Opinion
Reading & Literacy Teacher Leaders Network

9 Ways to Add Spark and Simplicity to Readers’ Workshop

By Megan M. Allen — March 13, 2013 4 min read

Lately, I have taken some time to reflect on my practices as a reading teacher. I’ve been flitting in and out of the classroom for the past three years in various roles and, the truth is, I’m rusty. But luckily, with support from colleagues and lots of late-night professional reading, I’ve found you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Here are a few pointers I’ve gleaned from my colleagues as I begin to relearn the craft of being an effective elementary reading teacher.

1. Make student schedules. I had a packed class schedule to keep my little learners in line, but I noticed my teacher-neighbor next door always had fewer speed bumps in her transitions during Reader’s Workshop. Her secret? Student schedules. Individual ones. Taped to desks and reading journals. So my students know every day, every minute, what they should be doing. It adds an element of tranquility to my three-ring circus—students hold themselves and one another accountable as they scurry to the library, head on over to guided reading, or dive into a book on the Kindle. They know right where they should be at 9:25 a.m. And another result? They keep me in line as I refine my pacing as an educator.

2. Post a visible timer. Speaking of pacing, a result of being out of the classroom for several years is that my timing is off. Way off. Where I used to be able to knock out three guided-reading groups and two reading conferences while juggling and spinning plates and still be on time down to the minute, I find that I now struggle to “feel” length of time in my classroom. I keep an online timer on the Smartboard, or an old-school one around my neck. It’s like my timing training wheels. But it’s also great for the students to be able to keep track of time as well.

3. Create book nooks. Lots of them. Where do we read as adults? Rarely ever sitting at the table. Our students deserve to fall in love with books in comfy places. Carefully planned-out book nooks (enough for every child) fill the room. Pillows. Lounge chairs. A blue blanket we call “the beach.” And to use the book nooks? Very explicit expectations. We can’t just assume students know how to read lying down on a pillow. What does this look like? Sound like?

4. Set norms. I ask the students to create agreements: What do they think we need to agree to as learners to have a successful guided-reading group? How should we share in conversation? And I have to say, I forgot how cool it is to sit back and let your students take charge of their own expectations. They seem to hold one another accountable in a much stricter manner than we might as adults.

5. Craft nonverbal cues for discussions. I was lucky enough to teach across the hall from the best reading teacher I’ve ever seen, hands down. She and her students used nonverbal cues to indicate their thoughts in discussion. Thanks to Mrs. Sparks, I have my students create hand signals every year. For example, a thumbs-up equates to, “I have a new idea to share.” Making the letter “P” in sign language means, “I want to piggyback off what someone said.”

6. Know that ownership matters. Ask your readers what they want to learn about. Have a wall or poster in your room for sticky notes where students can collect lingering questions, topics of interest, and other ideas. Use these to direct the topics you pick to read about in interactive read-alouds, shared reading, and guided-reading groups. Research shows that your students will be much more motivated if they have ownership. Plus, isn’t this how we choose books as adults?

7. Set class goals. Three weeks ago, I was noticing a decline in the number of books finished by my readers. We discussed this in a classroom “family meeting,” and we landed on a motivator. They wanted a class goal. As a team, they’re working to read 70 books in nine weeks (and pass tests on Accelerated Reader on those books). We are collecting their results on a class chart. And these pint-sized readers chose their reward as well: They will dress me for one full week. So how is this working? They’re almost there. Looks like I have a week of running around as a baby, a chimpanzee, a giant banana, Pikachu, and a hip-hop star in my future. But it’ll be worth every embarrassing moment (check my blog for pictures!).

8. Ask for student feedback. I found myself sitting with one guided-reading group last week when a student asked: “Don’t you want to know what we’d suggest for you to do to help us?” My, oh my. From the mouths of babes. Their suggestions were that they wanted a day a week to read a song or poem, and they wanted more of a celebration when they finished a chapter book. I braced myself after hearing the last suggestion, thinking that the students were referring to candy and treats. The reality? Their idea of a celebration was a Jeopardy game with higher-order questions relating to the text. Never assume, right?

9. Encourage self-reflection. We have a posted “scale of understanding,” with a spectrum from 0 to 5 written on it. The students can write on a sticky note or give me a “fist to five” of their self-reflection, showing me where they think they are with understanding the lesson’s objective. This quick check helps me see which students might be struggling (or even which students don’t realize that they are struggling).

Is this action finished? By no means. But it’s added pep to my readers’ steps, a sparkle in their eyes when it’s time to dive into reading, and an air of placid serenity and focus to our Readers’ Workshops. I’m planning on letting go a lot more and particularly working on step number 8 to make these changes happen. I’ll let you know what my readers decide on next. Until then, here’s to helping kids fall in love with reading.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
How Districts Are Centering Relationships and Systemic SEL for Back to School 21-22
As educators and leaders consider how SEL fits into their reopening and back-to-school plans, it must go beyond an SEL curriculum. SEL is part of who we are as educators and students, as well as
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
The Fall K-3 Classroom: What the data imply about composition, challenges and opportunities
The data tracking learning loss among the nation’s schoolchildren confirms that things are bad and getting worse. The data also tells another story — one with serious implications for the hoped for learning recovery initiatives
Content provided by Campaign for Grade-Level Reading
Student Well-Being Online Summit Student Mental Health
Attend this summit to learn what the data tells us about student mental health, what schools can do, and best practices to support students.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Whitepaper
Dr. Louisa Moats on Why Literacy PD Is Essential
In the white paper, Literacy PD: 10 Reasons Why It’s Essential, renowned literacy expert and author of LETRS® (Language Essentials for Te...
Content provided by Voyager Sopris Learning
Reading & Literacy Most States Fail to Measure Teachers' Knowledge of the 'Science of Reading,' Report Says
The majority of states don’t evaluate whether prospective teachers know how to teach reading effectively, a new analysis finds.
6 min read
Image shows two children ages 5 to 7 years old and a teacher, an African-American woman, holding a digital tablet up, showing it to the girl sitting next to her. They are all wearing masks, back to school during the COVID-19 pandemic, trying to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
E+/Getty
Reading & Literacy Opinion The Coming Literacy Crisis: There’s No Going Back to School as We Knew It
Many schools failed to properly teach reading long before the pandemic, write Comer Yates, Renée Boynton-Jarrett, and Maryanne Wolf.
Comer Yates, Renée Boynton-Jarrett & Maryanne Wolf
4 min read
Illustration shows boy of color holding a cage with floating star dust escaping from the cage into the open night sky.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Sponsor
How have students’ reading habits changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic?
Without a doubt, the average classroom looks more different now than ever before. With schools and districts across the nation engaging in a mix of remote, hybrid, and in-person learning, getting books into the hands of students can be difficult.
Content provided by Renaissance Learning