Creating a readers’ and writers’ workshop

During the 2012-2013 school year, three elementary teachers (Kate Pimlott, Franklin; Becky Jacobson, Woodbury; and Sara Nichols, Hoglan) set aside traditional methods for teaching literacy and began teaching their students to read and write through the readers’ and writers’ workshop. They received support from specially trained instructional coaches. Since then, many more teachers have begun to change their practices, providing students with the same engaging experiences.

The readers’ and writers’ workshop is a scientifically based approach to teaching students solid literacy skills that can be integrated across context and content. Each workshop begins with a language study to immerse students in the specifics of a certain genre, such as fantasy or biography. Students then take this new learning and apply it to their reading and writing throughout a six-week, in-depth study.

The workshops are structured in a similar way. Both the readers’ and writers’ workshop begins with a short and focused mini-lesson. These lessons last about 10-12 minutes and are engaging and interactive. Students then leave the large group setting to put their learning into practice through independent and small group learning experiences. At the end of independent and small group practice, the students pull back to the large group to share how they applied the learning and how it helped them become better readers and writers.

During the independent and small group practice portion of the readers’ workshop, students are busy applying a processing strategy through independent reading, partner reading, writing about their reading, conferencing one-on-one with the teacher and small group guided reading lessons.

During the independent and small group practice portion of writers’ workshop, students are working on writing a piece that may or may not be published. They work through the writing process, learning to self-check their work for errors and revise their writing to be more meaningful for an audience. Students may also work with a partner in a peer-editing conference, or individuals may meet with the teacher for a one-to-one conference or a small group writing lesson, but most likely you will see heads down and pencils busily scratching out stories and informational pieces based on the genre study. Students who were once reluctant writers often have trouble putting their pencils down when time is called.

Grammar and spelling are not ignored with the workshop approach. Grammar lessons become a part of language studies and are then reinforced through the workshops. Word study is a short period of time set aside in the day to address developmental spelling, word parts and word meaning. These lessons, too, are reinforced throughout the students’ day.

The workshop approach to learning to read and write has helped students to focus their learning and apply skills until they have been mastered. Reluctant readers and writers become motivated as they begin to feel successful. This approach to literacy is yielding promising results.

Melanie Knoll is an instructional coach at Franklin Elementary School in the Marshalltown Community School District.