Reader’s Workshop builds community of engaged readers

Students in Mrs. Reeves' second grade class select books to read from their new classroom library
Students in Mrs. Reeves’ second grade class select books to read from their new classroom library

Schuylerville Elementary School students are eager to read, thanks in part to a new instructional approach.

“Reading drifts me into a land where it’s not real, but it feels real,” said fourth-grader Brody Janik.

During the 2017-18 school year, grades 3-5 fully implemented the Reading Units of Study, authored by Lucy Calkins and her colleagues at the Reading and Writing Project at Columbia Teacher’s College. The rollout includes the addition of Reader’s Workshop.

“Reader’s Workshop helps to foster a love of reading and gives students the opportunity to practice reading strategies independently and with guidance,” said Krista Senatore, Literacy Coach. “The workshop model allows teachers to differentiate and meet the needs of all of their students.”

Reader’s Workshop is made up of a mini-lesson, independent reading time and share time. During the mini-lesson, the teacher demonstrates a strategy. Students then have time to practice the strategy independently while the teacher conferences independently and with small groups of students. At the end of Reader’s Workshop, students get together with a partner, or group, and share the work they’ve done that day.

“We’re teaching kids to think like readers,” said Beth Sanders, third grade teacher. “The students are selecting books that are on their level, they’re building their comprehension, and they’re working cooperatively to talk about the books they’re reading and to motivate each other.”

Classroom libraries

The rollout of Reader’s Workshop has Schuylerville Elementary School students reading more now than ever before. Sanders says her third grade students read almost a half hour each day during class and she assigns a half hour of reading each night for homework. School librarian Maria Weeks says having a well-stocked library is essential to the program.

“With the implementation of Reader’s Workshop, we’ve not only seen a tremendous increase in the number of books being checked out of the library, but more kids are actually reading more of the books they check out,” Weeks said.

According to Weeks, last year’s fourth grade students checked out 1,098 books from September to December. This year’s class has checked out 1,377 in the same time period.

To help support Reader’s Workshop, the district purchased complete classroom libraries over the summer for grades two through five. The libraries were developed by the Reading and Writing Project at Columbia Teacher’s College.

“A large part of Reader’s Workshop is teaching students how to choose books at their level, so having a variety of books at various levels within the classroom is crucial for that work,” Senatore said.

Building off success

Reader’s workshop is the latest component of a plan to strengthen the district’s reading and writing instruction. In the 2016-17 school year, Schuylerville Elementary and Middle Schools fully implemented the Teacher’s College Writing Units of Study. Like Reader’s Workshop, Writer’s Workshop teaches students specific writing skills and strategies, differentiates instruction, and encourages lots of independent writing time.

“The workshops complement each other and have changed the learning environment in the classroom,” said Ruth Anne Thivierge, third grade teacher. “Students have become empowered through this model of instruction. They have choice and learning is authentic.”

The district plans to fully implement the reading curriculum for grades K-2 in the 2018-19 school year.

“The reaction we have received from students and parents is very positive,” said Emily Penniman, fifth grade teacher. “Students love that they have a choice in what they are reading, and parents like that the kids are reading more frequently.”

“I like how they read with other students on the same reading level and then discuss their thoughts and ideas,” said Christine Otto, fourth grade parent. “It promotes independence and confidence.”

Penniman says her students are excited to read, and look for every opportunity to sit down with their books. On a recent field trip, she says many of her students brought their books to read on the bus.

“I have actually found various books hidden around my classroom because kids are afraid someone else may take it and read it before they are able to finish it.”

“I really like that it’s not about how far you get, or how hard it is,” said fifth-grader Olivia Crowley. “It is about picking a good book that is the right level for you and that you’re reading and having fun with it.”