Special Note: This is blog post entry 2 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. This blog post series is written from my perspective, as I teach face-to-face and virtual cohorts of middle school learners simultaneously.
The Magic of Then
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.
The Magic of Now
Throughout emergency remote learning and up until this very moment, I find myself in a constant state of reflection. I continuously come back to the questions… How can I hold onto my beliefs and recreate the magic of the workshop model in post-COVID-19 learning environments? Will I be able to rally learners together and build community in physical and virtual spaces effectively and seamlessly? Can learners embrace the idea of the gradual release of responsibility and apply skills and strategies being taught in both physical and virtual environments? Now, if you walk into a room that embraces the workshop model, you may notice that aesthetically, this space looks different; now, you will see limited furniture; now, instead of gathering on a community rug, (there are no more rugs for gathering) learners are sitting at desks that are 6 feet apart and in rows; now, you will see some bookcases that house various genres of books and quarantine baskets strategically placed as a holding place for books when they are returned. Now, learners are relying on having more access to digital texts and are book shopping personal devices. Now, learners are wearing masks and are not encouraged to face each other in close proximity to turn and talk during active engagement and independent practice. Now, instead of seeing the teacher sitting on the corner of a rug or right beside learners and calling them over to the community space with anchor charts, Post-its, and Mr. Sketch markers in hand, you will see the anchor chart in the front of the room facing rows of desks, or an anchor chart slide presented on a screen. You will observe little movement and as little to no transitions as possible. And yes, now you will see lots of screens. Personally, I have three screens on as I teach; one to connect with learners and manipulate my document camera, slides, and/or digital tools I am utilizing during synchronous sessions on Google Meet, another screen is the Smartboard; this is where physical learners can look to the screen I am presenting so they don’t have to constantly look at their 1:1 devices and another screen that allows me to see the virtual learners level of engagement as I share my screen to teach. I hope I painted this picture well for you because I had to think of ways to invite change into the new environments we were obligated to adjust to.
What Remains Constant
If you walk into a physical and/or virtual workshop community here is the magic that will always remain familiar and constant; you can still feel the authentic learning in physical and virtual spaces. The structure and components of a workshop minilesson are being delivered with intention and purpose. Learners are invited to connect previous learning to new learning, teaching points are carefully constructed and clearly show the skill and strategy learners will employ. The teacher is explicitly teaching the skill and strategy by using a carefully selected portion of a mentor text, using think-aloud, and the “watch me as I show you” verbiage. Anchor charts are purposefully co-created with learners and are hanging around the room, while mini-anchor charts are recreated for the learners in virtual learning spaces. Learners are being given the opportunity for active engagement in collaborative physical and virtual spaces, the skill and strategy are reinforced throughout the minilesson, workshop interruptions are transpiring, learners are practicing the skill and strategy in partnerships, small groups, and/or independently while the teacher is conferencing with individual students. Furthermore, learners are being given the opportunity to share their thinking and learning work in safe, supportive environments. A recent Heinemann blog post confirms this, “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.” Stay tuned for specific examples of each component of the minilesson in future blog posts in this series.
Rallying Learners and Building Community
Before sharing more detailed examples about how I am implementing the architecture of the minilesson and giving you strategies for each component, here are some activities I used to get to know and rally learners while building community in physical and virtual workshop atmospheres.
Learning Survey for Families and Students: I created a Google Form Learning Survey for both learners and their families inspired by Catlin Tucker. I used similar questions for both because it was important for me to get to know the learners in my classes from both perspectives. This was also a way for me to introduce Google Forms as I plan on using this digital tool in a multitude of ways. I embedded a welcome video for the families right into the form so they can learn why filling out this form was important to me. This was also a way for me to connect with them, show who I am and what I value as an educator.
Jamboard to Share Answers From Survey: I wanted to show the students that I took the time to read their surveys and how I value their feedback. I utilized questions from the Learning Survey and had them answer those questions using the sticky note feature on Jamboard. Learners thought this digital tool was very intuitive, fun, and easy to use as a collaborative digital tool. This is also a way to be inclusive of ALL learners in both physical and virtual spaces while developing your classroom community and holding ALL students accountable for their thinking and learning.
Digital Notebook on Google Slides-Passions and Interests Collage: Learners utilized a digital notebook on Google Slides to create a collage about themselves while sharing their passions and interests. They inserted pictures, captions, and colors that represented who they are. This was also a way for them to practice using Google Slides…a digital tool we will be using for various learning activities. I was able to provide learners with specific feedback and use the information they provided to embed into my conversations with individual students. There is such magic that happens when you are able to weave their passions and interests into teaching and learning practices and dialogue. The students light up with excitement when their teacher remembers who they are as a human being and shows they really do care. This investment of time will lead to deeper learning in the future.
George Couros’ 5 Questions: I used George Couros’ 5 Questions to connect with learners. Students got the opportunity to respond in a Google Form with video embedded directions and/or a Flipgrid video. I am finding that video is a powerful way to connect with learners and simulate more authentic learning experiences, especially the ones who are learning 100% virtually. They get an opportunity to see me and hear me as they learn every single day. I was pleasantly surprised by how many students chose to use Flipgrid. Learners explicitly shared that they feel connected to the classroom community using the Flipgrid platform. They love having the back and forth dialogue with their peers and me. Their responses were incredible! I always jot down notes about ideas learners include in their responses. This helps me plan instructional moves that are more targeted to meet the needs of every learner.
Setting Classroom Community Agreements in Physical and Virtual Environments: I do not believe in setting the rules and expectations for my classes. Why? It’s because they aren’t MY classes. These are OUR learning spaces. When learners have an opportunity to contribute to community agreements, they take ownership of the norms and promises they create. We utilized Mentimeter’s cloud feature to brainstorm “What makes a GREAT classroom community?” After sharing their ideas, we wrote a summary of the agreements together. After, I dropped the link to the slides into the Google chat, learners committed to the agreements WE created by signing our contract in real-time and in a collaborative way. Learners were invited to practice how to experience collaborating on a slide with their peers. We will be using this method for collaboration and response this year. See the process below! Make sure you click on the right arrow to see the video of learners collaborating on the Google Slide!
I scheduled five-minute meetings with all of my learners. This idea was inspired by Dr. Mary Hemphill’s book The One Minute Meeting: Creating Student Stakeholders in Schools. I learned about Dr. Hemphill in George Couros’ Innovator’s Mindset Podcast. The idea of these meetings is to check-in with my students, learn more about them as human beings, and then utilize the information to elevate their emotional literacy. The responses elicited were powerful! After asking those simple, open-ended questions and having those personal conversations with each learner, I feel even more connected to each one of them. I now have a deeper understanding of what is happening in their world. Some had really cheerful, positive stories to share, while others were expressing that they are going through challenging times. I appreciated every minute with those students. I have always led with empathy, but now I will be able to utilize what I know to personalize instruction in much more meaningful ways. One learner responded to our interaction by saying, “Mrs. Kaufman, it’s really nice to know you care. Your class is more than just turning in assignments.” I plan to use this check-in strategy over the course of the year in order to continuously develop the relationships I have formed. Note that the responses below are from middle school learners in grade 6-8. The responses were collected in Google Forms.
Embedding Meaningful Experiences
I believe that the heart of teaching and learning is rooted in the connections and relationships we develop with the learners we are lucky enough to serve. Cultivating strong relationships, understanding the learners’ strengths and areas for growth, tapping into their passions and interests, and authentic, responsive teaching are the cornerstones of any worthwhile educational journey. Without truly caring about the social-emotional well-being of our students, learning will not be as productive or meaningful. If we want to see the positive, lasting impact we are hoping for, we have to make it our obligation to get to know all learners as human beings first. If we vow to make the commitment to continuously embed rallying our learners and building community into everyday practices and really mean it, I promise you… the magic of the workshop model will magically and naturally come alive!
Stay tuned for the next blog in this series: Reimagining the Magic of the Workshop Model Series 3: Non-Negotiables in Physical & Virtual Spaces