For some teachers, reading and writing workshops are old hat, so to speak. Not without their challenges and always in need of revision or ramping up, but, after several years, the rituals and the genres are not so daunting to teach in workshop format. So imagine that you are a teacher who has never used writers workshop.
That was my audience, 3-5th grade teachers at an ES in service this afternoon, with only two hours to introduce prerequisites, minilessons, and conferring and show features of the Common Core Units of Study. Thank heavens a TCRWP trainer will come to the school in August. Meanwhile I will see the group next month for two hours.
What I liked about the way it went today was that I saw genuine enthusiasm and excitement arise in some teachers. Okay there was a snoozer, but I think he had too much fun this past 3 day weekend.
But what a daunting thing it was, I remember, when I pulled out the narrative unit from the old series and started my first workshop with a group of third graders, half of whom had been retained and all of whom I did not see during the morning Success For All (scripted program) reading time. These kids probably thought I was their math teacher. I hated not reading aloud with them. And I wanted to shift my teaching from formula and error correction.
Back then I had only what I read in the unit guides. I had not seen the NYC schools in action, or attended workshops on workshop at my area writing project, nor had I taken the Coaching Institute. That would all come later and help pieces fall in place. I watched the videos. I wrote along with my students. I eventually got my teach points across one at a time in a brief time frame.
And my third graders changed as we wrote together. Today I recalled one who would literally grind the pencil through the paper, bearing down so hard when he wrote. When he decided he would write about the last time he saw his dad, the time he and his dad were at the gym together and dad sat him down and explained that he would not be allowed to see his son anymore…once he got the first draft down and we zoomed in on the line he needed to stretch out…this third grader was a different little guy.
It was good to remember that far back, ten years ago. To remember how painful it was to me when the children I worked with began to reveal their lives and stories. Heartbreaking.
Later I had writers narrate or essay to funny topics, too. But the depth of feeling that happens when we are brave enough to write “long and hard about what hurts” as Ernest Hemmingway challenged, brings the empathy into the classroom community that otherwise might not exist.
So, I’m proud of the ES principal and her school who have committed to shifting to writers workshop. They are in for a ride, indeed. It is brave to learn a new dance, or to shift instruction from orchestrating activities to deeply listening in on students.
And, while my time with them was short, somehow I think I reached my audience with essentials. My enthusiasm transferred to most. We’ll see about that snoozer next month.