When I was in high school, all of my classes read the same books at the same time. We wrote the same essays, gave the same speeches, and took the same notes. We barely had choices in the school cafeteria, let alone in our curriculum or classes. Student choice just wasn’t the focus.
During the first couple of weeks of this school year, it occurred to me that the parents of my students must have had similar experiences in school. They didn’t grow up with the workshop model, either. But unlike us teachers, they haven’t been reading about it, studying it, and living it. So it’s easy to see why not all parents feel familiar with it.
I posed this issue to my colleagues in my department, and we decided to address it at our school’s parent night.
We shared a couple of infographics which help to explain the power of reading. I like both of these infographics because they blend the ideas and dispositions of the necessity and pleasure of having a healthy reading life with statistics and percentiles. They show actual growth and the ability for students to improve. I think this is the kind of information that parents respond well to.
We also included some information about the workshop model. We didn’t print a traditional syllabus or a list of school supplies students will need.
Instead, we tried to share some information about what workshop is. We created a department handout rather than handouts for our individual classes, which helps to solidify the message that workshop is what we do at our school.
We also explained what kind of books “count” towards our classes. We explained that books of poetry, graphic novels, collections of short stories, along with novels, biographies, memoirs, etc are all “real books” and should be encouraged and allowed.
We explained that student choice is one of the foundational elements of workshop.
We explained that homework in our English classes will always include choice reading and notebook writing. That sometimes students will read shared texts, but most often the reading at home will be based on student choice.
We encouraged parents to support their students by asking often, What are you reading? because our students should always have a great answer, and it’s a great way to communicate with students about school and life.
It was a good reminder to me that parents are almost always interested in what’s going on in their students’ lives at school, and they appreciate learning about the details.
Communication with parents is always a good idea, and this particular issue is no exception.