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Reading Workshop

After reading many books and journals about the varying methods of teaching reading to children over the past few years, I found that the reading workshop model comes across as one of the more effective and engaging ways to get students interested in reading. The International Reading Association routinely publishes journal articles about the effectiveness of having classroom libraries rich with quality literature and using student conferences as a way to gauge a child's progress. Since this format gives students tools for selecting and comprehending literature, students who were once reluctant to read now find themselves with the skills needed to be successful readers. Over the course of the year, students in my room read many books and are encouraged to do as good reader's do in exploring different genres, authors, and texts.

This structure emphasizes the interaction between readers and text. Students learn to ask questions, make connections with prior knowledge and previously read texts, and ask questions to clarify faulty comprehension they recognize has occurred. I really like how this method emphasizes students' independence and allows them to become successful readers outside of the classroom, not just during "reading time" in school. Above all, I love the authenticity of this method. The structure is natural becomes it emulates real life-- giving kids a chance to read real books that they choose and enjoy.

That said, I use the following format in my classroom:


I begin each morning with a mini-lesson. It is here that we focus on specific strategies or skills that will help us become life-long learners . I keep these lessons in the 10-15 minute range for two reasons:
1) Brain research shows this is about the amount of time a 4th/5th grader can listen to someone before their brain starts to wander and
2) I want to be very specific with what I teach. It needs to be something readers can take with them immediately...
"Try this out today while you're reading," I might say. With these lessons we keep account of each story we have read together and categorize it by genre. We also update our expanding vocabulary board by adding any interesting words we hear during the read-aloud. Research shows this is an effective way to learn vocabulary...through context (the act of reading itself) rather than in isolation.

Independent Reading/Individual Conferences/Guided Reading

After ending the class meeting, students take their books from their bins and find a place to read. A few, in preparation for a conference with me, may sort through their reader's notebook to update their log, record their genre picks reading goals, and locate some new books to conference over. While the students spend their time reading, the number one indicator of reading success/achievement, I meet with 4-5 students each day for individual conferences. I spend the second portion of the workshop time in small group/ guided reading.

Individual Conferences: Usually consist of a conversation of books read so far, book selection, follow-up on the previous meeting (I record it all), and an informal running record (listening to the child read out-loud) to record miscues, comprehension barriers, and future instruction.

Guided Reading/Small Group : All students have been assessed through multiple venues to determine an instructional reading level (what you can read with a little help, but not on your own). I use IRI, Running Records, and anecdotal records. All of these assessments help create a better picture of what each reader needs. Research shows that the bulk of time should be spent on a book that is below the instructional level, but it is through the instructional level books that I can really see what strategies and skills can be strengthened. The materials I use for small group meetings include: StoryTown mini-books, nonfiction trade books, and our school's library. Students seem to prefer nonfiction text with real-life photographs, so I focus on this as much as I can. With each meeting, the students create an chart to present what they have learned to the rest of the group during share time.

Independent Reading: This is where we build up our reading stamina. We try to spend our time reading books we enjoy- that we have selected on our own. We have the right to give up on books, reread books, and talk about what we are reading. You won't find us filling out endless worksheets or copying isolated vocabulary words from a pre-selected story. We read and we read a lot.

Reading Partnerships: Following the research of Kathy Collins, I do not support placing "high" readers with "low" readers. The easiest analogy is placing an experienced marathon runner with a runner new to the scene. This is not beneficial for either student and only reinforces the dynamics. As a result, we have long"er" partners that include peer editing for writing and two meetings with their partner to share and talk about what they are reading about. When partners are reading alike books, the conversation is more natural and beneficial.

Share Time

Reader's and Writer's Workshop ends with a short regrouping in the meeting area (5-10 minutes). It is during this time that students I conferenced with may share something they learned or a strategy they practiced, or I may ask the hardest, but perhaps the most important question, what did you learn about yourself as a reader today? The most rewarding part of this share time is that each of us start to understand the individual reader's needs and interest.
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