The Three Legged Stool of the Workshop: Structure

For several years we have been working hard to roll out and refine the Structure of the workshop model, but Structure is only one leg of the workshop stool. I am currently doing a lot of work with teachers around the other two legs of the stool and will be sharing more about this work throughout the year as we grow our practice as workshop teachers.

For those who are new or need a refresher, the Structure of the workshop model is the first we learn and the first we roll out because without this leg firmly in place, adding the other two legs can get tricky.

The Structure of the workshop is pretty consistent and allows students to know what to expect so they can be independent and successful.

Minilesson (7-12 minutes)

It is imperative that the minilesson is kept tight. Many teachers fall into the trap of making sure students have mastered the skill/strategy taught in the minilesson. However, the skill/strategy taught in the minilesson is meant to expose students to the rigor. It is known as the weakest tool in the shed, so by spending too much time on the minilesson you will be at risk of losing students through frustration, minimizing independent practice, and taking time from small group and conferring, which are your strongest tools…so keep it tight!

If you feel you are spending too much time on the minilesson, talk to your kids about it. Let them know that you are working to keep to the 7-12 minute lesson because it’s so important that they get to the real work in their independent reading books and have time for small groups and conferring. Set a timer and reflect on the parts that are eating up your time.

Common Time Eaters!

  1. One common time eater is not having a routine. If students are not joining you in the meeting area with the correct materials in a quick way, that is something to teach and practice for sure!
  2. The biggest time eater is calling on students. By cold calling on students, teachers don’t necessarily know what they are going to say or if it’s going to move the lesson in the right direction. And of course kids don’t always get right to the point so again more time wasted. If you find yourself asking a question and then looking for hands, STOP and tell kids to turn and talk. Give about 20-30 seconds, always interrupting their conversation and share what you heard from students, even if someone didn’t necessarily say it. Trust me, they won’t ask!

Independent Time (the majority of the time)

This is when students are reading within a band of “just right” to practice reading and thinking about what they’re reading. They may try to use the strategies taught in the minilessons; however, more often they are practicing strategies you have taught in conferring and small group based on what they need. More about what they need will be addressed in the second leg of the workshop stool – Intentional Instruction.

Common Time Eaters!

  1. One common time eater is not having a plan. Before students leave the meeting area, have them turn and talk about the work they are doing in their book.
  2. Another time eater is the routine. There should be a routine for quickly and quietly getting to their independent spots with all of the materials they need. Again if students don’t know where to go or what to take with them, this is something to teach and practice.
  3. A lack of stamina and engagement can eat time as well. How can you get to the work of conferring and teaching small groups if you are too busy redirecting students? Often times students who are not in a band of “just right” are off task and not engaged. If they think they are in a “just right” book, have them read a page out loud to you. Pay attention to miscues and ask them to describe what they see in that part. If they struggle to describe what is happening accurately, they are not in a “just right” book. More times than not, it’s the struggle that is getting in the way. If books are “just right” but stamina is an issue, you can use mid-workshop interrupts as a quick break. Each day space the interrupts a little further.

Share Time (5-10 min)

Students need time to write about their reading. Many teachers are doing a 4-5 minute timed Fast and Furious Write based on 1-2 of their stop and jots (what they noticed while reading.

Additionally, students need time to discuss what they are noticing in their books, any patterns they are seeing, and new understandings they are coming to about character, main idea, theme, effect on reader, etc.

Common Time Eaters!

  1. This time is often neglected because we run out of time, but again this tool is stronger than the minilesson! This is where the students are practicing analysis skills (to practice analysis they need to talk a lot) and hearing about books that they too might want to read next. That’s why we need to be diligent in keeping our minilessons tight.
  2. One common time eater is reading without a plan. Students don’t know what to write about if they are not using strategies to not only read but think about what they are reading. If you notice students who are not taking the time while reading to stop and jot, this is something that could be turned into a small group lesson. More about this will be shared during the second leg of the workshop stool – Intentional Instruction.

The first month of school is often used to make sure the structure is tight. Routines are learned, students are in books that are “just right” and teachers are determining student needs in order to begin putting into place the second leg – Intentional Instruction.

Moving forward, I will spend time to share out some of the work we are doing with Intentional Instruction; however, if you need any support with any of the aspects of Structure, let me know. I am here to support you!

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