A Kinda, Sorta Love Letter to Reading Workshop (and the Community It Creates)

A Kinda, Sorta Love Letter to Reading Workshop (and the Community It Creates)

post by Michele Fowkes, 2019-2020 The Educator Collaborative Associate

A Kinda, Sorta Love Letter to Reading Workshop (and the Community It Creates)

You’re going to be good,” Palmer* told me, tears spilling over.  

“What?” I asked.

 I had heard Palmer the first time.  I just couldn’t believe what he’d said.

“You’re–you’re–going to be good,” he repeated, this time with a small smile on his face.


   Palmer’s reaction to my announcement that I would no longer be his teacher was one of the most emotional responses of the day.  He could barely breathe. He had every right to be mad at me, and this hurt my heart. Yet as we walked into the hallway, focused on deep breaths, his first words to me were so selfless.  


   “You’re going to be good.”


   Maybe he didn’t know it, but he was comforting me.


   Change is scary, and my decision to go into administration had not been an easy one, as I LOVE being a teacher.  However, I hoped that Palmer was right — that I was going to be “good” at my new position. I do look forward to being an educational leader who is focused on teaching and learning–one who leaves the office, engages with teachers directly, and puts students first.


   Puts students first.  Palmer.  I realized then and there, looking at this red-faced sixth-grader, that my students and I had created a very special community over the last six months (one that was difficult to say goodbye to) and a lot of that had to do with the heartbeat of our classroom–reading workshop.  There was a lot to LOVE.


I love that we stuck to our goals.

   My middle-school students were not coming from elementary schools that had embraced workshop as an instructional model, which made the launching of reading workshop a bit shaky.  However, my expectations were consistently high. They were to be readers, and I am proud to say that, collectively, my 96 students have read 794 books over the last two marking periods.  


   To differentiate, I guided each student towards choosing a reading goal for the marking period that was just-right for him or her.  Ninety-seven percent of them achieved these goals in Marking Period 2. Some exceeded their goals!  


I love that I modeled being a reader.

   Like my students, I set a reading goal.  I aimed to read 20 books by the end of 2019.  I read 34 books!  


   As a workshop teacher, I needed to be reading books, preferably books that my students might also wish to read.  And, oh, did I read!


   I listened to audiobooks in the car and on the elliptical.  I read before bed and sometimes while walking down the hallways (maybe even sometimes while walking into people — oops!).  I posted what I was reading on my classroom door and wrote about each book in my very own reader’s notebook.


I love that my students had access to learning opportunities outside of our 41 minutes together.

   Transferring our reading workshop teaching points into our notebooks was not always easy for my students.  I adapted many strategies found in Jennifer Serravallo’s The Reading Strategies Book, and I myself applied them as I read books like Maze Runner by James Dashner, Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, and Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds.  By doing the very work that I was asking for, I could foresee what students’ struggles might be as they analyzed texts of their own.  


   I also ensured that students would be able to engage in anytime, anywhere learning by creating videos for each of these strategies and posting them on Google Classroom.  This allowed all students to have 24-hour access to the teaching points within our curriculum.  


   Additionally, I made myself available during lunch, and I offered a Literary Lunch Bunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  We ate, read, and laughed together.


I love that we took risks.

   I am not only talking here about my students who often dared to read a challenging new genre or who boldly created reading strategies of their very own. I am talking about my fellow teachers, too.  


   Since reading workshop was a new instructional model for all 6th grade reading teachers in my district, we took plenty of risks together.  For example, we implemented one-pagers focused on analytical thinking around theme instead of completing a more traditional assignment.  We also enlisted the help of our instructional technology coach so that we could focus on critical creativity during our nonfiction unit, allowing students to share their central ideas with a real-world audience and for a real-world purpose.


   I even talked the ELA teacher, who utilizes writing workshop as an instructional model, into joining forces with me at different points throughout the year as mentioned in this previous blog entry.  After all, the teaching of writing and reading should not be divorced.


And I LOVE a whole lot more!  

   I could go on, but, looking over this abbreviated list, I already realize what brings me joy.  What brings me absolute joy is creating a community with intention and that is created by design.  That is definitely still the work of an administrator!  


   So, Palmer, I will soon find out if you are right.  Will I be “good” in this new role? I know one thing: no matter what my title, I will always champion for this profession that I LOVE and for students like you. 


   Won’t you join me in celebrating the teaching profession?  What do you kinda sorta LOVE about teaching? Sean McComb, a National Teacher of the Year, co-founded #LoveTeachingWeek as a way to celebrate the teaching profession. Kick off is February 14th.   Please feel free to share below in the comments what you LOVE about teaching.


* = Please note that the student’s name has been changed.

On the 100th day of reading workshop, sixth grade students celebrate the number of books read collectively so far this school year. We. Are. Readers.