Years ago, we bought a bread maker and it sat collecting dust. We never made bread in it. Ever. We live by this amazing bakery where we buy fresh, delicious bread every few days. Nothing I was going to make in that bread maker was going to take the place of that great bread! I didn’t see the purpose in having the bread maker. Then, one day my husband and I decided that we wanted to make pizza. But where to get the dough? Suddenly the bread maker became a purposeful tool in our lives. It turns out beautiful dough for us almost every Sunday afternoon.
How is this like teaching? Generally, people don’t want to use something they don’t see the purpose in or have a purpose for. Let’s take book boxes for example. Until you make it a priority to be able to easily research your readers, to scaffold them in choosing books that they can read with accuracy and fluency, to monitor the length of time they spend reading, to match them to books of various genres, book boxes might just be something cluttering up your room.
Reading logs are another example. Are they just a form of busy work you feel like you are making kids keep up? If so, it’s probably time to examine the purpose behind them. Reading logs are a way to help students understand themselves better as readers. They should not turn reading into drudgery. Nor should they be an onerous writing exercise. The reading log should be crafted so it gives you and the student information about their reading habits. The reading log will not be useful to a student unless they are taught how to use it, how to analyze the data, how to use what they find to make adjustments in their reading lives and to set goals for themselves.
When our school started thinking deeply about our Writing Workshops, I began by focusing our professional development efforts around the structure of the workshop. One year ago, I opened our first In House Institute with a talk called “A Little Structure Goes a Long Way”. You can imagine how it went: minilessons should have a connection, teaching point, active engagement, and send off. There should be independent work time. There should be a share.
People that already used this structure probably viewed this whole talk as both validating and boring. And for those people who had yet to embrace this structure, I can’t imagine I swayed their thinking because I didn’t make clear the purpose of each piece of the structure, especially the pieces of the mini lesson.
So when we organized our In House Institute this time, I really wanted the focus to be purpose, purpose, purpose. Each of the essential agreements we have outlined as a Language Arts committee serves a purpose. Everything from the structure of the minilesson to the kind of paper we give students to write on, to the way we organize our classroom libraries and the way we organize the charts on our wall-each thing serves a specific purpose that contributes to the big goals of workshop teaching: critical thinking and independence in readers and writers. I want all our conversations to be focused on student learning and the purposeful teaching strategies we use to help students become passionate readers and writers.