My thinking has changed since I started teaching using the workshop model.
I think my students’ thinking has changed, too.
I think that’s the point.
For the first seventeen years of my teaching, I was concerned about whether the students turned the assignments in on time, read the short stories and novels that were on the syllabus, and if they were generally compliant.
I assigned packets with study questions when we read The Great Gatsby together. (Big packets! Short answer questions with one right answer! Find it in the text!)
I asked my students to write letters that Huck and Jim might have exchanged after leaving the Phelps’ farm. (Bonus points for burning the edges of the paper or dipping the letters in tea to make them look old!)
I had students create their own real life versions of scarlet letters. (The ones that were made out of rice crispy treats and red M&Ms got an A for Awesome!)
Here are a few gems from past years.
For the first seventeen years of my teaching, I mostly asked all of my students to do the same thing at the same time.
For the first seventeen years of my teaching, my students mostly gave me the same answers at the same time.
At least, that was my hope (gah!) – I wanted them to get it! To come up with the same connections that I had! So they would “understand the canon!”
Maybe I’m too hard on myself. I know teaching and learning happened in my classroom before workshop, but I can’t help but think that things could have been better.
Things are different now. I don’t want the same answers from anyone any longer (or any more arts and crafts).
I’m not looking for answers, necessarily, either.
I realize now that I am looking for evidence of thinking.
I noticed this the other day in class. My students were learning about aphorisms (mentioned in an earlier post), and one of them asked if they could talk to each other to make sure they had the right answers.
I. Stopped. Everything.
NO! I said. You may not check to see if you have the right answers or the wrong answers.
I couldn’t believe how visceral my response was. I could not let this go.
Of course you can talk to each other! But don’t you dare talk about right or wrong answers – check to see if your thinking is different…! And then explain why!
Don’t share your answers – share your thinking!
My student looked at me and smiled. She gave me a thumbs up and said she liked my attitude.
What I realized after processing that moment in class is that the workshop model almost entirely removes that kind of right/wrong paradigm.
For the most part, students have chosen their own larger texts, and they can’t ask each other for the answers like they could when I taught more whole-class texts.
We aren’t learning texts anymore. We are learning strategies, skills, habits, and craft. This kind of thinking and learning doesn’t have “right answers” – the learning is now more about problem solving and developing their reading lives.
They are learning different strategies, skills, habits, and craft on different schedules and at different levels from one another. There are fewer and fewer “same right answers” that they can share in their WhatsApp groups or copy at lunch.
I’m not arguing that there is never a time for whole-class text – we read The Crucible together this fall, and we are still talking about the strategies from that unit while applying those strategies to new learning. But when everyone in class is reading a choice texts rather than an assigned text, there is no room for stapled packets or cookie-cutter essay prompts, which authentically steers us all away from asking about right and wrong answers.
Students have started talking to each other about strategies, skills, habits, and craft more than asking about right and wrong answers.
They’ve been overheard asking each other for “a quick book talk” on a book that was just turned back in to the library. They talk about the different ways they might annotate their own books. They talk about characters they love, and about books they’ve dropped.
Every so often I still hear them talk about getting the right answers, but we’re making progress.
I put this up in my classroom to remind us all.