The following was submitted by Foxboro Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Amy Berdos.
Teaching and Learning Highlights which begin each School Committee meeting are just what the title states - highlighting the teaching and learning that is taking place in the Foxborough Public Schools. Monday night’s highlight was the epitome of this. Engaging students in reading and writing through a Readers/Writers Workshop model was presented by Ahern Literacy Specialist Ms. Susan Forrest, fifth grade teacher Mr. Colin Vogelgesang and sixth grade teacher Ms. Gloria Lehan. The trio explained that the Readers/Writers Workshop model is based on the idea of choice, targeted mini-lessons, authentic tasks, and extended time to read and write in class where students are active participants in their learning. Ms. Forrest gave a description of the model explaining that it is a way of teaching reading and writing as an active, student-centered process that gives students, individually and in groups, much of the responsibility for making decisions about what they are reading and writing. In addition to focusing on students own interests, it is an approach that emphasizes the social and collaborative nature of learning and has been proven as model that greatly increases a child's motivation to learn. Writers need to read and need access to a wide-ranging variety of texts she explained. They need time to think, write, confer, read, and write some more. During the workshop model students identify what they are interested in reading and writing about.
The structure of the Readers/Writers Workshop begins with a mini-lesson that “really narrows down the focus and point of the lesson,” explained Ms. Lehan. It focuses on a skill, strategy, or behavior that will help students become strategic readers and writers.
The mini-lesson is followed by independent workshop time where students choose how they will work (alone or with a peer) and find a place in the room to get to work. For reading, students choose some of what they read and are given plenty of class time to engage with literature, both individually and in whole-class study. It consists of a well-organized and structured classroom where there are high expectations for behavior and academic achievement. For writing, conferring takes place during the time when students are actively writing. The teacher circulates around the room, meeting with individual students or student groups to discuss their writing progress. In the words of Mr. Vogelgesang, “Conferring with students and the ongoing conversation with each student about what they are reading or writing allows every child to receive what they need. The term workshop implies collaboration and that is what it is all about, giving each student an opportunity to work through small achievable goals, holding them accountable, but giving them choice.”
“Student choice and the level of student engagement has been the biggest piece we have taken from the model,” stated Mr. Vogelgesang. Teachers have commented that the workshop model has increased student’s motivation and excitement for reading and writing. With the onset of the Common Core State Standards, the shift teachers are making as a result of the new standards coupled with the desire for wanting more “face time” with students to provide them with more timely feedback in reading and writing has been the impetus for the focus on the Readers Writers Workshop model, explained Ms. Forrest. Providing students with frequent and timely feedback and while reading and writing is still under construction is when teachers have the most power to intervene with students, resulting in the greatest gains. It is grounded in decades of research and reinforces the good things already taking place, shared Ms. Forrest.