Sometimes you teach in a district that does not support the workshop model of teaching reading. When you’re tasked with teaching all the reading and writing skills within a 50 minute class period, reading time seems like a luxury you can not afford.
In addition to time constraints, some school leaders just don’t know about the workshop style of teaching, or the school is concerned primarily with test preparation, or they think it’s too expensive, or they are more traditional and unwilling to consider something so different.
Whatever the reason, sometimes teachers are not going to be supported in a workshop classroom. What can you do if you want to give your students a love of reading, but are forced into a different type of curriculum?
One thing you can do is take baby steps. Then document the success of those baby steps. Hopefully you will gain support and momentum that can inspire contagion.
When I grew frustrated by the nonexistent time my students were allowed to read in class, I started looked for ways to sneak some in.
1. We had to start every lesson with a “warm-up” for the first 5-10 minutes of class. It just had to be something the students could immediately begin upon arrival and finish while the teacher took attendance and everyone got settled. Some call it a “Bell Ringer” or a “Do Now” instead of a warm-up. I simply made 10 minutes of SSR my daily warm-up.
2. It has to be the non-negotiable daily routine. When the bell rings, you’re reading or you’re tardy. We do not spend the first five minutes looking for our book or getting ready to read, we are already reading when the tardy bell rings, and we read for 10 full minutes. Textbooks under every chair in case you forgot your novel. We read the first 10 minutes. Every. Student. Every. Day. No. Exceptions.
3. Once the routine became habit, I would take status of the class most days. This means I have a class list where I call each student’s name and she/he tells me a book title and page number. It is quick – 2 minutes or less. The status allowed me to insure kids were actually reading and progressing through books.
4. Then I conferenced with kids who weren’t sticking with books to completion, weren’t progressing, read the textbook too often,etc. We would troubleshoot and fix the problem.
5. I was then able to start integrating their books into the common core writing lessons. Persuasive writing? Persuade someone to read your novel. Compare/contrast? Compare and contrast this book to a previous novel. Descriptive writing? Describe the setting or the main character.
6. When I was happy with how everything was working, I started inviting other teachers into my classroom. A few liked my “warm-up” and asked me to help them implement it in their rooms. It became successful, and began to spread.
7. I eventually convinced the district ELA coordinator to let me join the summer curriculum writing advisory team. As more teachers caught on and wanted to learn more, district support increased. Workshop expanded little by little each year until we ultimately switched curriculums to the Lucy Calkins Units of Study.
The whole process took about 10 years. That’s right – not overnight, not in one school year. 10 years of baby steps. Anything you can do to support kids reading more will help them. Start with a baby step you’re comfortable with and build on it. Celebrate your successes and refine the hiccups. Get support wherever you can. And happy reading!