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Readers and Writers Workshop at UE and CCMS
In September 2020, Cheektowaga Middle School and Union East Elementary adopted new reading and writing workshop programs, developed by Lucy Calkins, a renowned educator and innovator of successful teaching techniques. Each program allows teachers to utilize whole and small group instruction, independent work, and customized lessons tailored to each student’s level of learning and performance.
The workshop starts with a 10-15 minute mini lesson that focuses on a particular strategy or a reading or writing piece. Then the students are sent off to do independent work to reinforce and practice the skill or accomplish a related task. For upper grades, this time is a little longer than grades K-1 where students break off into centers to do different activities relating to reading and writing.
During independent work time, the teacher can call back small groups, have conferences with individual students, or even form small book clubs. For the final portion of the allotted time, students gather back in whole group for recap, checking for understanding and learning, or even to allow students to share something they’ve written or read. In the upper grades, sharing a writing project could mean more than simply reading it.
The goal of these programs is not just teaching reading and writing but developing skills and techniques that students can use to learn independently. Some of the key program strategies utilized are visualization (where students picture the story like a movie in their minds), students asking questions about the story and how it relates to them personally, predictions within the story, re-reading for comprehension, and techniques for sounding out difficult words and discerning their meanings.
Having two separate programs that correlate with each other and use the same strategies is beneficial to both teachers and students. For example, a skill or technique a student learns in the reader’s workshop, such as how an author uses dialogue, can be carried over and utilized when writing their own piece in the writer’s workshop.
Lucy Calkins’ methods are perfect for addressing students of all levels of understanding within each grade level. It gives students more time to practice reading and writing at their own pace and level versus a more scripted lesson plan where everyone is doing the same thing and at the same speed.
When you grow a program like this, each new school year builds on the previous one, so benefits are exponential over the long-term. When teachers introduce the program to first graders, they are building a foundation so by the time they reach 4th and 5th grade, stamina is built up, and they can read for longer periods of time and read above grade level. Students have also shown marked improvement in their writing skills.
Another incredible benefit to the individual student comes in the form of freedom to choose reading material that interests them while still practicing the strategy. Not being tied to specific books or passages is a huge motivator to students who can explore literature and discover books that keep them interested in learning.
For parents wondering about state standards, the Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop programs are aligned with the Next Gen ELA standards for language arts. The learning strategies used allow the teacher to cover the standards in each lesson while still meeting the needs of each child at their learning level.
The workshop model is definitely working at CCSD, and the benefits will become even more apparent in the years to come.