Saturday, February 5, 2011

Reading Workshop Made Easy

As an avid reader, I’ve been interested in the Reading Workshop approach for years. How could I not be enthralled with the concept? I loved the thought of my students all choosing their own books, curling up in cozy spots, and reading to their hearts content.

But for some reason, I procrastinated. I guess the whole thing seemed too good to be true! Wasn't this just like SSR, and didn't studies show that SSR was not effective? How could students become better readers when everyone was reading something different? Truthfully, I was also confused about the day-to-day details of implementation. Honestly, I just wanted someone to tell me what to do to get started.

I ‘d been reading a variety of inspirational books on reading workshop, but sometimes I just felt overwhelmed with by the concept. The devil is in the details, as they say, and I wanted some details! Then I read The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller and Igniting a Passion for Reading by Steven Layne, and I vowed to give it a try! I realized that there was much more to reading workshop than sustained silent reading, but I figured I’d work out the details along the way. I used some of the ideas that I had read, but I also adapted some of the strategies to fit my own needs. After a few weeks, things just seemed to fall into place.

What happened next was amazing! Almost magically, my students began to love reading, and I could tell they were becoming better readers. I loved conferring with my kids individually about what they were reading, and I enjoyed our mini-lessons. They were making terrific progress on our quarterly assessments, and I realized that the reading workshop approach really could deliver on its promise.

I’ve always enjoyed sharing ideas that work for me, and my specialty is making powerful teaching strategies seem easy. Despite all the inspiring books on reading workshop, there didn’t seem to be a simple step-by-step guide for people like me who wanted help getting started. So I went back through my notes to remember what I had done, and I began to write the book that became Empowering Readers: A Quick Start Guide to Reading Workshop. I wrote an exact plan for each of the first 10 days as well as a chapter on how to take reading workshop to the next level with a series of instructional “power tools.” Then I enlisted the help of dozens of teachers who began using the strategies in their classrooms. They offered feedback about what was working and what needed fixing. I was inspired on a daily basis by the ideas shared by the Empowering Readers Learning Community!

Now, after more than a year of writing and rewriting, I’m excited to announce that Empowering Readers is finally complete! I recently asked the teachers who’ve been using these strategies to share some of their successes with me, and I was moved by the stories I received from them. I knew that the reading workshop approach worked for my students, but it was tremendously gratifying to read how empowering the program was to other students. Kids who didn’t like to read before now talk about books at home? ELL students actually cheer when they are given extra reading time? Something special is happening, and that something special is a new crop of kids discovering the joy of reading.

If you need convincing about the effectiveness of the reading workshop approach, I invite you to read these Success Stories for yourself. Do you use the reading workshop approach in your classroom? If so, please share your own success story with me!