Friday, November 11, 2011

Defending the Reading Workshop in the Common Core Era

No matter where you go, conversations about the Common Core dominate.  While educators are at all levels of understanding the Common Core, there seems to be one question that everybody is asking: What will it mean to my instruction? 

Some doomsayers have declared the end of the Reading Workshop asserting that the goals of the Common Core do not align with this approach.  I would argue that nothing could be further from the truth.  As a document, the Common Core dictates “what all students are expected to know and be able to do, not how teachers should teach.”  And as a way of teaching, I believe that the components and practices inherent in the reading workshop are not only a well-founded methodology for approaching implementation of the Common Core, but probably our best option for effective implementation of the new standards.

To illustrate why this is true, let’s look at the first anchor standard for reading: 
Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions from the text.  Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions from the text. 

When I look at a standard like that and ask myself, what will I need to do to be in compliance, I can see that children will require an understanding of inferential thinking.  They will need to understand how to go back into the text and find evidence to support their thinking.  How will I help students unpack these heady concepts?  By providing explicit, focused instruction.  What is the best way I know to provide this kind of instruction? Mini lessons.

While mini lessons are the cornerstone of the reading workshop, they are but one aspect of the reading workshop.  The standard goes on to specify that students cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions from the text. This implies that our instruction build in opportunities to write in response to reading.  The reading response journal is another key ingredient of the reading workshop.  Very often, we have students “Stop and jot” so that they can experience what it means to respond and have an opinion about text.  On other occasions, we have them write extended responses as a way of developing and defending their positions.  Both offer students opportunities to practice drawing conclusions, using evidence from the text, and afford us the rare glimpse into children’s thinking processes that enable us to respond to where they are as learners and plan instruction that meets their needs as readers.

In addition, this standard asks for students to be able to defend their position when speaking.  This implies that students will require ample opportunity to speak with their peers to develop their ideas.  How do we do this in reading workshop?  Through partnerships where students turn and talk and eventually, when students learn to talk effectively, we release children into literature circles and allow them to develop theories and ideas that will shape and change their thinking about text, and subsequently, the world.

Another thing that I want to point out about reading workshop and the common core is this: The Common Core calls for all students “to be able to read grade level complex text.”  I have encountered many teachers who have latched onto “close reading” as the means for making children increasingly capable of reading grade level complex text. While I agree that we do need to instill a value for rereading, I whole-heartedly disagree with how some teachers have proposed meeting this challenge:  Handing out a short passage on Monday, reading it, talking about it, putting it away and taking it out again on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday for the purpose of rereading it and getting something new out of it. The goal of close reading is deep understanding and careful analysis.  That is achieved through purposeful rereading and accountable conversation.  Once again, these components are built into the reading workshop. 

People who are “college and career ready” have been described as being able to do the following four things:
  • Think critically
  • Communicate effectively
  • Collaborate
  • Create and innovate

I fear that loose interpretations of the Common Core will lead to people embracing bad practices which will do nothing to help our cause of helping children become more proficient readers so that they are college and career ready.

However, if we are thoughtful about what needs to happen so that children can read increasingly complex text and gain the knowledge that helps them to solve complex problems in the workplace, we will see that children will need to read widely, they will need to read a lot, they will require explicit, expert instruction in whole groups, small groups, and one-on-one, they will need to talk and write about their ideas and where do all of these things happen?  In a reading workshop. 

In my opinion, reading workshop should be on the radar in every school district across the United States. Not only does it provide a good possibility for meeting the standards of the Common Core, it offers the best possibility of being successful.


Jessica said...

I just wrote a paper (grad school) about why writing workshops need to be implemented in all classrooms, and you hit many of my same points (or, more accurately, I hit many of your same points!). Reading workshops are similar to writing workshops and are equally important. Great post!

Kim Yaris said...

Thanks Jessica! As someone who travels from school district to school district, I can tell you that I am very concerned about the future of reading and writing workshops. I fear that too many schools are not doing their own "close reading" of the standards and are looking that the PARRC frameworks very literally. There's something about fear that sometimes causes best practice to go right out the window...

Shannon said...

I'm wondering about the texts that will be used in reading workshop? How would I teach through them using independent texts and how would I assess since the questions are supposed to be text explicit and not general?

I want to use readers workshop next year in the 6th grade but am nervous about doing it. :)