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NYC Helpline: How To: Teach Literacy

Teaching Effectively Using the Workshop Model
Arlyne LeSchack

The new curriculum adopted by the New York City Schools uses a workshop model to teach reading and writing. Essentially, in the workshop model the student learns by doing in the same way you might learn how to make pottery by going to a pottery workshop. In this case, the student learns to read by reading and learns to write by writing.

Both the reading and writing workshops start with a 10 to 15 minute mini-lesson. The
mini-lesson has a definite structure. The first part is the connection (the teacher starts by connecting the current lesson to something previously done). Next comes the teaching point (the teacher states explicitly and repeatedly exactly what she is teaching in this lesson). Next the teacher models or demonstrates exactly what she wants the students to do. Next is the active engagement (all the students try out or discuss what it is they are supposed to do). The last part of the mini-lesson is the link (the teacher tells the students what they will do during the independent work time of the workshop). During this period, the students work independently while the teacher walks around and confers with individual students. After about 30 minutes, the teacher briefly shares using a student’s good work as an example.

Following is an example of a typical Writer’s Workshop: The teacher refers to the students as “Writers” and starts the workshop with a connection to whatever writing strategy she taught the students yesterday. Next, the teacher might say, “Today I want to teach you how to sketch an experience to help you write about it.” She demonstrates her thinking process and how she gets to the moment she wants to sketch. When she finally gets to that moment, the teacher will do the sketch in her own writer’s notebook with the students watching. After the sketch is done, the teacher will write a few sentences describing the sketch. Next, to encourage active engagement, the teacher will ask the students to imagine a small moment that they want to sketch; the students may trace the sketch on their hands, in the air, or on the rug. They may turn and talk to their neighbor about what they plan on sketching. At this point, the teacher may quote some of the more interesting statements the students make.

She then sends them off to work independently with words such as “Today and everyday, when you go off to write, you may want to make a sketch to help you write about a moment in your lives.” The students go off to their writing spaces. The teacher circulates around the room and tries to confer with a few students. In each case the teacher asks the student about her writing, and then tries to find an individual teaching point for that student. If a number of students need the same kind of help, the teacher may speak loudly enough for nearby students to overhear the conference. If the majority of the class requires the same kind of help, the teacher may use a mid-workshop interruption to point out something or reinforce a teaching point. Later the teacher will briefly share with the whole class.

Similarly, in a reading workshop, the teacher will also start with a connection to something
previously done. She will then state the teaching point- for example pointing out that good
readers reread to check their comprehension. She may state, “Today when we read, we’re going to use the strategy of rereading to check comprehension.” Next the teacher may read an excerpt and model rereading it to demonstrate how that helps her to understand the piece. The students then have the opportunity to try out their new skill in their group. The teacher will make the link, saying, for example, “Today and every day when you read, you will know how to stop and reread to make sure that you understand what you reading.” Students then go to their reading spots and try out their new strategy using their just right books in their book baggies. The teacher circulates conferring or assessing.

As you can see, the workshop model encourages active participation from all students.

Please e-mail me if you have any questions.


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