Teaching Individuals with a Workshop Instructional Model

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Let’s continue education month here on Imagination Soup by looking at best practices for encouraging divergent thinking in children with reading and writing workshop.

Linear thinkingor convergent thinking, is about learning facts, follow instructions, and solving problems with one right answer.

Divergent thinking is generating unique solutions and seeing various possibilities in response to questions and problems.

To foster divergent thinking, learning activities must be designed for inquiry, reflection, pondering, wondering, curiosity, self-assessment, and no right answer. Divergent thinking is found with:

So, I’d expect in a classroom that encourages divergent thinking to be one that implements reader’s and writer’s workshop.

Workshop Instructional Model

workshop instructional model

Workshop Approach to Writing and Reading

In a reading or writing workshop, you’ll see these basic elements:

1. Short lesson (5 – 10 minutes)

2. Application of lesson (30 – 60 minutes) with choices

2.5. Confer with individual students 

3. Reflection, sharing (15 minutes)

– – – – – – – – – –

In a workshop model, thinking is valued and learning is individualized.

Merriam-Webster defines workshop as a “usually brief intensive educational program for a relatively small group of people that focuses especially on techniques and skills in a particular field.”

Writing workshop explained.

Reading workshop explained.

More writing workshop info.

Conferences in a workshop instructional model are valuable opportunities for the teacher to both assess and teach each child individually.

workshop instructional model

1: 1 conference example: (from first grade room I worked in last week. The kids were picking out the main character and writing 3 descriptive words about that character.)

Me: It looks like you have a book about dogs. Can you tell who is the main character?

Student: Brothers. I want to write down brothers, can you help me spell it?

Me: Well, good readers know that they can find the word in the story and copy it down. Let’s look and see if we can find the word brothers.

[Student and I flip through book – it’s only about 10 pages so it’s quick.]

Me: I don’t see the word brothers. Do you?

Student: No, but I know they are brothers.

Me: Oh, how do you know that?

Student: I just know.

Me: Well, sometimes we can tell from the pictures and clues in the book. Let’s see if we can tell from the pictures.

Student: Yes.

[pictures show two different sizes and breeds of dogs]

Me: I notice that these two dogs look quite different. Do you notice that, too? I wonder if they’re aren’t brothers since maybe brothers would look the same.

Student: They are brothers.

Me: Well, we can’t know for sure, for sure though because the book doesn’t say. That’s so disappointing isn’t it? We just have to go with what the book says. I see here that the book says the dogs are pals.

Student: [almost crying] I am going to write down that they are brothers.

I stopped because this poor guy was so overwhelmed. But, what fantastic information I just got! Do you see how this experience can help me plan for the next few weeks with this child? What would you jot down in your notes for this student? Would you start by writing his strengths of using the pictures to make up stories and details? For a teaching point, wouldn’t you want to be sure he was reading just-right books?

Next, I’d have the student read to me in case the issue was book selection. Did he just pick a book that he couldn’t read? If not, where was the comprehension break down? Was he not understanding that the author writes the story and we can’t add or subtract our own ideas? Or, was there some other issue with reading, or memory?

Conferring with a child, who is reading a book of his choice, allows you to differentiate, to teach him specifically within each workshop time. It’s essential in reading instruction – even in the older grades. I conferred with all my fifth graders every week.

. . .

If you’re a homeschooler, how could you replicate this at home?

If you’re a teacher, are you teaching using workshop? 

If you’re a parent and you’re not seeing workshopping in your child’s school, ask for it. It’s worth it.

. . .

Recommended Reading 

Books:

Teaching the Best Practice Way: Methods That Matter, K-12

Best Practices Fourth Edition

Classroom Instruction That Works 

How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-Ability Classrooms

Blogs:

Amick’s Articles

All About Comprehension

Raising Readers and Writers

Busy Teacher’s Cafe: Writing Workshop

workshop instructional model

READ MORE:
Workshop Approach to Instruction
Constructivist Classroom
What Your School’s Reading Instruction Should Look Like
The Case Against Skill and Drill Curriculum 

11 Responses

  1. Thank you for sharing this. I love how you knew when to back off with that student, but really challenged him to question his own thinking. In working with children with language delays, we often also see challenges with executive functioning and children having difficulty questioning their thinking. I think you modeling that lesson in questioning is so helpful, as it’s a skill for every teacher, therapist, and parent to hone.

  2. I find your articles very interesting – I’ve taught in both sides of the English school system – private and state schools. Interestingly state schools are embracing the work shop, divergent and constructivism way of teaching where as private schools are the complete opposite. The last state school I worked in had an amazing programme where each lesson was broken down into a starter, group, pair, individual work (each had to be targeted as much as possible in each lesson) and then a reflective plenary activity. We were discouraged from using worksheets unless it could be open ended and had to take into account different learning styles within the classroom – I found that with teachers that embraced this form of learning they knew the students better, could connect with them and they achieved better grades and also when going onto college were known as students that could independently think without having to be spoon fed and had the skills ready for a life in the work place and further education.

    1. You’ve had a lot of experience – & it’s so encouraging it is to hear you were in a state school that supported independent thinking. What’s up with the private schools?

      1. The private schools have always worked one way and got the results – if it works don’t fix it – problem is that the system is not creating individuals that are ready for a world that doesn’t spoon feed them and needs alternative independent thinkers which means many get into the top universities but don’t find it easy to get the jobs as others that haven’t gone to top universities but are independent thinkers and learners

  3. I’m always trying to point out to fellow homeschooling parents that these workshop-type discussions about books can happen organically as you enjoy books together. In my family, we find ourselves having incredibly in-depth discussions as we listen to audiobooks together. I don’t plan or direct these discussions; they just happen naturally. (Of course, over time I suppose I’ve nurtured this kind of talk by raising my own curiosities about our readings with my kids.)

    I try to encourage homeschoolers to realize that these informal discussions “count”. You don’t need to have formal discussions about what you read, or read some curriculum’s comprehension questions after reading. Instead, pay attention to the questions and insights that kids raise on their own, and go with them. Those are the questions and insights generated by their own interests and they’re usually deep and valuable!

    The same could be applied to non-homeschooled kids, of course. I’m really just talking about families enjoying literature together–and chatting about it.

    As for writing workshops, you know I’m a huge fan! Been facilitating them for homeschoolers for more than ten years. I’m currently writing an e-book on how to facilitate, because I’m such a believer, and want to spread the fun and learning.

      1. What I’m working on now is a stand-alone e-book on facilitating writer’s workshops in the home. (A little different than how you might use a workshop in the classroom, although I did that too, when I taught elementary school.) It’s a relatively short and achievable project! I still have a chunk of writing left, and then I have a whole lot to learn about e-book publication–but the end is in sight. Projects are good, right? Thanks for asking!

  4. Thank you SO MUCH for posting this article! It has helped me get the motivation and strength to get through another day in our first year of homeschooling! Some days, I really start doubting myself… But in articles like this, I find the encouragement I need. Thank you!

  5. Homeschooling provides such an easy way to workshop any topic. In reading/writing/literature – we have two different approaches for our two different children. I guest-blogged about them here a while back.

    My daughter (8) writes a book each year, and we make that activity the cornerstone of her English curriculum. We take a month to look at how stories work and outline her story idea. She takes a month to write the first draft. Then we talk about editing and grammar for a couple of weeks, and she takes another month or two to use those lessons to edit her own story. After she edits (which I proofread and offer further instruction), she illustrates her work, and we send the whole package off to a self publishing company. A few weeks later she begins the promotional arm of her book writing activity, and after two successful years, she has made enough money to buy her own laptop computer (and she’s become a pretty good writer)!

    My son (11) is not interested in writing his own books, but he loves to read, so we follow more of a book club approach with him. Sometimes he chooses his own books, and sometimes we choose for him (but we always choose something we think he’ll like). My husband is a literature professor at a local university, so he guides my son through in depth literary analysis of each selection. For the writing piece, we appeal to his competitive nature by looking for local and internet-based writing contests. The end result for a good piece of writing is fame and glory! And sometimes even a cash award. 🙂

    The thing I love about homeschooling is the fact that I really know my kids – their interests, their distastes, and that I have the luxury of doing so much one-on-one work with them. I use my mama-knowledge to customize their education. That way, every day feels like a workshop approach!

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