A Reading Workshop is key to actively engage students and allow all children to build their reading skills every day.
This insight comes from the personal experience of literacy experts Phil and Sharon Callen, whose lessons have evolved to include the ‘Workshop Model’, which allows ‘every child every day to read something they choose’.
“As a teacher, you don’t want your students to resist reading. You want them to burn to read, be engaged and be impacted on a number of levels through the books they read and the way you teach. The Reading Workshop provides an excellent lesson structure for this to happen,” Sharon said on episode 17 of The Teacher’s Tool Kit for Literacy.
“Speaking from personal experience, it starts by taking responsibility. And through learning more about the teaching of reading, investing in professional development and trying new things, we came to the Workshop Model.
“We’re not just having something presented to us, otherwise that’s a lecture or a tutorial. It suggests active learning, and that’s through a mix of new information and of doing, thinking and sharing confusions and misunderstandings of insights and puzzlement, new ideas, wonderings and reflections.”
Sharon and Phil explained there are three main components to a Reader’s Workshop – the mini lesson, independent learning, and reflecting / sharing.
Firstly, the mini lesson needs to have literature at the core of the teachings, especially ‘tantalising texts’.
“A mini lesson in a reading workshop would always have, at its heart, literature texts. So, a read aloud or shared text, enlarge text. So a mini lesson can’t be devoid of text because in the mini lesson, it needs to be showing and exploring what a good writer and good reader does,” Sharon said.
“It has to be linked to rich text, or what we refer to as tantalising text. It’s going to allow children to have an emotional response to it, allow them to learn about their world themselves.
“Now this workshop model is really built on a recognisable theory of what people will know as the gradual release of responsibility, so that the mini lesson is allowing ‘to’ and ‘with’ … and that’s all happening through text that can be shared in large text or through the read aloud, or just listening to the read aloud.
“And I’m not over killing that. I’m bringing it to attention and showing how that works … So [for example] as I’m reading, I might have introduced my mini lesson by saying, ‘okay, I just want us to listen to this bit’. And I read it out and I can say, so good readers will actually use the dialogue to think about, ‘oh, what’s that telling me about that character? What’s it telling me about their feelings? What’s it telling me about their motivations?’ As I keep reading, I want them to keep practicing, so they’re actually getting a chance to be active within that strategy. I’m not creating a worksheet. I am creating a true task. I’m letting them do that work and practice it during the mini lesson.”
Phil added: “So it’s a ‘with’ – they’re working with you. It’s almost a rehearsal of what they’re about to do in their independent reading time.”
The next stage is independent reading, which is effective in allowing students to practice their learnings, despite misconceptions that this activity is ‘a waste of time’.
“If there’s one thing, no matter what else is happening in your reading program in the classroom, if you want students to transfer the teaching that you are doing and the learning that they’re trying for, it has to be for them to actually practice that as they read,” Sharon said.
“This gives purpose to whatever else you’re doing in your literacy block, in that reading time. You might be saying, ‘well, I haven’t got time. I can’t fit this in’. Well, this is a core and fundamental piece of that reading time because they have to have the place to apply and practice and learn how to be the good reader.”
Phil added: “it’s not just like in the old days when we’d do silent reading and it was just everyone choose a book and off you go. It’s much more purposeful because you’re connecting to the mini lesson, and you’ve got a strategy that you’re going to apply in your independent reading. And then you’re going to actually talk about it towards the end. So everyone’s accountable.
“The teacher is actively finding out during that time where those children are as readers and supporting them, because that also feeds back to the mini lesson.”
Thirdly, ‘share and reflection’ is a short but powerful section of the lesson where students can reveal to each other their questions and insights.
“That actually only needs two more minutes. And those two minutes might be, I have noticed children doing some things and I do the share. I’ll say, ‘oh, today, I just popped in with you, you were having trouble finding a book to read, we’ve found you a book. Just tell everybody what it is. Fantastic’. You’re away. I’ve taken 30 seconds. I can do two or three more children yet. ‘Notice this? Can you tell us this? Can you tell us that?’” Sharon said.
“Or, I might bring or get everyone to do a turn and tell. So, ‘Phil joined with Sharon. Phil, you’ve got 60 seconds to tell Sharon about your reading today. Just talk about was his story about? What did you love about it? Or what did you discover in your reading today?’ Or it might link back to the mini lesson. ‘How did that help you in your reading today?’
“So it’s not just sitting in isolation. It’s sitting with the community of learners all around us, and the teaching, and the talking about it, all wrapping that practice that we’re doing.”