The Power of Workshop at the Youngest Grades – Reflections from a Lower School Teacher
by Addi Fraser, Kindergarten Teacher
As I looked around my classroom, I saw writers passionately pouring their ideas onto paper, editing with intensity, and independently engaging in the writing process. These authors were not in middle school, they’re actually kindergartners. Kindergartners who love writing and beg to write everyday because of the incredible power of Workshop.
Writing and Reading Workshop are immensely impactful programs. Just seeing them in action demonstrates how empowering they are to students. Children are often given little choice in their schedules and activities in life, but in Workshop, choice is at the heart of everything we teach. Instead of being given a writing prompt or an assigned book they have to read, students are challenged to make work that matters to them. Whether it be a narrative that is focused on an important moment in their life or how-to book that allows them to be an expert on a topic they know a lot about, the students have freedom to create without limitations. A Workshop teacher does not expect her students to imitate as a form of learning, but instead, she helps her students to find their own voice and ownership in their work.
This student ownership produces highly engaged children who feel pride in their work. This feeling of pride is one that must be shared and celebrated. In fact, one of the best parts of the Workshop model is the culmination of a reading or writing unit, which is the celebration. These celebrations are designed to create excitement and give the young authors and readers an audience for them to share the skills they have been garnering throughout the unit. The celebrations are usually a student-created event that could range from a marching around the school with our favorite books and signs that say “We are Readers!” to creating a book store for other students and faculty to come hear our their final writing pieces. This process of recognizing our children’s writing and reading has an incredible impact on their motivation to work. A celebration that gives them purpose and cultivates excitement.
School these days has taken an entirely different form. The classrooms no longer buzz with the air of excitement as we prepare for our next celebration with our editing pens in hand. The classrooms are empty, but the learning has not come to a halt. Workshop has taken a different manifestation. Our Reading and Writing Workshops are now alive in virtual form and thriving with high student engagement. Now, more than ever, our students need to have a voice and choice in their reading and writing. They need a creative outlet to make sense of what’s happening in their world and they need to know that we, the teachers, are listening. From one-on-one video conferencing to Zoom breakout sessions in small groups, students are hearing the same important concepts they were hearing in the classroom and getting personalized feedback on their work. Although a screen divides us, we are able to minimize the distance by keeping that Workshop magic that pulsed through our physical classrooms alive virtually.
Workshop is designed to not only create writers and readers while in their elementary education, but also life-long learners who use the skills established in these early years to continue to evolve and find their own voice through literacy. My young readers and authors are just at the start of their journey. They already are passionate, motivated, and empowered. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for them.