The standard reading workshop model usually includes a period of small group work after presentation of your mini-lesson.
This will go against the recommendations of many different reading workshop experts, but I feel strongly that using small groups automatically can be a huge detriment to reading mastery.
Instead, small groups must be used with intention...or not at all.
So, what's wrong with small groups? A couple of things.
All too often, teachers divide readers by ability level. The thinking is logical: Group the kids by the type of text they are able to read. So lower-level readers and higher-level readers get selections that challenge them.
Great theory, but in reality, this advantage is wiped out by the fact that ability groups label children.
On my page about leveling the playing field for kids in poverty, I advise:
Allow no distinctions between children for any reason.
Do not separate students from the group for the convenience of the teacher. Kids with IEP's should never be seated in the same group near the exit so they can slip in and out without bothering others.
Student-centered teaching means that every child in our rooms feels very keenly that they are not second-class citizens in any way. Not at school. Maybe they get treated that way in other areas of their lives, but not while they are under our care.
This same line of thinking applies to placing kids into a "low" group during your reading workshop. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for them.
And don't think you can solve this by sprinkling your higher readers among your lower readers. In my experience, your higher readers will end up doing much of the work for the group and ultimately get bored with their role. Meanwhile, your lower readers make little progress.
NOTE: These same concerns apply to grouping kids by such categories as "fluency level" or other areas in which they have weak skills.
For years I tried to make this standard small-group model of reading workshop function for me, even as my readers did not make the progress that I hoped for.
"Now I'll read it in my squeaky voice!"
Unfortunately, what I found over and over again was that small groups without a teacher or volunteer sitting with the children equaled "playtime."
Think about it...what do kids normally do when they get together in groups? Have fun.
You can set all the expectations you want, but their instinctive nature will get the best of them. They will start off with the intention of working well together, but that can degrade very quickly into simply reading by themselves, followed shortly by messing around.
The result is that the group you are working with directly is moving forward, but until you rotate to another group, their progress is lagging.
I take a two step approach to solve this issue, and it's the approach I recommend you try if your readers workshop is not generating consistent skill advancement.
No matter how comprehensive or compelling your mini-lesson, some kids won't understand it or will lack confidence in their ability to apply it...and this includes your best readers.
Right after I finish the lesson and release kids to do the individualized application, I announce that I'll be sitting at the table in the back:
"If you have any confusion at all or any question, come to the table and we'll work through it together."
The group that forms at the back will include all reading levels so no one is labeled as "low."
|I make sure my kids know from day one of school that asking questions is expected of everyone at all times...no judgment from anyone about a questioner is ever even considered.|
After I address their questions or build their confidence, they rejoin the rest of the class, working as individuals.
When students work individually to apply what they learned in the mini-lesson, I know for certain that the work is all theirs...which means I know precisely how they are doing in reading workshop and what they - personally - need help with.
So I circulate to answer questions, spot check progress and do my one-one-one assessments mentioned in part 1.
Is this a bit more work?
I don't think so. And if it is, then the payoff in faster student progress makes it worth it.
We talk so much about individualizing our instruction for the benefit of students. I think applying it to reading workshop is a natural and effective technique that beats the normal approach to small groups hands down.
My district and state reading assessment scores have consistently risen to top levels (i.e. nearly every student passing) using this system. This includes Special Ed kids and those who came to me reading below grade level.
Try it and gauge the impact in your own classroom.
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