In the fall, I had the pleasure of listening to Kelly Gallagher, educator, writer, speaker, and author speak at a national conference across the country. Although he was incredibly inspiring then, his words seemed farther away, taking a little more time to land on my educator spirit. At the time, I wasn’t sure why. Perhaps, it was the bigger venue. Perhaps it was because I had arrived late to his session. Perhaps it was because prior to that, I was in a different room packing up my personal belongings and speaking with lingering educators after finishing the facilitation of my own session.
Since I consider myself to be an “on time” kind of person, my mild discomfort probably started there. It took me longer to get settled into a learning space that was overflowing with a sea of educators. I remember the image vividly, every seat filled with people sitting along the perimeter of the room and in the middle of the carpeted floor. What a compliment to both Kelly and Penny Kittle who was also presenting with him. I remember thinking how proud they must have felt to look around that room and know the legacy of their literacy work has had a profound impact on the world of education. It’s the kind of work that’s so meaningful that educators walk away feeling they can implement these new practices tomorrow and see better outcomes for their students. It’s the kind of work I look up to. The kind of work that makes me better. It’s the kind of work that made my day better.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to listen to Kelly speak again at a local conference. It was four months later and this time, the day began differently. I had arrived at the venue early enough to select the table I would feel comfortable sitting at and was even able to save seats for colleagues and a longtime educator friend. After I got some breakfast and a much needed second cup of coffee, I turned my head back to the entrance to see if my friends were in view. Instead, I noticed Kelly sitting at one of the round tables in the back of the room. He was settling in and waiting for the conference to begin like everyone else. His image, once feeling so far away, suddenly, didn’t seem so far away anymore. He was much closer.
I didn’t think twice, I sprung up from my seat, walked over to his table, and greeted him with a smile and a subtle fan girl spirit. “Hi Kelly, welcome to Long Island. I saw you speak at NCTE in the fall. I am a big fan of your work.” Suddenly, I realized that his fall presentation may have had more of an impact on me than I realized at the time. It was certainly enough for me to have wanted to initiate this interaction. Kelly and I went on to have a conversation about travel, education, our shared technology issues at the last conference, and the day ahead of us. At that moment, we were just two educators, ready to embark on a day of learning. Towards the end of our conversation, I wished Kelly luck on his presentation and said I was looking forward to hearing him speak again. He replied, “Good luck with your presentation today too, Lauren.”
In that moment, I quickly remembered that once again I was given the opportunity to present and felt incredibly grateful to be able to share practices I am passionate about with other educators. Afterall, professional learning is not just something educators do. It’s a choice. It’s an obligation to help themselves and others grow into the learners and thinkers they are capable of being.
A little later on, I stood in an empty room, setting up for my presentation. As I scanned the empty room, I envisioned this sentiment: If I can make even one person’s day better, I have done my job. While I was talking with a few people I knew, I briefly looked up and noticed that the room wasn’t so empty anymore. Instead, it was filling up quickly. In fact, it began overflowing with a sea of educators, eventually filling every seat in the room. Then, I looked up again and saw that educators had begun pulling chairs from other areas to join the learning space, while others were sitting on the floor.
There were a few moments where I unexpectedly paused during my presentation to internally reflect on the educator I am continually becoming and asked myself, Am I too beginning to create a legacy that leaves a profound impact on the educators who cross my path? When the presentation concluded, a familiar woman approached me. She shared, “Lauren, I saw you present at NCTE and was so excited to be here to see you again. This is the kind of work I look up to, the type of work that makes me better.” I smiled and replied, “Well, it is an honor that you chose to spend your time with me again. I am grateful.” She looked back at me and said, “Lauren, I came back because you had an impact on me, not to mention, last time, I was sitting so far away, this time you were much closer.”
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.
(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.
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.”
Stay tuned for the next blog in this series:Reimagining the Magic of the Workshop Model Series 4: Honoring the Workshop Model Framework