Sunday, October 14, 2007

Breaking the workshop model

I think I've explained the workshop model before, but in case you've forgotten, it looks like this:
  • 10-minute "mini lesson" consisting of a short connection to students' previous knowledge; statement of the teaching point in which teachers explicitly tell the students what they'll be learning; demonstration in which the teacher models for the students; and active engagement in which the students try it out on their own
  • 35-minute "guided practice" period in which the students work independently
  • 5-minute share at the end of independent work
Before I actually became a first-year teacher, I was all about the workshop model. I thought it would be helpful, as a new teacher, to have a script of sorts to follow. After all, every mini lesson sounds a little something like this, but with all the blanks filled in:

"Boys and girls, we have been working hard on _____. Today I want to teach you that ____. Let me show you what I mean. ________. Boys and girls, did you see the way I ______? Now let's try it together. Turn and talk to your partner about _______. Boys and girls, today and every day I want you to remember that _______. Now off you go!"

A month and a half into the school year, the workshop model is pretty much the bane of my existence. Remembering the script and keeping the mini lesson to a scant 10 minutes is not as easy as it sounds. Neither is trying to shoehorn all the aspects of my lesson into the workshop model framework. I'm used to teaching in a style where I ask lots of questions of my students and invite lots of discussion. During the workshop model mini lesson, there are no questions allowed from the students and no discussion (except during the active engagement); it's all the teacher, all the time. I see my students raise their hands with these hopeful looks on their faces because they have something they want to share or something they have a question about, and it breaks my heart to keep saying, "Hands down, it's my turn now."

I think the workshop model probably does work for the population of students in the school where I teach. After all, taking advantage of those "teachable moments" that lead the lesson astray can be really confusing for students whose native language is not English, like the students at my school. But at the same time, the workshop model feels really one-sided. I can tell that there are kids who are confused, who aren't getting it, and I'm supposed to pull those kids for a 2-minute "re-teach" at the rug instead of changing tack and trying a different method?

This weekend, I took two New York State teaching certification exams (because my teaching license is from another state, I have to pass New York's exams to get my New York license). Mostly they were a joke, but they included lots of samples of class discussions -- and I realized that's something I miss. In my workshop model lessons, there's no back and forth, no "What do you think?", no "Who else has an idea about this?" I don't get to invite my students' opinions, their knowledge, their ideas. All I get to do is tell them how to punctuate their sentences and then eavesdrop on them while they try it. And even though I allegedly have more freedom as a cluster teacher, I've still been told by the powers that be that every class I teach should start with a mini lesson. It's hard enough being a first-year teacher as it is, but trying to shoehorn every lesson into a framework I'm not all that comfortable with is overwhelming.

Apparently the workshop model is mandated for use in schools throughout New York City, so...I should use it or lose it, I guess? Or I should, as someone suggested, plan two lessons: one to be taught the way I want to teach, and one workshop model to pull out when I'm being observed.

I don't think I'm ready to be that much of a renegade just yet.


Anonymous said...

Mandated by the city, or mandated by *your* school? And is it mandated for every lesson, every day? Is there wiggle room to teach the workshop model "your way"? Ask the other teachers at your school if they do only workshop every day. Probably lots of them adapt it to their own person styles, or add in other models. Planning two lessons is a waste of time, I think, but I bet there's some space to be a workshop-model teacher who also answers questions and offers alternatives. The other teachers at your school will be able to tell you how much you can adjust.

Anonymous said...

adapt it. this depends on strict your school is about the length of the lesson, etc. for me, in a school where we have some flexibility as long as we're doing a good job, I pretty much just use the "present something new, model it, give them a chance to practice it with help, give them a chance to practice it without help, have students learn from each others' experiences" elements of the workshop model, without sticking too strictly to time limits or whose turn it is to talk rules. but again, it depends on how carefully they watch you or whether your people see the big picture. the bottom line is that the better the results you get, the more you can get away with... especially if you can make a convincing argument that you're doing *exactly* what they told you to, anyway, with just a tiny bit of perfectly-understandable-tweaking!

Anonymous said...

If you do read alouds, that's a perfect time to teach kids to have amazing discussions. Rather than just ask them questions (making it a very teacher-student-teacher) directed conversation, you can teach them moves they can make in a conversation so that it's student-student-student conversation. You can teach them to be better "talkers" (Yes, there should be a "mini-lesson" before a class discussion!)

"Talk" is part of the ELA curriculum. The workshop model doesn't mean you can't ever have discussions in class... it just means that when you do have them, they should be purposeful.

Anonymous said...

I like your blog... I'm from Argentina and a teacher too...