The Workshop Approach and How it Can Support English Learners

by Valentina Gonzalez

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What Is Workshop?

Let’s begin by saying that a workshop is not necessarily a program that is purchased and implemented by reading from a script day to day (though there are some out there). Workshop is a structure for teaching, and it can be implemented in nearly any content-area classroom. In my own classroom several years ago, I implemented a reading workshop with a basal reader and the small literacy library our campus had just started. Writing workshop is no different. It’s the same structure.

How Do I Implement It?

Mini Lesson:

Basically, my reading workshop meant that I spent about ten minutes at the start of the reading block engaging with the students in whole-group instruction. This period of time, called the mini lesson, was focused on an objective that the entire class would benefit from learning. It was tight and brief. Planning for this part of the lesson didn’t take long since it was a small portion of the workshop.

Independent Reading:

Next, I sent my students off to read independently from self-selected texts for about forty-five minutes. Now, we did spend a good deal of time at the beginning of the year talking about book selection and how to find books that fit. Students were urged to find books that they wanted to read and that were in their range of comprehension. We veered away from restricting them to particular levels only.

So as students got comfortable around the room reading, I began to confer with each of them one on one. One-on-one conferences are truly like small reading conversations. I sat next to each student and asked them what they were reading and why they chose it, and then I asked them to read a little to me. Then I complimented one thing they did well and coached them on another. One-on-one conferences were very important because they helped me decide how to form small groups.

As I conferred, I gathered important data (anecdotal notes) about the reading and I analyzed that information to form small groups of students who had the same or similar reading needs. For example, if I noticed that four of my students struggled with reading fluently, I would gather them together in a small group on a subsequent day. My small-group instruction with these students would include explicit instruction on fluency, as well as time for them to practice with my support. My small-group time with them would be about ten minutes.

Another type of small group I could visit with during independent reading was a guided reading group. These were students who were reading at about the same reading level. I would gather them together for around ten minutes and give each of them the same book. I would begin by conducting an extensive book talk to prepare them for reading the book. During this book talk, my goal was to set them up for success. Then I’d ask each one to start reading, and I’d listen to them read. As they finished, I would give the group a teaching point, something I wanted them to hold on to as readers.

Most of my planning time was spent on lessons for my small-group instruction. This was the heart of my workshop and where I helped my students grow. Since I wanted to support all my students individually at their given proficiencies and levels of background knowledge, I needed to deeply understand them as learners in order to know my next steps with them. I planned for their language and academic needs by analyzing the anecdotal notes I gathered each time I met with them, either one on one or in small groups. My small groups were constantly changing. They were fluid, and the kids never knew who was going to be called for a group. I didn’t want to unintentionally stigmatize any child, and groups changed based on skill, language, and reading levels.

Share Time:

Finally, as the workshop came to a close, we spent the last five minutes sharing. There were different ways that we shared what we did during our workshop time. Sometimes I randomly called on a few students to talk about their reading. Other times, each student shared with their reading buddy. Students knew that they might be asked to share and were held accountable for their reading time.

How Does the Workshop Approach Benefit English Learners?

The workshop approach benefits English learners in many ways, as seen in the chart below.

Components of Workshop Time How the component benefits ELs
Mini Lesson 10 min
  • This is an opportunity for ELs to receive aural comprehensible input.
Independent Reading/Writing 45 min
  • During this large block of time, the teacher is able to pull small groups for guided reading and writing or strategy, lowering the teacher:student ratio.
  • Students can read or write with partners to build on or share ideas.
  • Students work independently on reading or writing at their own, individualized instructional level.
  • Teachers are able to confer one on one with students to co-create goals and evaluate progress, both academic and linguistic.
Share Time 5 min
  • Students are provided a structured opportunity for oral practice.
All 60 min
  • The structured routines of workshop allow students to focus on reading and writing. Students are aware of the expectations.

However, it is still important that as teachers we remember to accommodate for the linguistic needs of each student. Students who are at earlier stages of language proficiency will need more support in reading and writing than those who are at higher levels of language proficiency. These are some ways to accommodate the workshop to give additional support to English learners.

Newcomer/
Beginner
Intermediate Advanced Nearly Fluent
Mini Lesson
  • Use visuals, gestures, slower speech
  • Provide think time
  • Provide primary language support
  • Use visuals, gestures, slower speech
  • Provide think time
  • Offer opportunities for turn and talk
  • Offer opportunities for turn and talk
Independent Reading
  • Provide small group instruction
  • Employ shared reading, echo, and choral reading
  • Allow reading in primary language
  • Provide culturally responsive texts
  • Provide small group instruction
  • Employ shared reading, echo, and choral reading
  • Provide culturally responsive texts
  • Provide small-group instruction
  • Provide culturally responsive texts
  • Provide small-group instruction
  • Provide culturally responsive texts
Independent Writing
  • Provide small-group instruction
  • Employ shared writing, Language Experience Approach
  • Allow writing in primary language
  • Offer sentence frames
  • Model writing
  • Share exemplar and mentor texts
  • Provide small-group instruction
  • Employ shared writing, Language Experience Approach
  • Offer sentence/paragraph frames
  • Model writing
  • Share exemplar and mentor texts
  • Offer sentence/paragraph frames
  • Model writing
  • Share exemplar and mentor texts
  • Model writing
  • Share exemplar and mentor texts
Share Time
  • Honor the “silent period”
  • Provide rehearsal time
  • Provide sentence starters
  • Provide rehearsal time
  • Provide sentence starters
  • Offer sentence starters
  • Offer sentence starters

 

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