by Bonnie L. Wishne, Head of School
As we ease back into school every September, Ancona’s language arts teachers are laying the foundation for a year of minds-on reading by launching the Reading Workshop. The product of over twenty-five years of literacy research, the Reading Workshop (like its twin, the Writing Workshop) is a robust classroom architecture that develops engaged, thoughtful readers who are ready for high-performance learning.
The single factor most strongly associated with reading achievement–more than socioeconomic status or any instructional approach–is independent reading, according to Stephen Krashen, linguist and educational researcher. (The Power of Reading)
To cultivate the habit of independent reading, Reading Workshops give our students important reading time during their school day. Teachers begin the workshop with a brief and carefully crafted mini-lesson, one idea for the children to learn to use as they read. Teachers capture the important points of the mini-lesson on the anchor charts one sees hanging in the classrooms to remind children of the good reading habits we want them to practice.
Then, each child finds a comfortable spot for reading his/her book, and while the children read, the teacher moves about the class, conferring with individual students to assess their comprehension and application of the lesson and to offer guidance and reading strategies. S/he gains valuable insight into each child’s tastes, perspectives and ways of knowing that helps her to guide their reading and tailor her mini-lessons.
Reading is Communal
Studies show that children read more when they see other people reading, says Kashen. In the classroom workshop, Ancona students not only see others read, they learn to converse about their reading with partners, and, beginning in 3rd/4th grades, in small book clubs. Ancona students are fortunate to have teachers who are great readers, and researchers have long known that children who love to read come from homes where adults are readers. Partnering with parents, we make thinking and talking about books a habit.
Mini-lessons teach the myriad habits of good readers. They apply to readers at varying levels of proficiency, including those who are reading mostly pictures. Young readers might learn about the parts of a non-fiction book or how to figure out words they don’t know while later readers may discuss character, setting, inference, figurative language or the characteristics of a particular genre. Some mini-lessons give ideas for how to talk about our book or be a good listener for our partner. Above all, they teach that good readers think about and interpret the meaning of the text.
Just Right Choices
Various studies have shown that allowing students to choose their own texts fosters engagement and increases reading motivation and interest and that to progress in their reading, children need to choose and read lots of books at their just right level; in other words, books where they know 95-99% of the words. Every classroom (and the school library) has many books at every level so that each child has many books from which to choose. By reading many books at a comfortable level, children will enjoy reading, develop reading stamina and progress to more challenging texts.
Units of Study
To ensure a rich and varied diet of reading experiences for our students, teachers at every level follow a curriculum of study units in Readers Workshop. Study units may focus on a genre — biography, non-fiction or poetry –or they may focus on an aspect of being a great reader — Building a Reading Life or Close Reading and Interpretation. Some units of study are integrated with social studies or science units — Narrative Non-Fiction of Colonial America or Mythical Creatures: Fact or Fiction? Parents can find descriptions of the current year’s units on their classroom websites.
Working together with our Learning Specialists, our teachers assess each student’s reading in September to determine the child’s just right level. Assessments take word knowledge, word recognition strategies and comprehension into account in setting the correct level. Children will bring home books to read; parents can look for books of similar difficulty outside of school. Teachers will let parents know their child’s just right level when they come for conferences. Regular conferencing with children provides teachers with ongoing monitoring of each child’s progress, and they assess again periodically during the school year to track each child’s reading progress.
What if a child isn’t yet reading at an appropriate level or isn’t making the progress we would expect? Our learning specialists are available to further diagnose children experiencing difficulty and to provide specialized, supplementary instruction for children they identify as needing additional support. The learning specialist will notify the parents of children she is assisting.
Read alouds are an important complement to the Reading Workshop. Using a carefully chosen text, the teacher models the internal thinking of a good reader as s/he reads a story to the class. Each read aloud has a teaching point–making predictions, for example–that the children can then apply in their own reading. Read alouds teach children to think about their own thinking as they read.
The Reading Workshop is only one component of Ancona’s balanced literacy program. Word study, Writing Workshop, listening to read-alouds, conversing about reading and reading and writing for content all contribute to each student’s growing literacy.
Through the Reading Workshop, each child authors his/her own dynamic reading life.
Teaching great Reading Workshops is an art and a skill that develops over years, and we are fortunate to have passionate teachers who make reflection and refinement part of their daily practice.. We’ve been sending our language arts teachers to New York City for summer workshops at Teachers College at Columbia University for over ten years. All of our teachers of reading have been to at least one training, and most have been back many times for advanced work, to renew relationships and to learn the latest research and practices.