Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Building a Workshop for Readers~ The Importance of Humble Beginnings

Awakening readers is an amazing experience but it doesn't come without time, careful planning, and reflection.  As I set out to establish this year's reader's workshop I reflect on my professional learning through my PLN, my professional reading and past experiences.  I think about what I want for my kids as readers and about myself as a reader and about those readers who devour books.
I ask myself~
  • How do I guide first graders to discover the importance of book choice?
  • How do I help young readers realize what it feels like to curl up in a book?
  • How do I encourage natural conversations about books?
  • How will I support these young readers as they learn to create new thinking along the way?
The Work of a Reader~
I want my kids to be authentic readers, readers who choose their reading, readers who share thinking with others, readers who read for a purpose. To reach these goals we need to teach the reader the art of choice in book selection. We need to teach them what it feels like to curl up in a book, to talk about books because this is the work of a reader.  I believe these are the keys in motivating and creating life long readers. As teachers we need to know the process, trust the process and recognize the steps along the way.  We need this working knowledge so we can gently nudge the reader to take the next step. Allowing kids to do the work of a reader takes time, patience and careful planning. Building a workshop that allows kids to do the work of real reader is an art; it can't be pushed nor forced.

A Workshop for Readers~
  • workshop allows time to hear stories read aloud, to enjoy the language and feel of books. 
  • A workshop encourages talk about books and sharing thinking with others.  
  • Readers have choice in a workshop, choice in books, reading space, conversation, sharing and response.
  • Reader's workshop encourages the authentic work of readers.
Building a Workshop for Reader's ~
Building the workshop begins on the first day of school. Familiar books are placed on the tables at easy reach for the kids, new and familiar books are displayed around the room and there is an abundance of time for kids to interact with books. I also begin sharing my life as a reader by sharing the books I have read recently. I talk about my friends in my books, I share my love of the smell of books, who doesn't love to smell a new book!? I read, read and read aloud to the class!  I allow the readers to roam the room and choose books to read during the workshop. As they read I sit along side them and celebrate our humble beginnings, because I know this is an important step. This is the first day of many to come where we embrace the work of  readers and celebrate its many gifts. 

Our First Read Alouds~
The books I choose to read as we build our workshop are chosen carefully and  are usually books about books, along with a few tried and true favorites! The first book I like to share is Reading Makes Me Feel Good by Todd Parr @toddparr. This is a great book to get us thinking about how reading makes us feel. We share Wild About Books by Judy Sierra to celebrate the value of books and the places people like to read. Charlie Cook's Favorite Book by Julia Donaldson amazes kids as they learn WE are reading Charlie Cook's favorite book! Wolf by Becky Bloom helps us to begin to think about what it means to curl up in a book. Visit our class Shelfari page to see the books we have shared so far this year. 

Workshop Responsibilities~
Readers also need to understand what is expected in the workshop.  Early mini lessons are dedicated to discussing responsibilities in the workshop. (Thank you Cathy!) We create a T- chart clearly listing "Your Job" and "My Job." We take time to talk about our responsibilities as a reader and the teacher's responsibilities as the teacher. Each day we add a job to the chart and then "practice" the job in the workshop. This practice time includes the teacher! The teacher needs to observe the class, make note of kids reading habits and the challenges that will need to be taught in the next mini lesson and the celebrations to be shared in the reflection circle. Once the the kids are engaged in reading I begin to sit along side readers and talk books and reading. During our closing circle books are shared and we take time to reflect on our jobs. 

Book Care~
Book care is also taught in the early days of the workshop. Kids are shown how to pull books form baskets and how to return them. We can't assume kids know how to turn pages carefully, place all the spines to the same side or replace a jacket that has slipped off. These are all book handling skills we have to practice. We also discuss the importance of caring for our books properly and what to do when a book does become ripped. This year we place our ripped books in the tub labeled "broken books."

Creating the Library~
 I have found creating the library together and asking kids to name and label tubs gives the readers a sense of ownership which helps in book care. I start by placing familiar books of similar books in book tubs. Then, I ask a few kids to read from the tub during workshop and talk about the similarities in the books and decide a name for the tub. During our share time the readers share their conversations and the new label with the class. As the workshop continues I ask the kids to suggest books or book topics they would like to see added to our library. The readers understand this is their library they have choice and responsibility in the care of their library.

Right Down to Share Circle~
Sharing is also a skill that needs explicit teaching. Kids learn to form a circle that includes everyone; to lay books in from of them to signal they would like to share. When asked if they would like to share they respond politely "Yes please," share the book title and their reason for sharing. We learn the importance of speaking loud enough to be heard as well as the importance of listening to others. Establishing an authentic workshop takes time, patience and careful planning. Kids are authentic in their reading and so much is to be gained when we encourage real reading!


  1. This is so beautifully said. Your students are blessed to have such well thought out guidance and modeling.

  2. Deb,
    What a wonderful plan. You have all of the most important details all in place. I love that you have already started a sharing circle at the end of your workshop. It is such an important piece of the workshop. I still haven't been able to get that piece up and running but I am working on it. Thanks for your continued inspiration.