The Workshop Model & Showing What Matters

I found it difficult to narrow down the multiple facets that are currently saving my life at the start of this school year. There are so many little pieces constructing the giant puzzle of my teaching and personal world.

My first idea: Why team teaching with your best friend is highly recommended – shout out to mine @bobbidc10. But, I realized that this was not going to be the most accessible of ideas. And so came my second idea: The implementation of the ‘workshop model’ (or rather, part of it).

(Quick check on idea relevance: Accessible – yup; Actually saving my life – for sure; Immediate application capability – definitely.)

Making time for the purposeful implementation of the workshop model (in my grade 10, AP, and IB English classes) has helped me to navigate the rapids that inevitably occur at the beginning of every new academic calendar.

My love devotion to the workshop model started with the introduction to Penny Kittle. She provided a perspective and implementation plan that revolutionized existing concepts and strategies. And there are two main concepts that once I started to incorporate into my practice, altered the way I teach for the better – I’d been changed for good (Cue Wicked soundtrack). 

Concept #1: Structure.

I knew that structure was important in my classroom – that I needed to give time for reading and writing and thinking and sharing; however, I had never sat down to think about what it should look and feel like. I was also afraid to have the boundaries of the day to day so defined.

Wouldn’t the repetition become a detriment to their learning over time? Wouldn’t it get boring – for me and the students?

My anxiety wasn’t alleviated until I put it into practice and lived in it. Kittle suggested the headings you see on my ‘agenda board’ – the magic of the workshop model lies within this simple structure. And what is that magic? It is the ability to build a sense of community…that we are all in the vast ocean of learning together.

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My agenda board. Labels for the workshop model stolen from Penny Kittle. Basic topics for the day along with learning outcomes.

So what does it look and feel like?

  1. We read every day… the first fifteen minutes of class is silent sustained reading time. With a book that students choose themselves – guidance provided if needed. I can’t think of a better way of creating this connection between students and the written word than by allowing them choice and time with books. 

    “Books are not meant to be taught, they are meant to be loved” – Kylene Beers

  2. We write every day… in writer’s notebooks. This could be a free write, a quickwrite, (Linda Reif’s resource, “The Quickwrite Handbook”, is also saving my life), a doodle, a brainstorm. Essentially, these notebooks serve as a blank canvas where students can play, explore, and take risks in their writing and thinking. The external pressure of assessments does not affect this sacred space, and the concept of student agency is enhanced through its consistent practice.

Although there are three other aspects to the workshop model (study, create, share), I am not going to go into detail on them at this time. [Stay Tuned!] Yes, the model as a whole is saving my life – but it is the reading and writing at the beginning of class that sets the tone for the learning context. It is the consistency of these two profoundly basic skills that hold the key as I conspire to create a community of readers, writers, and thinkers.

How do you set the tone for the learning context of your class? 

Concept #2: Showing what matters.

The reading and writing structure described above may seem simple to some, and you may already be implementing something similar. There is a second part that is required though – showing what matters. Penny Kittle’s book, “Write Beside Them”, was the impetus for what came next…

I did the reading. I did the writing. I showed my thinking. I lived it every day.

If we expect our students to be setting goals for the number of books to read in a year, for writing in different styles, for taking risks and trying something new, for showing how ideas form and change and connect…we must model and practice what we preach. When I started to do the work alongside them – the magic within the workshop model exponentially increased.

This wasn’t easy. It took time, conscious thought, and forced me to be more vulnerable. But it was worth it. As my students saw me developing new habits, it gave them the confidence to develop their own. And it gave us all a sense of doing it together.

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Showing what matters: A visual reading ladder. 400+ books that my students read last year that are individually ranked 1-10. Their name and the genre of the book are also labeled.

A little something extra…

The workshop model is definitely saving my life, but I must also briefly give credit to another lifesaver (and echo Michael’s post) on the power of my Twitter community.

If you are already a Twitter believer, you know what I mean. If you aren’t, you need to be. I dedicate 10-20 minutes a day to Twitter. This usually happens while I am eating my breakfast and on my walk home from school (I listen to a podcast on my walk to school – my current favourites is linked here).  And this small amount of time often feeds directly into my day. Here are a few specific ways that happened just this past week:

    • Shared with my colleagues AND students an NPR videocast about the ability of how our thoughts can alter another person’s behaviour;
    • Direct messaged a Tweet from NCTE to a colleague in the math department connecting to how to create a classroom of math thinkers – which led to a discussion on how she might run a book study in her extended math class;
    • Shared my love of the website by Maria Fabrizio – Wordless News (perfect for Lang/Lit and AP Lang. #APLangchat #LangLitchat)
    • amplifying my own practice by producing content; and
    • showing what matters through my dedication to continuous learning and growth.

(If you are a beginner, this is a nice website to get you started)

Incorporating more structure into your everyday teaching and learning context can come in many forms – how are you adding meaningful structure in your own context? What might be your first step in creating a sense of structure to enhance that community feel? What are you showing that matters on a daily basis? Share your ideas with me on Twitter @readwritemore

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