Reimagining the Magic of the Workshop Model Series 3: Non-Negotiables in Physical and Virtual Spaces

Special Note:  This is blog post entry 3 of a blog series titled: Reimagining the Magic of the Workshop Model. Blog post 1 in the series can be found here: Reimagining the Magic of the Workshop Model Series 1: Inviting Change.  Blog post 2 can be found here: Reimagining the Magic of the Workshop Model Series 2: Rallying Learners and Building Community. This blog post series is written from my perspective, as I teach face-to-face and virtual cohorts of middle school learners simultaneously.

Like the Speed of Light

Recently, the educational landscape we have always known has been challenged and has shifted faster than we could have ever comprehended…way beyond our imaginations. It’s as if we have instantaneously soared into a virtual learning universe that seems faster than the speed of light. Did you know that the speed of light in a vacuum is 186,282 miles per second, and in theory, nothing travels faster than light? So, if we were actually able to travel at the speed of light, you could go around the Earth 7.5 times in one second. This seems incomprehensible, doesn’t it? Well, wasn’t there once a time where many of the practices we employed in education seemed light-years away? The fact of the matter is that education has always evolved and changed, yet, those deviations seemed much easier to consume and digest because they happened more gradually. On the other hand, in the spring of 2020, educators were urgently launched into another dimension of teaching and learning. We were left questioning whether or not the instructional practices we have always held close to our hearts would still be significant in virtual and physical spaces. We were left questioning whether we could connect with learners and develop meaningful relationships. We were left questioning whether or not we could honor the teaching frameworks that have historically impacted learners in positive ways. We were left questioning if the resources we have worked so hard to curate throughout our years of teaching would still be compatible virtually. We were left wondering how we could monitor and track learning through meaningful formative and summative assessments. 

What I Know Now

For me, the first question that stirred within was whether or not educators would be able to keep the magic of the workshop model alive in our new physical and virtual atmospheres. As I continue to question, reflect, revise, and shift how I approach cultivating relationships, analyze curriculum, deliver instruction, and administer assessments, I know now more than ever that no matter where our learning spaces exist, it is up to us, the educators to embrace it. I know now, it is up to us to own it. I know now, it is up to us to navigate this new territory with open hearts, flexible minds, and positive spirits. I know now that it is up to us to take the instructional practices we know have always worked, and fine-tune our techniques to meet the needs of ALL learners throughout the process.  And since I am knee-deep into the experience of  Hyflex teaching, the philosophy and implementation of the Workshop Model can be achieved by keeping these 6 non-negotiables at the core of the work.

6 Non-Negotiables in Physical and Virtual Spaces

(Click on the link above for access to the infographic)

Connection Before Content– When you place cultivating relationships and building community front and center, it is likely that you will leave a lasting impact on the learners you encounter throughout your educational career. I am pretty sure that the legacy we choose to leave is not in the time we took to plan and execute a lesson; it is not in the homework or assessments we assigned or graded; I am positive that it is in the time we took to get to know our students as human beings first. If you commit to leading with passion and empathy. If you take the time to find common ground. If you create inviting, safe, nurturing learning spaces for ALL learners, you will see a big return on your investment. In a recent Future Ready podcast titled Universally Designed Connection and Reflection with Brianna Hodges and Dr. Katie Novak, Dr. Novak brilliantly and simply states,  “If you can connect with students, then that’s a good enough tool right now.” Learners have an emotional compass and will use social referencing to take cues from adults they admire. With that being said, by connecting and sharing your authenticity and passion, students will believe in and be an integral part of the magic in the important work that lies ahead.

Honor the Architecture– When planning and executing a minilesson, keep in mind that the content, focus, and/or space may change, but the architecture of the minilesson and it’s components don’t! In the book Leading Well: Building Schoolwide Excellence in Reading and Writing by Lucy Calkins, (written before the COVID-19 global pandemic, but still remains true) she says, “When teachers lead effective minilessons, these short bursts of instruction will mobilize the whole community to be on fire as readers and writers and will immerse the kids in an understanding of the work they are doing” (p. 69). However, keep in mind that since there are new and different learning spaces to consider (physical and virtual) when delivering a minilesson, educators must be flexible with each component, the pacing, and the way learners are engaged throughout the process. According to the Heinemann article, How the Essentials of Reading and Writing Workshop Do-and Don’t Change with Virtual Teaching, “Traditionally, the architecture of minilessons remains largely the same from day to day—and contains a connection, teach, active engagement, and link. For virtual minilessons we keep the “connection” and “teach,” but often combine the “active engagement” and the “link” as a way to set kids up to practice the strategy demonstrated. So instead of kids trying the work during the minilesson—hard to do virtually, especially with recorded instruction—after the teacher demonstrates, we set the kids up to go off to work.” Honoring the gradual release of responsibility, the effective transfer of skills and strategies, and leading learners towards independence will always remain a constant in any learning environment.

Architecture of a minilesson anchor chart.

Conferring is a Cornerstone- 1:1 and small group conferencing is a key ingredient to having learners practice, improve, and elevate their literacy skills. This sacred time spent with students can be messy as the learner guides the direction the conference will take. In turn, the teacher should be able to notice and name a learner’s strengths and areas for growth and adjust the direction and goals of the conference accordingly. According to Jennifer Serravallo, in her book A Teacher’s Guide to Reading Conferences K-8, she beautifully conveys, “Conferring is where the magic happens. It’s the heartbeat of the literacy block…. Conferring blurs the lines between teacher and student” (p. 1). In a conference, the teacher and student are both learners, except, the student is doing most of the work while the teacher coaches in and offers thinking prompts to lift the level of the work. Students need to understand the goal(s) of the conference in order to make the necessary progress in their learning and during independent reading. In virtual spaces, these vital interactions take place in Zoom or Meet breakout rooms. This is a more personalized space to connect, interact, and personalize learning. Katie Martin confirms this in her blog titled, To Engage Students, Focus on Connection Over Content, “Scheduling time with each student to connect, learn more about their circumstances, their goals, and ideas, created a different dynamic that built empathy and allowed for more personalization and meaningful connection.” In her blog Using Feedback to Build a Sense of Connection, Purpose, and Ownership Dr. Martin states, “5-minute conferences can be a really powerful way to check in with students and provide timely meaningful feedback based on their needs.  Teachers who are remote might use breakout rooms to meet with a few different students or small groups each day to check-in. If you are in person you can call students up while others are working or giving each other feedback.”

Curate Relevant Resources

-Print and Digital Texts

In a workshop classroom, readers should have access to a tremendous volume of books in a mutlitude of genres and topics that spark their interest. As a matter of fact, Richard Allington suggests that schools have a minimum of 1,000 books per classroom! Over the last few years, learners have also been introduced to digital readers. Since we are attending to the needs of learners in both physical and virtual spaces, it is important to provide students with access to rich classroom libraries as well as websites and apps that house a plethora of digital texts. I am fortunate that my school district has provided our students with digital texts on Raz-Kids, Epic, Bookflix, and Sora (just to name a few). In the physical classroom, books are checked out when readers go book shopping, and then they are quarantined for 4 days until they can be checked out again! We must continue to keep in mind that maintaining a classroom library is an ongoing process to ensure that there are high-interest, high quality texts that represent various genres, topics, and series that students will embrace.

-Purposeful Anchor Charts 

Purposeful anchor charts that are created with students is an essential part of the workshop experience! If you walk into my classroom, you will see that the walls are adorned with meaningful charts that help learners access skills/strategies that are needed to navigate various texts they encounter. These tools are meant to maximize students’ independence, encourage choice and risk-taking, and celebrate the productive struggle along the way. In the book Smarter Charts by Marjorie Martinelli and Kristine Mraz, they explicitly state, “Charts help to make our teaching explicit and clear by providing step-by-step directions and key tips and strategies for how to do something” (p. 86). For students in the virtual space, I recreate mini versions of these charts and intentionally attach them to a digital notebook of strategies for learners to access when they need the support.

Physical Space Anchort Chart (left) and Virtual Space Anchor Chart (right)

Preserving Independent Reading-Independent reading is the heart of the workshop model. Within the gradual release of responsibility, it is critical to be able to guide learners towards independence in physical and virtual spaces. This is where they will be able to apply the skills and strategies that are taught during the demonstration portion of the minilesson. Independent reading is a routine and protected practice that transpires across grade levels. According to the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Position Statement on Independent Reading, “Effective independent reading practices include time for students to read, access to books that represent a wide range of characters and experiences, and support within a reading community that includes teachers and students. Student choice in text is essential because it motivates, engages, and reaches a wide variety of readers. The goal of independent reading as an instructional practice is to build habitual readers with conscious reading identities.” If you are an educator who embraces the workshop model philosophy, it is a professional obligation to model your own reading life and create the time and space for learners to independently read.

Ongoing Assessment & Feedback– Meaningful assessment can propel the teaching and learning process. It is a way to collect information about the learners’ strengths and areas of need.  In a workshop model framework, it is important to embed thoughtful assessments that drive daily instruction. Assessments help teachers provide thoughtful feedback, create small groups, create personalized goals for all learners, and structure minilessons accordingly. This includes, but is not limited to formal and informal running records, spelling inventories, checklists, rubrics, and anecdotal notes. When adminstering assessments in physical and virtual spaces, it is vital to plan accordingly. It is beneficial to be transparent with learners and families about the “why” behind each assessment. Learning shouldn’t be a secret! Personally, I always spend time discussing the expectations in rubrics and checklists with learners. We analyze the nuances in language and develop a shared understanding of the goals. In Katie Martin’s blog titled, Using Feedback to Build a Sense of Connection, Purpose, and Ownership, she expresses, “When students are clear about the learning goals and criteria for success, they can self assess their work and take ownership of the process. Checklists and rubrics can be really helpful, especially if they are co created and the students have a clear grasp of what is expected of them. Creating time and building the routine for this practice is critical to understand where they are and determine next steps.” Furthermore, it is valuable to provide learners with ongoing, cyclical feedback that clearly paints a picture of where they are in relation to the learning targets, what the next steps are, and what it will take to get there. Katie Martin goes on to say, “Meaningful feedback is not the same as a grade or an evaluation. Feedback is information for the learner about where they are in relationship to the goal or target to help them get there. If we can prioritize the learning goals and only assign meaningful work, we can make the time for students to go deep, get feedback, revise and do something meaningful.”

Learners highlighted the shifts in language on a 1-4 scale Reading Workshop Rubric for physical and virtual spaces.

Stay tuned for the next blog in this series: Reimagining the Magic of the Workshop Model Series 4: Honoring the Workshop Model Framework 

Moving with Time

My Perpetual Internal Clock

5:30 am… this is the time my morning routine begins. This is the time, my mind begins to race as I instantly start to think about all of the things I want to accomplish in my day. This is the time my internal clock is set to, even when I don’t have anywhere specific to be. This is a time when no one else in my house is awake yet. It’s my time. A time to ponder, to think, to analyze, to reflect, and to set new goals. I’ll admit, it’s REALLY hard for me to turn off the thoughts and ideas that speed like wildfire through my head. It kind of feels like a dream, the ones with different scenes that overlap with one another. The kind of dreams where there are problems that present themselves as barriers and you have that urgent feeling to search for the right solutions. The kind of dream where you encounter various people you have met in your life and you are happy they are there to be the thinking partner who will help you overcome the challenges. Do you ever think about how you can navigate your days with intention and purpose and who you may invite to come along for the journey? 

Choosing Time

Time… time is something that we all have and choose to use in different ways. One way isn’t better than the other, that’s what makes us who we are. For me, when I am in professional thinking mode, I tend to perseverate over how I will use my time so that I can make a difference for learners and the educational community. I ask myself, “What could I do differently today and make it better than yesterday? I believe that this type of thinking actually works well in our current climate. The way we are learning and the types of resources we have access to are constantly changing within spaces of time. It’s happening really fast. Day by day… hour by hour… minute by minute. Sometimes, it’s difficult to keep up with it all. It’s like running a race. You take off with plenty of open space in front of you and then suddenly there are hurdles that get in your way. It’s a barrier that doesn’t appear to be moving, and you must figure out a way to successfully move beyond it. Do you stop and run backward or do you keep moving forward? More than ever, we are living in times where we must roll up our sleeves and embrace the change. Actually, to me, there is no other choice. It is dangerous to say “This is the way we have always done it”. Our world and the learners that exist within it are constantly evolving and educators have an obligation to stay ahead of the curve. It is also important to understand that we do not have to do it alone. After all, aren’t we in a field of sharing and collaboration? We must constantly rally together to analyze, reflect, assess, and work deliberately towards improving instruction, the practices we employ, and solutions to instructional issues that get in the way. It is crucial to invite others to share their expertise and guide us towards providing optimal learning experiences for students. Katie Martin recently shared the image below on Instagram that expresses just what I am saying. We can choose to use our time to actively seek out opportunities that will help us thrive in the unpredictable times we are living in.

Katie Martin

We Can Dance in the Puddles

Time…it is time to think differently about the things we are used to seeing daily and create systems that support the process for creating and refining ideas. In a recent Future Ready podcast, Thomas Murray interviewed Superintendent, Dr. Tiffany Anderson. I was captivated by her ideas, convictions, and courageous leadership qualities. She expressed how her school district recognized that they must be versatile and adaptable as they shifted to remote learning. She mentioned that if you leverage technology well, you can continue learning in all different ways. She went on to say that since we have not been confined to our classroom walls, there are no borders that will get in the way of our growth…the possibilities are limitless. The challenging times we have been faced with have led us to take a deeper look into how students and educators learn. These times have allowed us to be more innovative than ever before and have prompted us to take more risks.  I have always believed in the power of being a connected and networked educator, and this notion only amplified the value of it. Dr. Anderson also indicated that students and educators are truly resilient to the new structures that have been put in place. This idea really resonated with me because we can now think intentionally about using our time differently than we have before. And, because there are so many unknowns, that there is no “right” way to approach this work. The idea of starting with what you know, learning the facts, and then moving forward, makes it all more manageable. Of course, the preparation for this type of learning certainly has to have a great deal of flexibility. My favorite part of this podcast is when Dr. Anderson says that when it rains, and right now it’s a thunderstorm, “You have two options. You can complain about the rain or you can dance in the puddles.”  I have certainly seen educators in my own school district and in districts across the country dancing in the puddles. This work is admirable. It can be hard. It can be emotional. It can be draining. But, it sure is rewarding! These virtual spaces have really opened up times to collaborate and connect with colleagues in new and exciting ways! I highly recommend viewing this incredible podcast as there are so many MORE gems of information and words of wisdom shared.

Time Moves Forward

Time…time is moving and the world continues to evolve in ways we could have never imagined. When my 5:30 a.m. internal clock wakes up, I will continue to think about how learning is messy. I will continue to perseverate on how I can make teaching and learning better. I will continue to think about the challenges that are getting in the way. I will continue to think about how learning is not a step by step, linear process. I will continue to think that it’s complex and often requires multiple solutions that have several correct answers. One thing I can say with certainty is that my mind will never stop moving with time. I am committed to rolling up my sleeves, embracing the change, navigating the days with intention and purpose, and inviting others to join me!

time