The grandkids were coming over for a Sunday meal. The meal would not be complete unless it ended with something chocolate. I wanted to keep the meal simple and child-pleasing with a homemade touch. Chocolate cupcakes iced with homemade chocolate frosting would fit the bill. A Google search for a mouthwatering chocolate frosting was on. I scanned through the links and Perfect Chocolate Buttercream Frosting caught my eye. The word perfect intrigues me. Can anything be perfect? A vision played in my head of each family member biting into a moist chocolate cupcake topped with swirls of Perfect Chocolate Buttercream Frosting, closing their eyes, and smiles spreading across their faces.
How difficult was this recipe? All of the ingredients were ones found in every kitchen and would not require a trip to the grocery—butter, vanilla, cocoa, and confectioner’s sugar—except for the last one: espresso powder. Not wanting to make a trip to the store, I thought I would substitute coffee for the espresso powder. Since I was using liquid coffee, I needed to make some adjustments to the amount of confectioner’s sugar. Would these changes change perfection? I whipped up a batch and set it aside while the cupcakes cooled. My husband walked by and dipped a finger into the bowl. “Yum!” he crooned.
After the meal the plate of cupcakes was brought out. One of my granddaughters, Sarah, wasn’t sure if she wanted her cupcake iced. She liked them plain. “Why not just a little bit on the top?" After a quick lick, I noticed that her eyes closed and she sighed with pleasure. “This is the best! How did you make this?” she asked.
A few weeks later I was asked to support a new teacher. She had been hired to replace a much-loved teacher who had to take an unexpected leave. It was in the middle of standardized testing, and there had been many different substitutes in the classroom. It was a challenging group of students. Even though workshop procedures had been established at the beginning of the year, routines needed to be revisited and reestablished. How could I revisit the basics of reading workshop in a way that supported the children and honored the teacher on leave, but also gave the new teacher ownership of this classroom? The frosting recipe came to mind. Sarah had been reluctant to try the frosting at first, but she was easily won over after her first taste.
I made a batch of Perfect Chocolate Buttercream Frosting and spread it between graham cracker squares. The squares were passed out as I told the story of the frosting and whispered, “You won’t believe one of the ingredients that is in this recipe.” The ingredient was revealed after everyone had given the squares a taste. “Really? This frosting has coffee in it?” The recipe was projected onto the screen, and we discussed the recipe genre. We read through the list of ingredients and the amount that was needed for each. We read through the directions and thought about the importance of how we put the ingredients together. Yes, we would get chocolate frosting, but would it be as tasty? What about the unexpected ingredient? Could we use other flavors? Mint? Peanut butter? Orange? Now on to the heart of this lesson. I explained that reading workshops follow a “recipe.”
Then I asked the students, “What are the ingredients of a perfect workshop?” The kids were quick to list the essential ingredients for a reading workshop: readers, books, notebooks, and collaboration with others. I asked, "How do we need to mix the reading ingredients together for an effective workshop?" Again the kids were quick to list how to mix the ingredients together. "What amount of each ingredient do we need?" Procedures were created from the new teacher’s input and what the children knew worked from their previous experiences. They knew how to have an effective workshop. They just needed a reminder to get back on track.
Each workshop has a unique flavor, and over the next few days we reflected on each day’s workshop. What went well? What did we need to change in our workshop recipe to create a more effective workshop? In just a week this class was back on track. Was it perfect? No, but it tasted mighty good. We follow a recipe for workshop, and we change and adjust based on the needs of community workshop members.
The recipe analogy is a great way to begin or revisit workshop routines. As a workshop teacher, take time to review your workshop recipe. What can you change or adjust to have a more effective workshop to build stronger readers and writers? How we can talk and write more deeply about our thinking? How can we learn at a proficient level what we need to know? You might not have a perfect workshop, but it will taste mighty good.