While learning a whole new way to deliver instruction during the quarantine, it is possible to accidentally take a wrong turn and shift the focus away from the fundamentals of the workshop model. So now that we’ve had some time to make the shift to remote learning, let’s take some time to reflect and evaluate our instructional practice.
Fundamental #1 – Modeling
We need to remember that we must model and do the work in front of students. The tool you choose to capture that modeling is the vehicle. Now you can get the fanciest vehicle in the showroom using all kinds of fancy tools and add ons, but without modeling, we can easily lose our way. So with every lesson ask yourself, “Am I using a mentor text and doing the thinking and writing work myself?”
Fundamental #2 – A Clear Focus
Just like in the brick and mortar classroom, the online classroom needs a focus. What is the skill you are teaching, and what strategies are you modeling to develop that skill?
Recently with a group of seventh and eighth graders I have been focusing on the basic yet very challenging skill of active reading. I determined in advance each strategy I would model.
Here is a video of one such lesson. Today I am teaching active readers to examine how characters react. The strategy follows the basic model for analysis. What do I notice? What patterns am I seeing? What do these patterns show? You will see today’s focus and you will watch me model using a mentor text.
Fundamental #3 – Active and Authentic
It is so easy with the introduction of all of these flashy online tools and resources to start assigning. But ASSIGNING is not one of the A words we should be holding dear.
We want kids to be active in their reading and writing. And we want the work to be authentic. Just as the modeling is authentic, we want to send them off to do the thinking work in their actual book or writer’s notebook. It’s easy to be attracted to cool looking assignments, but are they anything more than glorified worksheets and packets?
Ask yourself, “Am I sending my kids off to think in the book or text they chose? Am I sending them off to create? Am I sending them off to do real things in the real world?” If not, what can you do to move closer to supporting ACTIVE and AUTHENTIC readers and writers?
Fundamental #4 – Choice
Notice when I send students off to read, I am sending them off to their independent book. And even though I modeled being an active reader who examines character reactions today, when I send them off, they can choose to practice any of the four strategies I’ve modeled so far.
Fundamental #5 – Growth
When we are focusing on the fundamentals of the workshop, we are keeping in mind that every product is a formative assessment that shows us where kids are and what kids need. This information is used to drive our instruction. While I already have a focus of the skill and strategies I plan to teach, model, and expect students to practice within their own reading and writing, I want to use their products to gauge what other strategies they may need.
At the very end of my minilesson, I tucked in something I was noticing from recent responses. Sometimes those lessons, like reminders to use specific evidence, can be tucked into a planned minilesson, and sometimes we need to pause and present an additional strategy lesson because we don’t have the conferring and small group time that we do in the brick and mortar school. But this work comes from what we notice within their authentic work.
So I encourage you to reflect on and evaluate your online ELA instruction. Are you staying true to the workshop model and the fundamentals of the workshop? Are you using the online tools and add ons as a vehicle to drive your workshop instruction, or are you accidentally veering off onto the wrong road of assigning?
I am here to help with whatever your needs are in this new remote learning while holding onto best practice.