Monday, February 22, 2016

Workshop Redefined

** This past Saturday I had the pleasure of attending the annual Dublin Literacy Conference in Dublin, Ohio. Other than college football season, this is one of my favorite Saturdays of the year. Each year, I walk away excited and motivated to try new things and refine my reading and writing instruction after listening to engaging keynotes and thought-provoking breakouts. This annual literacy love-fest reenergizes me like no other conference does.

My most recent obsession is the book Amplify: Digital Teaching and Learning in the K-6 Classroom by Katie Muhtaris and Kristen Ziemke. From page one, I was transfixed by how many rich digital opportunities are available to our students. As a teacher who has embraced the digital literacy revolution, it’s very gratifying to read this book that validates some of the digital learning experiences I’ve incorporated into my reading and writing workshop. After reading this book, I wanted to get inside the mind of the authors and learn more.

So, when I had the opportunity to hear Kristen Ziemke speak at this year’s Dublin Literacy Conference, I felt like a kid on the first day of school with a new red Lamborghini Trapper Keeper. As I furiously typed my notes in the Notability app, I tried desperately to keep up with all the amazing knowledge bombs she was dropping. However, there was one sentence Kristen uttered that has not left my mind since.

“80% of what we do on a digital device should be CREATION”

Mind. Blown.

Digital learning experiences should be just that—experiences. We need to empower students to create, not complete digital worksheets. I’m always striving to ensure that when the readers in my classroom are using a device, it is to create. The hope is that students are using the device to create something that they couldn’t do without it. Digital citizens contribute to the digital world; they don’t just live in it. This year, I’ve allowed my students to have more choice in the way in which they respond to their reading. Some opt to create a written response in their reading journal. Others gravitate towards creating a book trailer using iMovie, a slide presentation using Google Slides or a screencast using Explain Everything. No matter the medium used, what’s important is that the students are creating.

As I drove home from the Dublin Literacy Conference, I had this idea nagging at me. I asked Siri to define the word “workshop.” In her pleasant (albiet sometimes condescending) voice, Siri said “workshop” is defined as:

  • “A place where things are made or repaired”
  • “A class or series of classes in which a small group of people learn the methods and skills used in doing something.”
It finally made sense to me. The classroom should be like a studio where students are honing their skills as well as creating new understanding. For a long time, I believed that reading workshop was where students read silently while I circulated around conferencing with students and led small group guided reading instruction. Maybe it’s time for reading workshop to be an actually workshop. A place where students use tools to create something new. Our young readers can be like blacksmiths, wood-workers and artists in their studios or workshops…creating, constructing, building, and designing. My new intention is to allow time for students to work on their reading skills and strategies in the more “traditional” way, as well as give time for young readers to create new digital products. “We need to balance kids IN TEXT and kids ON TECH.” (Another incredible Ziemke quote, right?!)

A few weeks ago, I can remember a moment when I became flustered during reading workshop. As I worked with a group of students at my reading table, I scanned the room to check on student productivity. What I was witnessing made me feel a little irritated. In one corner of the room, I had a group of boys who were engaged in a boisterous book club discussion about Guys Read: Funny Business edited by Jon Scieszka. Noise and movement. In the carpet area, another book club was storyboarding a book trailer they were producing for Doll Bones by Holly Black. More noise and movement. One student was on the classroom couch recording his own narration for his digital reading response. More noise. Four students were walking into the classroom as they returned from the media center, each of them excitedly discussing the books they checked out. More noise. More movement. Other students were using their device to read websites I’ve curated into our digital nonfiction hub on our class website. In totally, there were about half of my students who were just sitting silently and reading a paper book. Alright, that's it.  I sat back and thought to myself, What is going on? Why are there so many distractions? There is too much movement! How can these kids be so distracting during reading workshop? Was this okay?

You know what? It is okay. I realized that every student was engaged and actively participating in the reading process—book selection, book discussion, reading text and reading response. After a few moments of internal struggle and reflection, I came to the conclusion that this is the new reading workshop. A digital reading workshop. A reading workshop that’s remixed and redefined.