Hello Everyone: This is my first post, and I’m obviously, a new teacher. I teach in an honors academy at a middle school (If I were to say exactly WHERE the school is, then various people who read this blog would know who I am. And, at the moment, I want to keep my identity a secret). I teach 6th graders, and it has been a very difficult, challenging, upsetting and ultimately life changing experience for me as a NYC Literacy Teacher. I’ve made a hell of a lot of mistakes, but I keep coming back everyday. My kids, very bright, lovely and full of potential, have definitely made my first few months "in the trenches" rewarding. But, I do have some issues. No, I have one issue: WHY is the Board of Ed STILL using the reading and writing workshop model?
I don’t get it: I understand that this "model" has been mandated for schools that are or were failing in reading and writing. I get that…but, did anyone bother to SEE if this model actually works? And, if they did bother to see that the model doesn’t work, why is it still being used?
The breakdown: it’s a 90 minute block, broken into Reading Workshop (45 minutes) and Writing Workshop (45 minutes). Each section of the 90 minutes has the following: a 5 minute read aloud (where the teacher reads a selected text to the students) a 10-15 minute mini-lesson (where the teacher explicitly models a strategy he or she wants the students to know for the day. In reading, it’s usually one of the seven reading strategies. In writing, it’s some aspect of grammar or writing) a 5 minute "Try It Out" period (where students actually spend a few minutes attempting to use the strategy the teacher just modeled in class during the mini lesson) a 20 minute Independent Practice/Link section (Where students are using the strategy on their own during independent reading or writing) a 5 minute Share Out (where students discuss whether or not the strategy worked for them and why).
So, according to this schedule, I should be able to effectively model a strategy I want students to know, they attempt it for a few minutes, then I let them go and do it during independent reading or writing (of course, I walk around to make sure they understand and are doing the strategy/mini lesson I taught them). And Boom! My students can move on to more challenging concepts, etc. NOT…I have had such difficulty with using the reading and writing workshop model. I feel as if it strips away any chance I have to attempt to be creative with my students. I am literally stuck with following a set structure everyday. It’s problematic because those who thought up this wonderful workshop model didnt take into account that kids DO NOT LEARN in the same way.
In my classroom, it takes me on average between 20-25 minutes to do my mini lesson, sometimes more. Why? My kids don’t all process information the same way. For some of them, spending more time "trying it out" helps them to really understand what I taught them during the mini lesson. For others, I have to be there at their table, showing them how to do it step by step. Still others don’t process it at all and I have to show them how to do it during reading or writing workshop. Also, the reading and writing workshop model was originally for elementary school kids (grades K-5). Honestly, middle school children are extremely sophisticated. I feel as if the workshop model isn’t very effective for middle school kids. Especially, if they are an honors student. I have kids who understand and can critically evaluate articles from the BBC World News website (i.e. in the unit I just finished for Persuasive Writing, one of my students was turning in daily responses about French Muslims who were, along with the various immigrants living in Paris and the surrounding suburbs, being harassed by the police. I admit that I wasn’t keep up with the news like I should have, so it was very refreshing and suprising to have one of my kids give me a well written account of the editorials the BBC World News were putting out. I also have children who are second language learners and are slowly l earning English. In short, I have students who are are various learning levels.
The reading and writing workshop hasn’t been effective in addressing all of my students’ needs. I have been doing the best I can with scaffolding my teaching to make sure that EVERYONE is learning in my class. It’s a daily process that has its ups and downs. But, I am doing the best that I can. But, I am being honest in admitting that the Reading and Writing Workshop model does not work in its current state. I don’t know of an alternative but, I would like to add a few ideas to ways of making it work if this is the mandated curriculum the board will continue to use for the next few years: a) Keep the 90 minute block.
But, make ALL subjects 90 minutes. I think that students get the short end of the stick in only having classes for 45 minutes a day. Extending subjects to longer periods (whether for 60 minute, 70 minutes, 80 minutes, or 90 minutes blocks) allows students to spend more time learning concepts. Also, a block period allows teachers to really focus on what they feel their students need to learn. b) 10-15 minute mini lessons: PLEASE. People need to realize that learning a concept won’t happen in 10-15 minutes. It make take 20-25 minutes to learn a particular concept in a classroom. It may even take a day or two to learn one single strategy. In my few months on the job, it has taken me about 20 minutes on average to cover one strategy in a mini lesson.
But, I’ve had to spend an additional day or two covering the same topic because my students either didn’t understand it or I didn’t believe that my students had mastered it enough. So, I will spend a day or days on a concept UNTIL all of my students have mastered it. That probably isnt what I’m supposed to do following the reading and writing workshop model, but it works for me. At the end of the day, my kids are my first priority. Their learning comes before any mandates given by the Region OR the Board of Education. c) Give teachers support for their instruction, NOT whether or not their bulletin boards meet Reading and Writing Workshop Standards. Are you evaluating me for my teaching, or are you evaluating me to see if my bulletin boards are neatly presented, my writing folders are clearly seen in the classroom, and I have the literacy "flow of the day" (i.e. a daily agenda of what will happen in class) neatly written on the board? I understand that these things are important to have up or visible in the classroom. But, do bulletin boards matter when I’m struggling to effectively teach students who are scared to speak during classroom discussions because their first language isn’t English? Do they matter when I have to figure out a way to reach those few students who don’t want to do their work and refuse to behave in my classroom? I am sure that bulletin boards matter in the whole scheme of things.
But, as a first year teacher, they just take a backseat to the everyday learning in my classroom. I do have most of these things up in my room (with the rest going up soon–don’t want to have my head served up on a silver platter because I don’t have student work up on the bulletin boards or my "flow of the day" isn’t neat and readable). It’s just that sometimes, things like bulletin boards and the like aren’t as important as making sure that all of my students are learning in my classroom. But, I’m new. And, I’m just learning about the realities of a NYC Literacy Teacher. It’s hard and will be even more difficult as the year progresses, but I do love my job. I just don’t agree with the structures I have to follow in order TO DO MY JOB.