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.
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.)