is what’s best for kids and adults. What can we do to get more of our colleagues to join us?

We can remember that change is hard, and we probably needed many invitations before we were ready to change. Change may begin with skepticism or even scorn. The first few times we encounter a new way of thinking, we may reject it. Most of us need repeated exposure to something new before we are able to consider it.

We can think about our own journeys to workshop teaching and find the instructive lesson there. Most of us workshop teachers are converts. We didn’t start out teaching this way either. We had to discover and learn and experiment and reorganize and fail and start over again many, many times. What converted us? What problems in our classrooms were we trying to solve? How did we discover the answers? How did we find the guidance and support we needed to make that transformation to workshop teaching?

We can invite our colleagues’ literate lives into the conversation. How often are we doing the work with colleagues that we do with our students? How often do we ask them what they’re reading, recommend a book, give them a book that made us think of them? How often do we ask about their writing lives or provide opportunities for them to write? Our own literate lives are the foundation of our work as workshop teachers. Let’s remember to encourage our colleagues as readers and writers too.

We can get our colleagues involved. Why not invite them to book talk their recent favorite book at the beginning of class? Why not ask them to share some of their writing and talk through their process with your students? Maybe they could join your class for a few minutes of quickwriting.

We can provide the evidence that will be most persuasive to our colleagues. Is that quantitative research? A teacher narrative? The voices of students? Observing a workshop classroom in action? Experiencing a workshop as a student? Improved test scores? Best practice research? Reading and writing workshop is supported by all of it.

We can teach with our doors open and celebrate our students’ learning and work. I often think that the work our students do is the best advertisement for reading and writing workshop. Kids who didn’t read a single book last year might read 25 books (or more!) this year. Kids who didn’t write last year may fill a notebook with writing this year.

We can invite colleagues to join us in professional development. Maybe colleagues would join us once a month for a lunchtime reading and discussion group. A whole book might be more than most could commit to, but a short article like Richard Allington’s Every Child Every Day  and Nancie Atwell’s The Pleasure Principle could work.

We can offer opportunities for immersion in workshop. This is a hard one to orchestrate but probably the most effective. I suspect that the best way to become a workshop teacher is to first be a workshop student. Maybe some of your colleagues would join you at a summer National Writing Project site or summer literacy institute.

We can share our struggles and ask for help. It’s hard to be vulnerable, and especially hard with colleagues who may be skeptical about what we do. But workshop is full of problems that need hypotheses and experimentation to solve. Asking for advice and ideas may be a way to engage some of our colleagues.

We can listen with an open mind. This is a hard one for me because when it comes to the best way to teach, I’m pretty sure I already know the answer. But often, the best way to lead is to listen with genuine curiosity and a desire to learn. Listening may uncover the real resistance and the real concerns.

How do you invite colleagues to join you in workshop teaching?

(And thanks to Amanda from Persistence and Pedagogy for giving me the idea for this post.)




26 responses to “How to Advocate for Reading and Writing Workshop: Slice of Life #sol18 29/31”

  1. tbreitweiser Avatar

    My district is moving in the direction of some big changes and I am part of the planning to help with the transitions. These items you highlighted are just what I needed to read today!
    Thank you!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      You’re welcome! I always think change is so exciting–I love to shake things up in my classroom as I learn and research more. But I know many others do not find that they get lots of energy from change! I hope the transitions go smoothly for your district.

  2. Kim K Avatar

    Teach with our doors open- so important. Have an open mind- that goes both ways. Change is hard and is unfamiliar to many. Small changes make a big difference. This post makes me think back on my years as a coach and feeling this struggle so much. Onward and upward.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Yes, having an open mind does go both ways–even though I usually forget that in my zeal to share the glories of workshop. Small changes do make a difference. Sometimes dipping a toe in with one small idea or practice may be enough to start moving in the direction of workshop.

  3. arjeha Avatar

    I know some teachers who say it is too much work. I know others who think, “I wasn’t taught through workshops and I learned just fine.” It is hard to change the mindset of some. I guess the best way to do it is step-by-step. It might take a while, but hopefully…

    1. Morgan Avatar

      My favorite: We can offer opportunities for immersion in workshop. I am in charge of professional development and try to carve out at least 20 minutes every time for a teacher as reader/writer experience. The empathy it creates in us and the vision it sets for our collective work is, by far, the most effective! Thanks for giving words to the movement.

      1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

        Brilliant! I love that you’re immersing your teachers in reading and writing. From what I have observed with my preservice teachers, immersion is truly the most effective path to full indoctrination! I can talk about workshop and share research on workshop and we can read about workshop, and they love it–but once they start teaching, they go back to traditional ways. Once I redesigned all my methods courses as workshops, there was no going back for my students. They saw the powerful effects of workshop on themselves and their classmates, and they were truly hooked.

    2. Morgan Avatar

      My previous comment was meant for the post, and this one in reply to your “others” who say it is too much work. Workshop, in its predictable structure, ritual, routine, is actually far less work up front, right? It is the on-demand, in the moment instruction that requires skill and keen awareness of learners and progression of learning.

      1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

        I feel like workshop is a lot of investment and work up front as we get organized and train ourselves and our students, and then the on-demand, in-the-moment instruction probably feels scary to many but I think it’s far less work than all of the elaborate unit and lesson planning that I see so many teachers doing. Not to mention all the energy we put into trying to solve the problem of engagement and motivation among our students–problems that workshop largely solves just by its nature. So I also think that ultimately, it’s a far more effective and efficient use of our time than traditional curriculum.

    3. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      It’s true that it is a lot of work, especially initially, as you organize and figure out the structures. But it’s such energy-giving work! You are right: it is hard to change mindsets.

  4. Cristi Julsrud, NBCT (@Mrs_J_of_EAMS) Avatar

    Thanks for this great post. I needed to read it! I have been workshopping for three years now, and I don’t think I could ever go back. I do get frustrated that there aren’t more ELA teachers doing it this way, but I also tend to forget that I wasn’t teaching this way for thirteen years. These are good things to keep in mind when the going gets tough.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I get frustrated by the same thing, Cristi. Why isn’t EVERYONE doing this because it’s so amazing? I also forget that I didn’t start out as a workshop teacher (though I will say that it only took one year of the misery of trying to drag students through British Literature to realize something had to change!).

  5. Karen Avatar

    I am a firm believer in workshop, especially for literacy. But you’re correct; the enthusiasm of Colby’s video dos not occur everywhere. I love your ideas for how to bring colleagues on this literacy journey with us.
    My favorite line, and one I will be reflecting on is: “But for those of us who are now fully indoctrinated and keen to proselytize, it can be challenging and frustrating to keep talking up workshop to our colleagues and have no takers.” For that reason, coaching can be humbling work at times, yet so vital to our learning.
    Thanks for this post.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Thanks, Karen. I know that my newly in-service teachers get very frustrated to see that their schools are often doing not one single thing recommended in the research while also doing lots of handwringing about the sad state of literacy today. They also suspect–rightly–that many of the problems and challenges individual teachers are having could be resolved by a shift to better practices like workshop.

  6. Glenda M. Funk Avatar

    This: “Want to improve reading and writing? Then READ and WRITE.” My first experience w/ a classroom focused on a workshop approach was in high school. Competitive speech and debate has to follow a workshop model because there is so much to do and so little time to do it. Each format is different, as is each speech genre.

    I think attending conferences helps get folks on board w/ workshop teaching. And as you say, letting our colleagues see how our classes work during workshop.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      There’s a common sense element that I think we often get away from in education. We wouldn’t expect learners in any other field to learn if we did to them what we do to readers and writers. We certainly don’t learn to drive by listening to other people talk about how they drive and then filling out worksheets about driving and dressing up as a driver and creating driving board games. So why do we do that stuff to readers and expect them to grow?

  7. Melanie Meehan Avatar

    I just got off the phone talking about it with a colleague. I love your ideas, as well as your analysis of the resistance. Yes, all the research points to workshop as best practice, and yet there’s something that just keeps educators on the lecture stand. I think nudging and supporting, showing and modeling, reflecting and goal-setting moves people, but it takes SO much effort to do what’s best for learners. Not too many things we learn in life by being told how to do it.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      So true, Melanie. We learn by doing, through experience and practice, and what better structure for literacy experience and practice than workshop? It can be hard to have the patience and dedication to keep nudging and supporting, showing and modeling, but I think you are right–over time, it does bring change.

  8. Trina Haase Avatar
    Trina Haase

    In my experience, I think that workshop doesn’t happen, especially in the high school, because of fear and discomfort. Many of us were not instructed in the workshop model. And I think that one of the problems is that when many preservice teachers experience student teaching, many cooperating teachers are still teaching in the way that they were taught.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Trina, I agree with you: I think so much of it is about fear. In my Methods courses, we talk a lot about trust and control, because I think that workshop depends on trusting our students and sharing control, and that makes a lot of teachers and administrators uncomfortable. Oddly. Because I’m pretty sure if they reflected on their own learning pasts, they’d quickly see that the times they learned the most were the times when there was trust and shared control.

      1. Trina Haase Avatar
        Trina Haase

        These students are SO lucky that they have you as their Methods instructor!!

  9. amyjuengst Avatar

    I’m all in! I’m a reading and writing workshop gal who takes every opportunity possible to preach the good word and push back against colleague skepticism with classroom evidence and an open door policy. Thanks for this post!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      We will hop on desks together! I can’t imagine teaching or learning any other way.

  10. Tamara Avatar

    While I’ve never in my life felt “like hopping on desks and shrieking,” like Mr. Sharp, I’m with you about Workshop. I appreciate your ideas about spreading the love! I had bookmarked this post and plan to return to it again to see what more I can do to support my colleagues in moving toward workshop .

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Ha! I think when I show that video to my preservice teachers, they have this moment of fear that I’m going to hop on the desks myself! So far, I have resisted–mostly because I’m afraid of falling. I’d love to hear more about what you do to support your colleagues and how you think about these issues. My preservice teachers and I talk constantly about the problem of moving schools toward workshop and we’d find your thoughts so instructive.

      1. Tamara Avatar

        Thank you for asking, Elisabeth. I’m mulling over your question and thinking it through by writing. It’s an important topic for me to think about right now as we’re going through major upheavals in both my school and district. Today I excerpted ten paragraphs or so about blogging from my rambling thoughts. I hope to post something more soon. Thanks for your encouragement.

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