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.