My Reading Workshop became my solution to never having to assign or assess another book report again. My Reading Workshop was inspired by a colleague who had grown terribly tired of teaching!
On my very first day of teaching back in the Fall of 1991, as I smiled in the hallway outside my door and watched the students enter my very first classroom, I sidled up to the teacher whose classroom was right next to mine and asked her, "So what do you have them do for writing?" I had created half a dozen novel-study units in college for my student teaching that I felt pretty confident about, but I really had nothing substantial to start the students with practicing writing skills. Teaching writing is learned on one's feet, and sometimes we have to teach it badly for a while to understand how to do it right. The story I introduce this page with is my example of this truism.
That teacher in the next classroom, sounding both incredibly bored at my question and wistfully wishful for another month of summer vacation, flatly replied, "My students write book reports." She was clearly a veteran teacher, so I nodded politely and suspected she was spouting some sort of wisdom; this proved to be a wrong assumption on my part, one that sadly affected the next four years' of students--students who were never taught by me to excitedly discuss their book projects (not reports) with each other, as seen by my current students in the picture at left. I'll continue my story having said that.
A day later, I sidled up to that teacher again. "So howmany book reports do you assign your students?" Within twenty-fours hours I had already learned to not care very much for this neighboring veteran educator; I could hear her screaming at her students through my concrete wall the entire first day, which bothered me. A seasoned teacher should have better classroom control than that, and I will admit that I was asking her my question for a selfishly competitive reason. Without even looking my way, she responded with, "Three. They write three." I could tell she rolled her eyes at my question even though she was looking in the other direction.
And thus, my goal for my first year of writing had been set by a sad need to compete with this cranky teacher. In my classroom--next door--my students would write four--count them, FOUR!--book reports, thus making me (in my stupid opinion) a better teacher than "Ms. Screams-a-lot and Rolls-her-eyes-at-me." I'm not particularly proud of my knee-jerk, not-based-on-wisdom reaction to her, but when I share how I became the quality teacher I am today with students, parents, or fellow educators, I always tell the truth. And the truth is this: sometimes you learn the most when you teach badly for a while; over the next four years--two years after that lackadaisical neighbor of mine had retired from the profession completely--my writing program still focused on having my students write a new book report every nine weeks. They hated writing them, and I hated reading them. In year five of my teaching, I vowed to never assign another traditional book report again, and my students have never loved reading more.
In my classroom, starting in 1996, we began exploring both reading and writing workshop models.
Today, twenty-two years after that brief encounter with an unhappy teacher, I have learned to love our classroom's Reading Workshop days because they include no more book reports. Inspired by the wonderful books of Nancie Atwell and countless presenters I borrowed from while attending dozens of NCTE and IRA Conferences over the years, my students persuade each other to read (or not read) books through a variety of projects that can be presented in small groups. In order to persuade each other, the students must first assume a variety of roles that help them plan how they will "sell" or "advocate for" their book to my other students:
- Book Reviewer: A reviewer--unlike a book reporter--assumes persuasion as his/her main purpose of writing (as opposed to expository). In my classroom, book reviews take many forms (magazine-inspired reviews, web casts or fake newscasts about the book, opinion editorial columns, or propaganda campaigns--like the pamphlet campaign that you see going on in the picture at right between my sixth graders). These tasks attempt to showcase reasons why the reviewer wants someone else to enjoy or learn from the book.
- Book Marketer: A marketer designs other products inspired by the book (board or video or strategy games, movie trailers or movie story-boards, ABC books, and even theme-based restaurants) in order to "capitalize" off the book's great ideas. When you assume the role of a marketer, you are building something new based on the book that ultimately could be "sold" to a consumer; we practice marketing without making money off each other.
- Book Artist/Sculptor/Poet: An artist shows his/her admiration of a book and its elements by designing a different medium of art (sculpture, painting, poetry) that--when explained to a group of attentive listeners--helps those others want to read the book too. Artists, poets, and sculptors inspire deeper thinking about something they love and/or admire--in this case, a book plot.
- Book Fan: A fan creates a tribute to the book (a webpage tribute, a letter praising the author or publisher, a piece of fan fiction, a survival guide for a character) that shows a devotion to the author or the subject matter. There are so many popular books today that already have such a fan base; the role of "fan" comes very naturally to many of my students.
- Book "Free Spirit" Agent : A free-spirit agent is a student who wants to share his/her passion for a book that's been read but has more creative ideas than the ones I share on my Reading Workshop handout. My handout always contains an "own choice" option, which requires students to explain their original project idea to me before they begin work on it. Quite often, my free-spirits' ideas become part of my Reading Workshop Menu when it goes through annual revisions. I try to name the new products after the free-spirited children who invent them (see "Crissey's Character Cut-Ups") below.
Once a month or every five weeks, my students break into small groups and become "advocates" for what they've read by presenting their completed projects to each other. Their projects are then displayed inside the classroom, outside the classroom, and on our classroom Edmodo page. Students love it when their displayed products convince another student to read the book they have advocated for.
I've worked at schools where students wrote nothing but dull book reports, and I've worked at school where expensive computer-generated multiple choice tests dangle points in front of my readers as some sort of reward for having comprehended a text from the library. After watching the genuine enthusiasm my students show each other on Reading Workshop presentation day, I know I am genuinely teaching my students to think and write about what they're reading at little or no cost to my school...or to my students' love of writing.
On this page, I will share several of the projects choices my students are allowed to complete as they attempt to fulfill their roles as advocates for the books they read. If
Alexandra Bracken’s latest book Passenger got a beautiful trailer that depicts a story which takes place across a great deal of time and space.
Bracken is, of course, the NYT Best Selling author of the Darkest Minds trilogy, which includes The Darkest Minds, Never Fade, and In the Afterlight, as well as a few novellas taking place between installations. Bracken also recently published A New Hope: The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy, the first in a series of Star Wars illustrated novels.
‘Passenger’ book trailer
Though simple, the constant movement of the actors, sometimes missing each other and sometimes connecting, is a wonderful way to show the scope of this book. The changing eras allow for Etta to adapt to each period.
The trailer does not give the same sense of urgency and danger as the book’s synopsis, but the song playing throughout the video, “It’s OK” by Tom Rosenthal, is haunting nonetheless.
In one devastating night, violin prodigy Etta Spencer loses everything she knows and loves. Thrust into an unfamiliar world by a stranger with a dangerous agenda, Etta is certain of only one thing: she has traveled not just miles but years from home. And she’s inherited a legacy she knows nothing about from a family whose existence she’s never heard of. Until now.
Nicholas Carter is content with his life at sea, free from the Ironwoods — a powerful family in the colonies — and the servitude he’s known at their hands. But with the arrival of an unusual passenger on his ship comes the insistent pull of the past that he can’t escape and the family that won’t let him go so easily. Now the Ironwoods are searching for a stolen object of untold value, one they believe only Etta, Nicholas’ passenger, can find. In order to protect her, he must ensure she brings it back to them — whether she wants to or not.
Together, Etta and Nicholas embark on a perilous journey across centuries and continents, piecing together clues left behind by the traveler who will do anything to keep the object out of the Ironwoods’ grasp. But as they get closer to the truth of their search, and the deadly game the Ironwoods are playing, treacherous forces threaten to separate Etta not only from Nicholas but from her path home… forever.