November 4, 2015

The Different Contexts of Reading Workshop and How They Fit Together

This blog post is dedicated solely to the down and dirty of all things Reading Workshop.  Teaching using Reading Workshop is NOT the easy way out.  In fact, it's quite the opposite.  When I first went through Literacy Collaborative training at Lesley University, I learned all about the contexts of Reading Workshop: minilessons, interactive read aloud, guided reading, literature study, writing about reading, independent reading, and reading conferences.  I remember thinking at the time, "This is great and all, but how on Earth am I going to get all of these instructional contexts up and running in my middle school classroom with a room packed full of those people called middle school students?"  It seemed like climbing Mount Everest, backwards.  But I had support, I had resources, I had colleagues that were excited to learn right along side of me, and I decided to take it one day at a time.  You know that beautiful saying, "It will get easier."  That's what my professors, my curriculum director, and my principal kept telling me.

I took the leap of faith and trusted that it would.  Was every day pretty?  Nope.  Did it happen perfectly?  Absolutely not.  Did it get easier over time?  Well....yes and no.  What I can compare it to is learning to play a musical instrument.  Trying to get your instrument to play the sounds it's supposed to make at first is beyond frustrating, but you continue to go through the motions until it becomes more and more natural, and then all of a sudden one day you are playing this magical song without even thinking about it.  I had my doubts at the beginning about implementing Reading Workshop, but each year that I fully commit to implementing it in my classroom, new understandings are reached, new goals are established, and how is all melds together gains increasing clarity in my mind.

I feel so dialed in and committed to Reading Workshop with my students right now, and a huge part of that is because I'm not looking at Reading Workshop five different instructional contexts, I'm seeing it as this tool that I can reach readers with if I skillfully weave together the instructional contexts and get them to work as a team.  Once I stopped going through the motions of implementing the different pieces and started seeing minilessons, interactive read aloud, guided reading, literature study, writing about reading, independent reading, and reading conferences as a fluid machine, that's when the intense clarity hit me.  Therefore, this blog post is about the connectedness of the different pieces of Reading Workshop.

Beginning of the School Year (September and October)

Begin an interactive read aloud the first day of school.  Select an engaging text that is going to lend itself to be the mentor text during Reading Workshop minilessons.  Develop routines and expectations for the time you're reading out loud to students.  Engage them by stopping 2-4 times throughout the read aloud to model thinking, pose a question to the whole class, or ask students to discuss a certain topic in partner pairs.  A layer I've added to IRA this school year is asking students to focus in on one topic from the reading and jot their thinking on a Post-It note as I'm reading.  After the reading, I display 2-3 focus questions from the section of text we read that day and have students discuss the text in small groups.  Once again, small group discussion norms need to be modeled and reinforced through verbal self-assessment checks often.  Getting the IRA started is step number one because IRA is the heartbeat of the Reading Workshop.

From the beginning, reading minilessons should also be a daily part of Reading Workshop.  The minilessons should be mini (no more than 10-12 minutes) and focus in on ONE aspect of reading that students can apply across multiple texts.  Minilessons should focus in on strategic thinking about reading (word solving, summarizing, fluency, making connections, predicting, synthesizing, inferring, critiquing, and analyzing).  Minilessons should involve the gradual release of responsibility (minilesson statement/learning target, modeling from the teacher, have-a-go as a guided support, application where students apply the minilesson concept to their independent reading, and a share out of what was learned that day).  The modeling portion of the minilesson would be where the teacher is modeling the exact reading skill they're going to be asking students to apply to their independent reading during the application.  The modeling should be done using a text all students know about and have had access to, the interactive read aloud.

During the application portion of the minilesson, students are applying the minilesson to their books and independently reading self-selected texts.  This is the part that CAN'T be rushed.  This is the key to making Reading Workshop work in middle school.  What does independent reading look like?  What are the behavior norms and expectations during this time?  Discuss behavior expectations, reinforce positive behavior, and use self-evaluation of reading behavior during independent reading time often.  Make independent reading mean something.  Have students keep reading logs, take time to give book recommendations, have students give book recommendations to each other, celebrate readers who are plowing their way through book after book.  Create a read-aholic atmosphere in your classroom.

While students are independently reading, slowly phase in holding reading conferences one-on-one with students.  Also use this time to pull small groups of students who are struggling with applying the minilesson application to their independent reading books.  Once per week, have students construct a longer writing about reading response to the interactive read aloud or their independent reading book.  Put this into practice right away so that students are used to writing within the Reading Workshop.  Establishing these first instructional practices may take the first two months of the school year.  Guess what?  That's okay!  Lay the foundation of what needs to be done before trying to build a shaky house.

Middle of the School Year (November, December, and January)

At this point in the school year, you have interactive read aloud, reading minilessons, independent reading, writing about reading, and reading conferences established.  The next layer to add is to phase in guided reading and literature study, also referred to as literature circles.  These take the place of the time you were helping students with minilesson application and holding reading conferences during the independent reading time.  In my classroom, I alternate guided reading and literature circles.  They're never going on at the same time.  I'll do a round of guided reading, taking all of my groups through a text, and then flip to literature circles and do the same.

In order to hold guided reading groups, you need to know students' highest instructional reading levels and have access to group sets of leveled texts to match readers with appropriate level books.  In guided reading, students are grouped based on ability.  The goal of guided reading is for students to move up the gradient of text by being instructed at their highest instructional level.  Guided reading lessons are prepared by the teacher and involve a text introduction and within, beyond, and about discussion questions.

For literature circles, the goal is to get students talking about grade level texts in mixed, heterogeneous groupings based off of their top book choice.  Students drive this discussion as we teach them the speaking and listening skills needed to be a productive member of a literature circle group.  Students are also bringing discussion points to each group meeting as they are driving their discussion.  In a successful literature circle group, the teacher becomes a fly on the wall as they sit back and soak in a high-level conversation between peers.

A common question I get is: What are all of the other students doing while I'm meeting with guided reading or literature circle groups?  The answer to that would be the same thing they were doing before based on the routines and expectations that have been established during Reading Workshop up to this point.  You are still teaching a daily minilesson, and students are still applying that minilesson to their independent reading.  Once students are done applying the minilesson or completing their writing about reading, the rest of the time is theirs to be immersed in their independent reading book.

I'm going to be extremely blunt with you at this part of the blog post.  Guided reading and literature circles will NEVER happen successfully if the classroom management of the Reading Workshop up to this point in the school year is not successful.  Routines and expectations need to evolve when guided reading and literature circles begin because students are thrown off by a small group of their classmates sitting and talking with the teacher while they're expected to stay on task and quiet.  This is hard because they might have a question they want to ask you.  This is also a good lesson in independence, self-starting, and self-motivation.  As teachers, we can't always be right there to do the problem-solving for students.  That's exactly why the behaviors need to be talked about, modeled, and self-evaluated often by students.  Hmmm...I think I might have said that before in this post.  I'm sensing a trend.

Two tips I have for the initial implementation of small group reading instruction are:

  • Give time for individuals to ask you questions about the minilesson before immediately pulling a guided reading or literature study group.  This will help to ensure students are able to work independently while you're working with small groups and can't be interrupted.
  • Have students write questions they have about the minilesson down on a Post-It note if you're with a small reading group where you can't be interrupted.  Have a special place in the classroom where the questions go and promise students that the last five minutes of class will be dedicated to addressing the questions students had that day.  This will relieve some of the anxieties that escalate when a student doesn't know what to do and needs help when help is not immediately available.


February to the End of the School Year

At this point of the year, all of the pieces of Reading Workshop are in place in your classroom.  You keep revisiting routines and expectations as needed, but for the most part, Reading Workshop is functioning beautifully in your classroom.  This allows you to take your readers deeper and deeper into thinking about text.

How Do I Structure My Reading Workshop

My understandings of how things work and what best works for me and my group of unique students this school year are constantly evolving.  We've settled into a routine that works for us in our 90 minute Language Arts (for reading and writing) class period.

*Monday and Tuesday: Reading Workshop

-Word Study connected to Interactive Read Aloud (10 minutes)
-Interactive Read Aloud (10 minutes)
-Interactive Read Aloud Discussion in Small Groups (5 minutes)
-Minilesson (10 minutes)
-Application and Independent Reading Begin: Reading Conferences and answering individual questions about the minilesson application (10 minutes)
-Guided Reading/Literature Study (25 minutes)
-Answer Post-It Note Questions (5 minutes)
-Share (5 minutes)

*Wednesday : Reading Workshop with Writing about Reading Emphasis
(Same schedule as Monday-Tuesday, but the minilesson is focused on writing about reading)

*Thursday and Friday: Writing Workshop
-I still hold guided reading/literature study groups on most Writing Workshop days so that I'm able to see all students.

There you have it!  That is how Reading Workshop is rolled out across the school year.  If you're interested in any resources to help you implement any piece of the Reading Workshop, feel free to visit my TpT store and see my Reading Workshop Resources.




18 comments :

  1. Kasey...This is a fabulous walk through of the workshop process. I will be sharing on my Facebook page. Thanks so much!
    Carla

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    1. Hi Carla,

      I'm so glad you liked the post! I REALLY appreciate you sharing the post with a wider audience. Thanks so much!

      Kasey

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    2. Kasey,
      This was a very helpful post! I was wondering if you would do a similar post about Writing Workshop? Keep up the good work!

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    3. Thanks for the feedback, Ashley! I will definitely keep in mind doing a similar post for Writing Workshop. :)

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  2. Kasey,
    I have been following your blog since I was asked to begin teaching middle school reading last year. I have been implementing your workshop model and it has been great! I do not teach Language Arts, so I do not have the writing workshop component. The only difference between your model and mine is that I add centers into my guided reading. Students work with concepts learned in class (setting, theme, key events, etc) and vocabulary. They apply this to their guided reading book and their read aloud. I think it has been very successful and so much easier this year...my 2nd year. Thank you sooo much for all your help!
    Elizabeth :)

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    1. Hi Elizabeth,

      Thank you so much for your comment and for reading my blog. I'm so happy to hear that it has been helpful in the transition into teaching middle school. It sounds like you are doing amazing things with your students!

      Kasey

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  3. Hi Kasey! I was wondering about your books used during Guided Reading. Do you choose a book for your students, or are you using the LLI system books?

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    1. Good Morning!

      We have a Fountas and Pinnell leveled book room at our school, so the guided reading books are being used from there. The LLI system books are used for students in a reading intervention during our "zero" hour.

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  4. Hi Kasey! I came across your blog and have purchased the reading workshop kick starter. Thank you, I feel like you're a life saver! I plan on using this in my 6th grade Intervention class. The class is just starting and will run through the end of the year in June (4 hours a week). I was wondering, do you think it will just be as beneficial even if I do not have an entire year? Also the administration's goal is to improve these lower students reading levels so they can possibly pass the state assessment. I just wanted to hear your opinion if you this would be the best route to be the most effective in a shorter amount of time.
    Thanks again!! I love the blog.

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    1. Hi Erin,

      Thanks so much for reading my blog and purchasing from my TpT store. I'm a big believer in using Reading Workshop to teach reading, and so I think it's worth taking time now to get this structure in place, even though the school year is half way over. I hope that the implementation goes well! I would love to hear an update!

      Kasey

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  5. I am in the process of getting reading workshop running in classroom (over mid year through, yikes!), and we are finishing up a class novel right now. So, moving forward, I want to now switch to a new novel using the reading workshop model and interactive read aloud. My question is, when it is time for independent reading are these different books than the whole class read aloud? Do you let the students pick any books that would like or do you give them appropriately leveled books to choose from?

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    1. Hi Ali,

      This is a great question! The book used for interactive read aloud is read by me only during interactive read aloud time. At all times, students have an independent reading book. We call this their IR book. Now that the school year is rolling, I rotate my small group reading instruction between literature circles (heterogeneous groupings) and guided reading (homogeneous grouping). So technically that means that all students will be listening daily to the interactive read aloud, have an IR book, and have a literature circle or guided reading book. During independent reading, if students are not doing small group reading instruction with me, they are either reading their IR book or literature circle/guided reading book. This would also be the time that they're applying the minilesson to their reading.

      IR books are free choice, but I encourage students to read in a variety of genres across the year and we talk about choosing just right books. Guided reading books are leveled, but literature circle books are not. The great thing about Reading Workshop is students are exposed to a variety of texts and genres every day.

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  6. Do you do guided reading for all your classes, i.e 5 classes a day? How do you plan for so many groups. FYI, I'm an elementary teacher looking to move to middle school.

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    1. We alternate between guided reading and literature study (literature circles). Also, my middle school runs a modified block schedule, so our ELA class periods are 90 minutes long. Teachers teach two, 90 minute ELA classes per day and one 45 minute social studies class. Each teacher has a house partner that he/she shares 50 students with between two classes. The opposite house teacher is the math and science teacher. So long story short, ELA teachers at our school prepare guided reading for two classes per day and run one group a day in order to see every student in both of their classes at least once a week for guided reading. During literature study, students bring their own discussion points so it is not as much preparation on the part of the teacher during this instructional context.

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  7. I have both of your writing and reading kick off units. I'm super excited to implement them into my classroom. I have 60 minutes of reading with my sixth grade homeroom and 60 minutes of language/writing with all three sections of sixth grade. I'm struggling (2nd year teacher) with understanding how to run these workshops. For reading, we are assessing multiple standards each unit. We have six units. However, each unit is a mix of RL and RI standards to teach and assess. I'm not sure how I would have students apply each skill to their IR book or their GR book because of the difference in fiction and non-fiction strategies. Do you suggest separating the standards and only teaching/assessing RL with RL and RI with RI? My IRA could match the genre I'll be teaching so I can model. Their GR and IR book can match that fiction/non-fiction genre too. Any help is appreciated. Thanks!

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    1. Hi Heather,

      What I do to keep myself and my students sane is weave together a common thread across the contexts of Reading Workshop. For example, if I start the year with literature and want to assess the reading literature standards, I would select a realistic fiction read aloud, have students select a fiction (any) independent reading book, and focus my guided reading or literature study within that same genre as well. That way, your whole class minilessons will be able to be applied to the guided reading book, literature study book, or independent reading book that students are reading. Additionally, you can use your read aloud as the mentor text for the modeling portion of your minilesson. All things just weave together better when you do this. Such a great question, and I hope my response helps!

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  8. Hi Kasey,

    I am wondering how the balance between independent reading and literature circles is found? do you start the year with independent reading then move forward to literature circles or do you alternate? Thanks, Lindsey

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    1. Hi Lindsey,

      That's a great question! Independent reading is the constant. I start the year during the minilesson application time really working to establish healthy independent reading habits in my classroom. Once my students have that routine down, I start pulling small reading groups (a round of guided reading, alternated with a round of literature circles) during independent reading. When I do literature circles, I meet with one group per day, so if I have 25 students, 5 of them are with my in a literature circle and the other 20 are independently reading. I work it the same way when I'm doing guided reading. I see every student in a small reading group, whether it's guided reading or literature circles one day per week. The other four days, each student is independently reading during that same time. I hope that helps clarify the balance there! It can definitely be a little tricky to visualize.

      Thanks for reading my blog post and the great question!

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