Reading Workshop

Starting from Scratch

“We don’t have a classroom for you.”

“Sooo . . . . Where do I go?”

“Well, we’ve converted a closet into an office for you.  And we found this cart so you can wheel around your stuff to various classrooms during teachers’ off periods.”

You think you’re starting your workshop classroom from scratch?  I’m willing to bet you’ve got more than I had that November when I accepted my first teaching job replacing someone who gave up and walked out of this challenging middle school.  But I was armed with the idealism and youthful energy of a recent graduate of the University of Texas Guszak Reading Specialist Program, modeled after Nancy Atwell’s book In the Middle.

So here’s what I did:

1.  Find the library

There were only two teachers at the school who were willing to help me.  They proudly gave me copies of the weekly practice worksheets they passed out to “keep their students busy”.  Not my style.  And when I tried it, there were major  behavior problems – like daily fights, making a compass into shank and holding it to my abdomen problems.  So, I went to the library.  I found out how the students could check out books.  And that was the only thing the “librarian” would do to help me or the kids.  So, I took them, and they each checked out 2 books.

2.  Scrounge for Materials

The school supply closet housed the bare minimum:  file folders, pencils, rulers, scissors, glue, brads, paper clips, paper.  Really.  That’s it.  The students came to school with nothing more than themselves and their anger – no supplies whatsoever.  So I punched holes in the file folders, filled them with notebook paper, secured them with brads, and viola – composition notebooks for each student.  I kept them all on my cart and wheeled them around the school with 60 sharpened pencils all day, every day.

3.  Model Enthusiasm

I used Summer of Fear by Lois Duncan as my model.  I dramatically read key parts aloud to them while taking notes in my notebook.  I might read a good setting description, take notes, then tell them to hunt for similar setting descriptions in their books as they read that day.  Then I did something really revolutionary.  I let them read.

4.  Schedule Time to Read

I left the bulk of the class period for reading.  It’s that simple.  And it’s the most powerful.  Let. Them.  Read.

It was embarrassingly far from perfect.  Many kids were severely mismatched with books, others were totally faking reading, I didn’t gather or track data, I didn’t conference.  But it was SO much better than worksheets all year in EVERY way.  The behavior problems ended, there was structure to the class, and there were many kids that year who actually read a whole book or two!

The important thing is that you just start.  Start with what you have and what you know.  Take the first imperfect but powerful step to get your kids reading, then the next step , and the step after that, and keep building.  Keep making mistakes.  Keep celebrating the victories.  Keep regrouping and improving.  That’s all any of us can do.

Good luck to you!  I’m cheering you on!  Let me know how it’s going!  And happy reading.





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