Monday, January 4, 2010

Reader's Workshop - The Elements (Part Two)

Continuing on from last week's look at Mini-lessons, Book talk and Individual reading, I'm going to continue to explore some of the elements which make up the day to day workings of Reader's Workshop. This week, I'm going to look at Conferencing, Small group lessons and Book letters and how I use them in my own classroom.


While the students are busy with their individual reading (often sitting in some very strange places) I move around the room attempting to conference with all the students. Conferencing is quite simple - I follow Nancie Atwell's (from The Reading Zone) example in asking them what page they are up to, which is a good, simple way of checking that they've been doing their reading at home (although some students move from one book to another, so this is less useful with them). I then ask them a question or two about the book they're reading - about the story, the characters, the theme, the genre or how they are relating to it. Some days - when time is shorter, and my questions are more detailed, I don't get through all the students, and I have to catch up with the others the next day, but I am having conversations - one on one - with students about their reading every two to three days.

Record keeping is something I occasionally struggle with, though I think I'm getting better the more I have to do of it! Last year I recorded conferences on an ongoing list, recording the date, student's name, book name, page number and comments. I found this easy to work with in conferences, and substitute teachers had no problems with it. However, when it came to using the comments, it was way too unruly and confused. This year I'm going to try using sticky mailing labels, printed up with the students' names already on them, and attached to my clipboard. Then I can photocopy for an overall view, and stick them into the students' individual pages for better record keeping. I'll also be able to see if I've missed any students. (I got the idea from Teaching Comprehension Strategies All Readers Need by Nicole Outsen and Stephanie Yulga which is a book full of mini lessons and worth a look). I'll let you know how it works out.

Small Group Lessons

Throughout the third term of 2009 (July to September for us here) I organised my students into five groups, (very) roughly arranged by their reading/comprehension ability. In these groups, armed with sticky notes, we attacked the Shaun Tan book, The Arrival, one chapter at a time. This massive, word free novel would be a struggle for anyone (including me) to fully comprehend on their own, but in our small groups we all (including me) got an excellent understanding of the book. Throughout I emphasised explaining the 'why' and 'how' which was often a struggle for my students who just 'got' things, as well as looking at prediction and analysing skills. It was a great series of lessons which lasted for around six weeks, and something which would not have worked individually.

I wouldn't do small group lessons, at least not on this scale, constantly. But in situations like this one, or when there's a particular skill which particular students need to work on, small group lessons work in beautifully to the Reader's Workshop. The emphasis, I think, should always be on exploring and working as a group - creating a reading community.

Book Letters

Although I am constantly assessing students through their book talks and conferencing with them, I do ask them to complete a more formal form of assessment through book letters. These letters, which students are asked to write every two weeks, are quite scaffolded (at least at the beginning) with students given examples from the teacher and asked to answer particular questions. Students write in depth on one book they have finished in the past two or three weeks, and this letter is marked, returned to the student to look over before being filed. This is not a letter to assess their writing, though, and for some students this really needs to be stressed so they will do their best work. For one student last year, I would even scribe his letter for him, so he could really express his thoughts. For other struggling writers you may wish to get them to record their letter from notes they've made.

These are the main elements I have used in my Reader's Workshop. There are other elements which I've looked into, and many other elements which other teachers have found successful for them. Please feel free to comment about your own elements, and I'll be sure to write more as I try new things!

Find out more about Reader's Workshop here.
Check out my first Book Letter example here.


A Reader's Community

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Queensland, Australia
A Reader's Community is a place to find ideas, information, resources and recommendations about Reader's Workshop.

This Blog has five main types of posts.

About Reader's Workshop - information about Reader's Workshop in my classroom and how it works

Reader's Workshop Tools - resources you can access and use to help you with reader's workshop

Book talks - Book recommendations of two or three books centred around a particular theme

Book letters - in-depth reviews of one particular book

Reader's Workshop Links - Short links lists to help you find more information
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