Monday, September 22, 2014

Does workshop model work?

My school is pushing for all teachers to use the workshop model as the primary method of instruction.  Now, I have read a few texts on the workshop model--Penny Kittle's Write Beside Them for one, and I use the model to a certain extent when teaching a number of writing concepts, but I am still unconvinced that it works for all classes and all situations.  I want to make it work, but I need a few questions answered!

I have been feeling a little lost with my classes this year.  I have always had a wide variety of skills and abilities present as our school does have a high population of low SES kids as well as transient students, but this is the first time I have seen these extremes.  In one class, I have kids reading at a 2nd or 3rd grade level, kids reading at an 11th grade level, and everything in between.  I also have high numbers of students with IEPs and 504s and what seems like a very large population of very reluctant learners.  How do I accommodate for all that?  How do I differentiate?

Today I observed a 5th grade classroom that utilizes the workshop model, and I have to admit that I was incredibly impressed.  Students worked independently on a Read-to-Self assignment while the teacher met with small groups and interspersed some individual conferences.  She was able to connect with most of her class, and all the class time was used effectively.  I loved it!

But I was left with these concerns--does the workshop model depend solely on the students' ability to work independently?  In the class I observed, every student was working quietly, and for the most part, they were all on task--minus maybe a couple of short breaks.  They had the space to stretch out and get away from distractions (a luxury I definitely do not have), and since the teacher had spent the first week establishing behaviors, routines, and expectations, there really were very few things to stop her from focusing on just a few students (or one student) at a time.

However, we have all had those students who cannot or will not work no matter the consequences, so what do we do then?  How do we make this model work if our students do not work well on their own?  I have a handful of students who seem to need constant redirection.  The second I turn my back, they stop working--some do this by choice, but some have IEPs that say this behavior is out of their control.  Can workshop model work in this situation?

I really do love so many things about this method of instruction, but I am just not sure it works 100% of the time like so many researchers claim.  Do I need to make a change?  Or is it the schools that need to change in order to make the workshop work?


  1. Bailey you ask the same questions that I struggle with! I love Kittle's book and the ideas and methods she brings forward, but the workshop model is lost at my school. As someone who plans on implementing a Writing Center in the next year or so, my school needs to embrace this model. I've been trying in my classroom as well, but I run into the same issue with the students who refuse to work independently. It amazes me how they can get off task in under a minute! Right now, I am combating the lack of work with very specific guidelines to each workshop - focused corrective areas, assigned helpers - it's not exactly the model I want forever, but it is working now.
    Please continue to share your ideas as you move forward with this, I'm glad I'm not the only one who questions what to do when a model isn't reality in the classroom.

  2. I also grapple with this...My students are at a similar reading range!

    One solution is to group them by ability and then rotate through each group giving a mini-lesson (with the rest of the groups doing independent work).

    Another solution is to teach a skill to the whole class and then have the students apply it to different texts based on their reading level.

  3. Bailey,

    We are also using a similar model (Daily 5) in first grade. We (myself and teaching partner) have grouped similar students, based on their needs, and work with them in small groups. We split up our kids into six groups: three in my room one day, and three in hers. Today I had 2 low groups, and 1 medium group. I was only able to work with my low groups.

    It was successful, even though I had one boy purposefully walk in on another in the bathroom! So, I think you will always have that one student off task, but I wouldn't worry too much about it unless they are disrupting the rest of the class. Eventually the students will be so focused on learning they will just ignore the student falling on the floor out of their least I hope!!! Lets see how the year progresses!

  4. I spent quite a bit of my summer reading about the workshop model and am now trying to put in in place in my second grade classroom. For the most part, it's going well, but I have to say it all depends on the personality of your class. Fortunately, I have a really good group of kids this year. We're up to 20 minutes of independent reading, which is quite a milestone for 7 year olds. In writing workshop I do as Penny Kittle recommends and "write beside them." I'm enjoying this time so much! I sit at one of their desks and write for ten minutes with them before conferencing with individual students. It really does feel like a writing community. I didn't think it would be possible. When I took the MWP this past summer, they recommended that you write with your students and I thought . . . really? Show me how. But I'm finding it really is possible. Thanks for your thoughtful post.

  5. After years of using the workshop model (and LOVING it) I am now being forced to use a boxed, Lucy Calkins writing curriculum which luckily has a few similarities. It seems change is the only constant in education!