In the perceived absence of actual reading, writing and curiosity, teachers are often sent to workshops with the hope that they will then return to school sites and 'run workshops'. At best, when the workshop host is actually someone who reads and writes and doesn't have a lot of formulas or 'best practices' and instead engages all in the actual practice of reading and writing--rich rewards can often accompany. When the participant continues to read and write and is suitably curious, the ideas learned and questioned via their own practice may make for interesting, if not provocative, work inside their own classroom.
There is an organicism in such practice.
In contrast, when the presenter is someone who has also learned 'workshop techniques' at a distance from actual practice and passes along a laundry list of dos and dont's (think chart after chart) that truly make little actual sense, the outcome is rather dubious. Even worse than this however is the 'turnkey' presenter sent to the latter workshop who then returns to tell everyone else how to "do" workshop. The workshops enacted after such learning are often vapid and usually rely on standardized practices for all.
Some 'workshop' practices I would question:
1.Why must teachers level all of the books in the classroom library?
Why are reading materials in classrooms being organized exclusively by 'levels'? I keep hearing more and more about this. Given the importance of prior knowledge and interest, it seems that leveling schema fail as readers age and the confluence of knowledge, interest, and motivation take on greater emphasis. Why would anyone organize a library based on leveling schema that is imposed? Does it even make remote sense that we could ever actually say that a reader is a level T? I have been in classrooms when a teacher will lean in and say in a stage-whisper, "He's a level N." Could we not imagine easily how such a declaration would be faulty?
Underneath the leveling library is the more important question about how one selects a book to read and what prompts the desire to read. The leveled system in some ways usurps the actual thinking that needs to be done when selecting a text and coming to name the desire to read.
2. Why must teachers refer to their students as readers and/or writers?
It seems a bit insipid to make teachers refer to their students as 'readers' and 'writers'--as if calling them by a name, somehow makes it "more" true. It bothers me that naming isn't a privileged exchange between teacher and learner. A former graduate student told me she was 'written up' by a supervisor for failing to address her 5-year-old students as writers. It's not the names that bother me, but rather that someone else determines address in a classroom apart from the teacher and the learners. It feels like colonization.
3. What's with all the sticky notes?
I read a lot. I write a fair amount too. I do both well with nary a sticky in sight. I have been in classrooms where teachers explain that their students (or should I say readers) must used 3 to 5 sticky notes per chapter when reading a novel. When I ask why, I usually get two responses:
a. The reading workshop presenter said so.A friend of mine tells the story of her son arriving home from fifth grade one day and declaring he was done with reading. When she inquired as to why he said he hated sticky notes and he wanted to just go back to reading a good story. "Why do they have to ruin it?" he asked his mom.
b. We were told we must do this by an administrator (who probably attended the reading workshop).
Underneath the sticky note practice, is the more important question about the needs of a reader and the reasons for reading. Not all texts require analysis. Not all texts require writing alongside. It seems important for students to figure out how to tell the difference and to determine some ways they actually wants to read. Forced sticky notes stops that thinking.
4. Why must all students record the title, author, etc. of every book they read?
There are times I like to keep lists of what I am reading or planning to read. There are times I like to look at other people's lists as well. For example I often enjoy reading the Five Book Interviews. Recently Carol Gilligan offered five books she would recommend about gender and human nature. The offerings fascinated me. But occasionally choosing to keep a list is quite different than being made to record every thing read for a school year. Why is knowing the total number of books important? Who benefits by having a child keep a list for a year of what s/he read? When my son was 7 he had to record the title and author in a notebook of texts he read. He loved to read and did so with great passion. That passion dimmed a bit when he realized how much writing his rather tired little hand would need to do. Quite quickly he seized on the idea of limiting his book selection to brief titles.
5. Why do students have to read a book that is classified as a different genre each month?
Let's just say it's hell that last month after students have been through nine genres (BTW I never actually got all the genre distinctions either) and the last one left is often something they never ever wanted to read. What exactly are students learning in such scenarios? This practice obfuscates the more important work of developing and changing reading preferences and making decisions about what to read and when. I also think it seems predictable that children will have great affinity for certain types of books and will desire to read these books in great number. Why do we want to disrupt that? Do we fear that a child hooked into Captain Underpants at 8 will find himself at 40 only reading Dav Pilkey's underpants adventures?
6. A phrase I hope never to hear again: "I have a self-to-text connection to make."
In the name of comprehension bad things have been done to reading and those who read. As a substitution for ambiguity, conjecture, humor, and not knowing (to name but a few)--the connection gambit (often marked with a post it, see image) is being played. Is there any other kind of connection one might have with a text? If not connected to the reader, then to whom? Is there a reason such things even need to be anounced? And what does it suggest when after such proclamation the connection is something like this: "I have a text to self connection. My dog drools." I did hear a child utter this after his teacher read a section from a Henry and Mudge story. He was congratulated for making a connection. A friend reminds me that rendering reading into such small bits of nothing, readies children for a career of testable 'reading' items. I also wonder about such coding and what is missed as the mind is occupied by searching for already determined categories which in fact might not be well understood.
7. Why are students made to keep a writer's notebook and/or reader's notebook?
While visiting a middle school class, a friend of mine tells the story that at the midpoint in the class all of the students put away their writing notebooks and took out their reading notebooks. She describes this shift from writing workshop to reading workshop as a strange changing of the guards. I wondered then as I do now why this would be done. How is it that a notebook, let alone separate notebooks, are needed? Why is it that everyone needed to attend to their writing and reading in the same manner? Imposing an order may constrain learning and in fact that may be interesting. Imposing an order that all must follow takes what might be thoughtful practices (choosing to keep a notebook) and reduces it to mindlessness.
8. Why is there a reliance on 'seed ideas' as the source of writing topics?
I was once told that students couldn't write if they didn't generate five seed ideas first (one for each day of the school week) and specifically do so inside their writing notebooks which had all been organized as per their teacher's directions including the unique cover each student had to create. The seed ideas were prompted: a time when you were happy, a time when you were hurt, a bad haircut, and so on.
|To See Takes Time (2009)|
Invention is the work of teaching and learning. Remove invention and all that is left is a corpse.