“All right, readers, it’s almost time to find your reading spot. Today you might try this work in your reader’s notebook. Perhaps you’ll set up a page to study one of the characters in your book just like I did. Off you go!”
You might try this work? Might? Perhaps you’ll set up a page? Like, maybe? Sounds like it’s a choice!
Well, actually, it is.
One of the key distinctions between a reading workshop and a reading lesson is the use of invitational language. After a reading lesson, you give an assignment, but in the workshop model, you issue an invitation. Just like you might decline an invitation to a wedding shower, your students might decline your invitation to do that particular reading work that day. And as workshop teachers, we honor our students’ choices. Otherwise it’s not an invitation at all, is it?
Now, even though I know this to be true about the workshop model, it is still a hard pill to swallow when no one sets up a character page in their notebook or only that one teacher-pleasing kid makes the book trailer I invited them to make or I open my Google Classroom and see that not a single soul opened up that document I shared. They declined my invitation, and I’m not always happy about it. However, rather than reverting to an ineffective instructional model of teaching reading, I choose to stay true to my workshop roots. I continue to offer invitations to work. Here are three ways I get more kids to reply “yes” to my invitations:
1. Give plenty of examples of what “the work” might look like.
I always, always show the students an example of the work in my own reader’s notebook to give them at least one good model of what the work might look like. I also save student notebook entries from year to year and look online for possible samples (you can Google anything!). Your district’s curricular resource might have student samples as well. The more options you can show them, the better the chances someone will try the work. They may look at your notebook entry and think, I don’t want to do that but then look at a digital version that a former student created last year on Google Slides and think, Well, maybe I’ll try that. . . .
2. Always circle back in the debrief to showcase student work.
After independent reading time is over and the class gathers for the debrief, circle back to the invitation. “Did anyone make a character page in their notebook today?” Showcase any students who tried the work. If no one accepted the invitation, leave it there for a future possibility. You might say something like, “I bet some of you are going to come across some really interesting characters as you continue reading. You’ll want to remember that you can use your notebook to study a character. I can’t wait to see how that looks!” Feel free to feign enthusiasm for the nonexistent work here.
3. Use your one-on-one conference time to boost your invitation.
As you are talking to kids about their books, keep a handy list of all the invitations you’ve issued in the unit so far. A one-on-one reading conference is the perfect time to suggest a certain notebook entry or strategy. You can even have examples in your conferring tool kit to whip out at a moment’s notice. Students are more likely to accept an invitation when it’s issued in a conference. (Just like those of us who have a hard time saying no when face-to-face! Am I available to help you move next weekend? Well, um, sure, okay.)
I would be remiss if I didn’t offer two caveats to this idea of invitational language in the reading workshop:
- The reading itself is never an invitation. Everyone reads during independent reading time.
- Formative assessment has a place in reading workshop. If you need to know whether your students can form a theory about a character, by all means have them complete a quick formative assessment. Maybe it’s a short response to a question or maybe it’s a notebook entry, but it is okay to sometimes require every child to do the work. This is the only way we can truly adjust our instruction.
Believe me when I say there have been days upon days when my invitations remained metaphorically unopened. I am unwavering in my commitment to the workshop model, though, and I continue to extend a new invitation each day. With samples of student work, a consistent share session, and my one-on-one conferences, I do notice more “yeses” than “no thank yous.”