Since I wrote my first post regarding Do’s and Don’ts for Readers Workshop, I have felt a positive response from my small online community. I have more ideas to share, so keep reading if you want some additional beginner’s workshop advice.
Do confer with students on a regular basis. I know in my previous post I wrote that student choice is the foundation of workshop, and I do mean it. But conferring is, too. If you can meet with about four students each day, and keep the conference time to three to four minutes, then in about fifteen minutes you’ll get the job done. The rest of the students should be reading or working quietly, and might even overhear what you are working on during the conference time. That’s totally okay.
Keep a record of who you confer with, how often, and a quick note of what you discussed. I simply use a spiral notebook, which I think is a great way to start with note taking. I might try something new next year – maybe some sort of pre-made form or checklist to make it even more streamlined and easy, but honestly, the spiral notebook system is fine.
Simply put your students’ names at the top of every other page so you have plenty of space to write throughout the year, realizing that you will staple in pages, use post-its, and sometimes even forget to take notes about the occasional conference.
The conferring is what matters. It’s about the talk. About the exchange, and the relationship you will build with your students. You’ll get to know your students quicker at the beginning of the year, and by the end, you’ll have a more authentic, individual relationship with each of your students because of the conferring. It’s rewarding and they will do better because of it.
Often, students look forward to conferring, and want to share their thoughts with you about what they are reading. Other students will try to avoid it, and that’s why it’s important to keep track of who you confer with so you can even out the time you spend with your students. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need to spend the exact same amount of time with each student – some kids need more than others – but be deliberate about how you make those decisions.
Don’t forget that conferring is not the only form of assessment that you will be employing. Conferring is a casual yet deliberate type of formative assessment, but it’s certainly not the only one that is going on in your classroom. Stop worrying about the fact that students confer with you only once every few weeks.
Every couple of weeks you will collect a short writing assignment or blog post, you’ll observe a presentation or book talk, you’ll collect exit tickets, and you will be listening to their conversation and discussion on a regular basis. Don’t get overly hung-up on the conferring. Do it; use it as a formative assessment method, and remember all of your other methods of assessment.
Do use readers notebooks in your workshop classes. Notebooks are essential to the workshop model. Students use them to explore their thoughts about what they are reading individually, respond to core texts, and emulate the mentor texts you work on as a group. They aren’t something you want to skip; students love to look at the progress they make between the fall and the spring, and it’s encouraging to you as a teacher on some of those tough days.
The big reason that both you and your students will love the notebooks is because there is authentic, real progress happening that is hard to see otherwise.
Don’t get hung up on whether the notebooks are on paper or online, or whether they stay in the classroom or travel with your students. These are decisions you can make with your students (remember it’s all about choice), with your department, or on your own. It’s essential that you figure out what will be practical and useful and go with that, otherwise they are a chore rather than a helpful tool and exercise.
This year, I decided to use Blogger as the format for readers notebooks. It has a lot of pros going for it: my students and I can access their notebooks any time, any where. I’ve written about the reasons to use Blogger and Hapara before and I still find it to be a great tool. Students can develop an authentic, wide audience, and respond to each others’ writing. They can also keep their posts in draft form, so only the student and teacher can see what’s written, in the case of more personal writing.
Next year, I will probably use Hapara and Blogger to some degree, while also blending some actual paper notebooks into the class, but essentially I will lean more towards allowing students to have choice in how they use their notebooks, and allowing them to evolve and change over the year. They aren’t going to know exactly what works best for them in the fall, and I want to honor the learning and growing that will happen as they hone their skills and become better readers and writers.
Some of the best advice I can offer is to try it and see what works for you and your students. Your students will appreciate the renewed interest you have in their reading lives when you begin the habit of conferring. You will appreciate them as individual readers and learners rather than as a group of periodic essay-producers and speech-givers. Try something new this spring.
Widen the opportunity of choice you offer your students, and see what happens. You won’t be disappointed.