Saturday, October 29, 2011

Reading & Writing Workshops, Oh My!

Okay, so I am going to be honest about something. I.Feel.Frustrated. 

When I first began writing this blog, I posted about how inspired I felt by Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer. I am still inspired by it, but inspiration in this case has let to frustration. As a relatively new teacher, I think I am tempted to cling to that which I am familiar with. Unfortuantely, what I am familiar with is teaching reading via an anthology (yuck!). I am so bored with the anthology, and I think know if I am bored then my kids are, too. 

Here is the problem: There are so many resources on teaching reading and writing workshop, but I still feel like there isn't a clear cut "Hey! Start Here!" to be found for those of us who want to venture into this unfamiliar territory. My head is constantly swimming with ideas of what I should be doing, but the how is still missing. I am not asking for premade, scripted lessons. Quite the contrary. I would just like a little more diretion than I have found. I don't think that reading and writing workshop only work in "ideal situations." I want to make it work in my classroom because I feel that it is best for my students. I've also read The Daily 5 and felt so overwhelmed that I had to table it for a while. Is there a way to use the anthology (my comfort zone) to transition slowly into this type of teaching?

There are so many great teachers out there...and I am reaching out to those of you have made this transition. How did you start? I know how the scheduling should look, it's the small details that I am unsure of. HOw do you decide what to teach for your whole group lesson? Is a mini lesson enough time for children to learn and understand a concept well enough to apply it independently?

I am hoping some of you will comment and help me out. Thank you so much in advance for your wisdom!


  1. I hear you!! It seems to me that every year I try a new way of implementing my reading and writing program. This is the first year I am using the Daily 5 and I have found that when I don't view the set structure as a "must do" but rather an ideal I don't stress as much. I am only doing the Daily 3- Read to Self, Work on Writing and I am going to call Word Work- Convention Connection in my class so i can integrate grammar as well. I basically try to use their ideas in my own way so it fits my class best. I posted about a great writer's workshop resource I am using this year ( Check it out..maybe it will help you too.

    And remember...more people feel the way you do then people who don't.I think good teachers are always trying to make sense of their program.

    Thinking of Teaching

  2. Thanks, Beth. That makes me feel better.

    How long are your mini lessons on average? When I read about the Daily 5 I really felt that 7 minutes was not enough. Maybe I am wrong. How has it been working out for you so far?

  3. I have a 100 minute block. My students start out with 20 minutes of independent reading (we had to build to that time). I then have a 40 minute guided reading block (I mostly use novels during my guided reading time) - 15 minute mini-lesson, then group reading and task completion. My resource teacher is in my class during that time. I then have a 40 minute writing block - we spend about 10 minutes on Working With Words / Grammar, and about 30 minutes in writer's workshop (which is quite structured and also contains mini lessons). We do our informative text reading and lessons during science and social studies, and I find myself borrowing time from other subjects to complete my daily read aloud. There is so much more I want to fit in my days, but you know how it is. When we finish a novel in our guided reading groups, I take a break from the groups for around 2 weeks. We study our strategies in more depth then (this is when I introduce the new strategy we will use in our next guided reading groups), read mentor texts, poetry, news articles ... I totally agree with Beth - always reworking and making sense of our program is what keeps us on our toes, and keeps the learning interesting and valuable for our students.

  4. I have a 2 hour block for reading and writing. Are you always working on compositions during your writing block or do the students do various things during that 30 minute period? Also, do you allow your guided reading groups to pick the books? Are they supposed to read them at school or at home between the times that you meet with them? I have so many questions...haha. Thank you both for your comments, though. It is helping me to think through things. :)

  5. I have a mix of 80 minute and 40 minute blocks. I aim to do a 10 minute mini lesson (sometimes 15!) and then 20 minutes of Daily 3, then another 10-15 minute lesson and then 20 more minutes of Daily 3. So far we have only done Read to Self and Work on Writing. This schedule of course only works during my 80 minute blocks. During some of my 40 minute blocks I have exclusively scheduled Writer's Workshop and I try to use this time to teach most of my writing skills and the mini-lessons during the Daily 3 for reading strategies.

    I am curious as to how it's going to work once we introduce the 3rd component of my Daily 3...probably 10 minute mini lesson, 20 minute independent, 10 minute mini lesson, 20 minute independent, check in, 20 minute independent.

    I often repeat the same mini-lessons as often as 4-5 times before I attempt to move on to something new.

  6. More....!! LOL

    I allow my students to choose all their own books but do require that they follow a genre requirement a la The Book Whisperer! When I meet with them I use a mix of their own book and texts I have chosen to assess their reading skills.

    During Work on Writing they are required to complete an assigned writing piece from Writer's Workshop first (if we are working on a piece that is)..if they are down they can write whatever they want. I have done some mini lessons on gathering ideas, text forms and prompts to help with this.

    I ask that students read at home but do not have them complete a reading log because I feel it's a waste of time since even the voracious readers forget and as a voracious reader myself it's not something I would want to do. If they are reading at home and consistently reading at school it'll show in their skills.

  7. I don't do reading logs either. I noticed when I DID do them, my kids would come in and fill them out in the morning. The more honest kids would say they just forgot. I refuse to FORCE them to read, rather I would like to inspire them to want to read on their own with good book recommendations. Thanks for all of the info. I am going to work on a new schedule for the 2nd quarter and see if I can't make some improvements.

  8. Don't be too hard on yourself. You're asking all the right questions. When you're thinking about your mini-lessons remember two very important things. First, repetition of strategies and skills is important. Brain research shows that is take an average learner 25 repetitions to "own" as strategy or skill...that's the "average". Secondly, there is strong research evidence (and the Sister's base their mini-lesson length on it) that attention span in the higher level thinking areas (where long term memory is stored) of the brain is equivelent to their chronological age. So for your average 5th grader that's 10 minutes.

    You are on the right track...finding the system that works best for you takes time and patience. Here are a couple of professional resource books there were helpful to me when I moved from teaching K to 4th/5th grade:
    The Reading Workshop: Creating Space for Readers by Frank Serafini
    Guiding Readers and Writers by Fountas & Pinnell
    Day to Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop by Sibberson & Szymusiak

  9. Thank you so much! In my quest this weekend to find as much info as I can, I came across some of those titles. I think the next step is to get my hands on them! I'm getting my feet wet in so many PD books right now...what's one or two more? Haha!

  10. I know that you don't want another book to read, but - Lucy Calkins series on reading and writing workshop is great. Although both books are quite expensive, Heinneman does have a pdf version you can download for $10 each - and
    My advice would be to start small - teach a unit on characters, for example, using workshop (mini lesson and independent reading for practice, then all class discussion to debrief. You can use the anthology as mentor texts, too. Building a classroom library is a year-long endeavor.