Monday, January 26, 2009

The "Why's" of My Workshop...Apprenticeship Guided by Connected Relationships

It’s about apprenticeship… L. Benson, 2001

[Through the lens of a nonfiction focus, here is a bit of the thinking behind workshop learning and teaching.]

First and foremost, you can initiate and nurture students’ nonfiction comprehension before, during, and after reading by being a role model. Think Alouds in which you model and demonstrate your ways of creating understanding as you read are the foundation upon which to build any of the following learning experiences. As quickly as possible, students can and should serve as additional mentors for one another by thinking aloud and articulating their own ways of creating understanding as they read.

Equally important is collaborative practice. Students need to practice comprehending with their teacher and with each other. As Eric Jensen tells us, all learning is a social act. It’s vital to make the invisible and internal world of reading a more public arena for students’ learning. Asking questions during a guided reading group, reading with a partner, talking about a text in a book club fashion, or predicting what will come next with a partner or small group of book mates are just a few of the ways you can forge collaborative comprehension practice into your students’ literacy learning.

Of course, the goal of all before, during, and after learning experiences is student independence. Building bridges between modeling and collaborative practice to students’ independent reading/learning practice is critical. In other words, the ways we practice comprehending with students are always meant to mirror, if not exactly replicate, what each child needs to do when reading on his/her own. Being explicit about this is essential.

Likewise, modeling, collaborative practice, and independent practice with feedback are critical in supporting students’ growth as nonfiction writers. In addition to our writing demonstrations, encourage and ask students to serve as peer mentors by sharing their nonfiction writing with one another (including their reasons, processes, inspirations, etc.). And lean on your favorite nonfiction writers as you work to reveal all the possibilities that this genre holds for your students.

Most of all, help your students know that none of us is ever done getting better. Let them see you struggle and triumph with your own nonfiction reading and writing. Great teachers exhibit the disposition of learning from their students (Ritchhart, 2000) and are wide awake to their own literate lives (Benson, 1993).

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