A Galaxy of Shooting Stars
Entering a classroom that embraces the reading and writing workshop model is like walking into a galaxy blanketed in magic. Each learner is like a shooting star that heats up and glows as new learning orbits through the classroom atmosphere. You could feel a sense of wonder, observation, and exploration as teachers and students delve into a new skill and strategy. You could sense a special thrill as students are empowered to move towards independence. It’s the type of teaching framework that builds community, human connection, and cultivates powerful relationships. The workshop model is strongly connected to authentic literature, various genres, and relevant learning experiences. It’s the type of practice that rallies learners together in safe cozy spaces. It is a universe surrounded by accessible stacks of books in colorful bins and bookcases. It is a place you can usually find an easel with chart paper and your favorite markers (my preference is Mr. Sketch). If you are entering a true workshop classroom, be prepared to enter a world where both teachers and students are viewed as learners.
“I have a big secret for you readers…YOU are the BOSS of your reading!” I wish you could see their faces… EMPOWERED! @michelleroot17 your Ss know what the workshop looks like, sounds like, feels like… ✨♥️🙌 @Hernandez237I @sharonlynn651 #Lido pic.twitter.com/vkr9wmpuIT
— Lauren Kaufman (@Lau7210) October 30, 2019
Missing My Universe
Lately, I miss everything about the feeling of being in a reading and writing workshop environment. I miss the in-person feeling of collaborating with teachers to plan minilessons. I miss the feeling of sifting through a plethora of mentor texts and read alouds to find just the right one to model a teaching point. I miss the feeling of being surrounded by teachers and students in various classrooms as we work together to enhance learning experiences for learners. I miss telling stories to make the connection between previous learning and new learning. I miss seeing the moments of awe in students’ faces as they realize they are learning something they haven’t thought about before. I miss demonstrating a skill and a strategy and then reading a portion of a mentor text in my most dramatic character voice. I miss the active engagement where students make approximations, encounter productive struggle, and seek guidance and support from their peers. I miss saying “off you go” and watching students rush to their reading/writing spots buzzing about books or talking to friends about details they are anxious to include in their writing. I miss sweeping and scanning the room to check for understanding and making sure that all of the learners are involved in meaningful literacy practices. I miss the sudden hush of the room as readers and writers become absorbed in their own learning atmospheres. I miss connecting with learners during 1:1 conferencing, researching their learning, naming their strengths, and co-creating literacy goals. I miss it all, I do.
Thinking about my lesson for 1st grade- #Lindell this week! T U for pushing my thinking during our time together @plugo514 & @ClancyJoanna…missed you @hpuckhaber23 & @MrsPiersonLB-will catch up tomorrow! Looking forward to our work together! #ProudToBeLB #LBSummitChallenge pic.twitter.com/q8C8DRP4el
— Lauren Kaufman (@Lau7210) October 22, 2019
Reading conferences build S-T relationships, allow the T to collect information about Ss’ reading behaviors, strengths, & areas for growth! Anecdotal notes support the T in designing precise, intentional instruction! 📝 @MRSSGRAHAM2 @WestSchoolLBNY @LorraineRadice1 #LBLITCoach💫 pic.twitter.com/STAYhlwFb1
— Lauren Kaufman (@Lau7210) December 17, 2019
Facing a New Reality
And just like stars disappearing in the sky, that magical feeling, that comfortable space dissolved and suddenly morphed into a new reality. Sadly, there were no shooting stars for me to rally together in a reading huddle. There were no teachers to physically sit next to and plan our next minilesson. There was no classroom library or anchor chart stand sitting next to a comfortable rug. My internal dialogue asked myself, “How can I possibly emulate the magic of the workshop experience in a remote learning environment? “What can I do to support teachers to help their students feel engaged, empowered, and supported in this ‘new’ environment?” I rolled up my sleeves and began searching my usual “go-to” blogs for remote learning ideas. I latched onto Jennifer Gonzalez’s Cult of Pedagogy blog post: Distance Learning: A Gently Curated Collection of Resources for Teachers and was drawn in by the section “Options For Delivering Content.” This blog post inspired my journey of reimagining the workshop model and what the virtual minilesson could be. It was then that I quickly began my exploration of creating pre-recorded minilessons on various digital platforms.
Reimagining the Workshop Remotely
Suddenly, my dining room table became a recording studio and my new virtual universe. My workshop environment reimagined now encompasses a laptop, a document camera, some books from my sons’ personal book collections, stacks of colorful post-it notes in all different sizes for my Teachers College Reading and Writing Project inspired mini anchor charts, and lots of sharpies. And then, there’s the process for creating the magic in pre-recorded minilessons.
Experiencing the Process
After doing some research about pre-recording minilessons and experiencing the process, I’d like to share some ideas that have worked:
- Pick a comfortable digital platform: Lately many educators are asking me what digital platform for recording is “the best”. My answer: pick one that is easy for you to navigate and gets the job done. I like to use Zoom or Google Meet. That’s just my preference!
- Connect with learners: Build trust and engagement by being animated and inviting. In other words, make it a performance and captivate your learners!
- Be yourself: Speak naturally and don’t speak too slowly. The video can always be revisited for clarification.
- Timing: Keep videos short! 6-8 minutes, if possible. Learners will disengage with long, drawn-out lessons. Recording several shorter videos, than fewer longer ones will be more effective for learning.
- Be visual: Too many words are not good-it’s cognitive overload! Use clear, appealing visuals that will support the learning.
- Create intentional interaction: Pause the video at intentional places so learners can think. Embedding thought-provoking questions will encourage learners to reflect on their learning.
- Present a challenge: At the end of the video, leave the learners with a challenge so they can apply what you just taught them during independent practice!
It is paramount to recognize that the pre-recording of minilessons is not going to be a perfect operation. Learning is not linear, it’s a messy process. Also, giving yourself space to make your own connections for learning and growth throughout the experience is essential. It may feel reaffirming to know that when you keep the learners at the heart of decision making and continuously respond to their needs no matter where the learning environment exists; the magic of the Reading and Writing Workshop has the potential to live on.
I do believe that there WILL be good that will come out of reimagining the workshop model. I think it’s fair to ask yourself, “What parts of this experience could I utilize to ultimately transform the teaching and learning practices I currently employ? “How can I capitalize on this opportunity to learn new things that will ultimately benefit student learning?” And then there will come a day when just as fast as the stars disappeared, the magic of the workshop will suddenly reappear and embrace you. Once again, the shooting stars will heat up and glow, orbit around the room, and WILL shine brighter than ever before.