I used to think that for a literacy workshop to be a success, the whole workshop had to run smoothly, from minilesson to share time. Now I know that success lies hidden in moments. As long as I am able to identify a successful moment, I give myself permission to gold-star an entire workshop.
This shift in thinking has not stopped me from working to design whole units of study whose big ideas have a logical progression and flow. Whether my thinking is being guided by the standards, or best practices found in a variety of professional books, or simply all these years of experience I’ve somehow managed to accrue, I know that success is more often the result of intentional long-range planning than an arbitrary mishmash of piecemeal lessons.
Nor has this shift in thinking stopped me from working to craft the best individual workshops I possibly can. For example, I have tried a variety of methods over the years for keeping track of my conferences. This year, I gave myself permission to stop trying to innovate. I am back to my clipboard with a sheet that has a grid of boxes, one for each student.
Not working so hard on record keeping has allowed me to focus this year on making the most of share time. The first hurdle was making sure I stopped independent work every day in time for students to share. Once that was solidly in place, I started noticing some patterns: sometimes share time felt like popcorn popping, as individual students shared something they noticed in their reading or a successful step toward meeting their writing goal. Other days, share time moved to a higher level and felt like a volleyball game, with one student tossing into the air an idea that was passed from student to student. Occasionally, I would take over share time to spotlight specific student work that clearly demonstrated what the minilesson looked like in action.
I think it was this habit of spotlighting that most helped me to understand that a successful literacy workshop can be made of successful moments, and that even one per workshop is enough to make it a good reading or writing day.
Sometimes these bright moments feel like my success, like the day I knelt beside Jake just as he was finishing the prologue of Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graf and we worked together on the inferring he needed to use to make sense of why Graf wrote a scene about a claw machine in a pizza parlor, and to get that sense of, “Oh, no!” that draws you into the first chapter and the rest of the book.
Or the day early in our work on setting and tracking reading goals when Liam showed me how he’d turned an old half-used notebook and some sticky notes into a special place where he would track predictions and connections for his personal reading goal.
When, during work time in writing workshop, I found Brad really studying our nonfiction mentor texts and trying out some leads in the style of other writers, I knew my minilesson on leads was a success. And when I saw the way Lucy had drawn lines and arrows on her first draft to indicate where she would break her writing into paragraphs or sections and rearrange the information so it made more sense, I knew the same was true for my minilesson on organization.
Ultimately, though, I know that every success I view as mine is actually a student’s success. Even though I am the one who has made personal goal-setting a more important part of reading and writing workshops, it is Katie’s success when she learns that her goal of being intentional about maintaining her focus really does help her to read more each workshop and make progress in the book she’s reading. And it’s Carl’s success when he learns that his goal to slow down and make sure he’s really understanding what’s going on in his book really does pay off.
Even though I am the one who gave the minilesson on leads, it is all Toni’s success when she looks over her first draft and realizes that an introduction will make her writing stronger.
Focusing on the moments that allow me to gold-star my workshops has not blinded me to the students who are distracted or in a rut in reading workshop, or floundering to make sense on paper in writing workshop. These are the enigmas that keep me looking for just the right entry point that will unlock the reader or writer that is dormant within.
It is these tricky readers and writers who are perhaps benefiting the most from my strong commitment to share time. I am realizing that share time can be thought of as backdoor minilessons. For the students like Scott or Amy or Dustin, who aren’t demonstrating that they are internalizing my minilessons, these examples that their peers share of ways to incorporate my lessons into their work have the power to make a real difference.
It is this combination of a renewed dedication to share time and the permission I’ve given myself to focus on small victories that might be just the ticket to helping grow readers and writers from being the puzzle I’m trying to figure out, to being the shining moment that makes the entire workshop a success.