Based on my theoretical understandings, I have developed a set of principles for my Reading Workshop. These principles are; 1) Opportunity, 2) Choice, 3) Response, 4) Relevance / Authenticity, 5) Space, 6) Faith, and 7) Uncertainty. I use these principles to help me make decisions about the various learning experiences I provide in my reading workshop.
1. Opportunity - In order to provide children with the opportunities they need to become successful readers, children need time to read, access to a large variety of quality reading materials, and a classroom structure that supports social interaction. They need time to browse through books and explore what they find. They also need the opportunity to discuss what they read with other readers. In essence, they need to become members of a “community of readers”.
2. Choice – Children need to make choices about what they read, what groups to participate in and how to respond to their readings. This does not mean however, that the teacher abdicates all control over the classroom, it just means that teachers involve children in as many decisions as possible. In my reading workshop, control is shared and students become empowered by their extended roles. Nancie Atwell called this concept, “ownership”. She believed, as I do, that students need to be part of the decision making process in order to gain ownership of their learning. When this happens, students begin to assume responsibility for their growth as readers, and as members of our reading community.
3. Response – Children need response to their efforts. They need to receive feedback about their attempts and encouragement for their achievements. Students not only need to receive responses from the teacher and their peers, they need the opportunity to respond themselves to the texts they read. During group discussions and literature studies, I want to encourage students to openly share their ideas and concerns, and feel confident in expressing their responses to literature. How we respond to their ideas will greatly affect their continued engagement in these classroom experiences.
4. Relevance / Authenticity – The experiences that we provide in our classrooms must have a close relationship to the events in the actual world outside of schools. We need to be careful that the things we do in school aren’t just designed to make us better at school, but better at reading, writing, mathematics and other things outside of schools. The closer this relationship, the more relevant and authentic the experiences.
5. Space – Children need a supportive environment to develop as readers. Whether this means creating a safe place to make mistakes or allowing children the extra time they need to develop, they need space. This space has physical and well as psychological aspects to it. Children need the physical space to be comfortable as they read, but also the psychological space to try out new ideas without fear of reprisal. The design of our workshop should not restrict opportunities, rather it should create space for children to interact with caring, supportive teachers and peers, in a learning community.
6. Faith – We need to have faith in our children as "makers of meaning", and ourselves as "responders" to their efforts. Much of education today is based on accountability, which is in actuality lack of faith in teachers, parents and students. If we believe that given the opportunity children will learn, and teachers will teach well, the educational environment would be radically different. When we sit with lit study groups, or finish a read aloud, if we have chosen a book that connects to our children, we need to have faith that they will respond and react to the story. When we quickly jump in and start asking questions, we are not showing faith in our students. When principals and school districts quickly jump in and buy commercial programs that teachers must obediently follow, they are not showing much faith in us as professionals. Like all faiths, it involves trust and confidence in ourselves and others. As teachers, can we really think about our children any other way?
7. Uncertainty - Reading is a highly complex event, and cannot be reduced to a formula or a commercial program. As teachers, we need to be able to live with a certain amount of “uncertainty” as we work with developing readers. Assessments give us a limited “window” into students abilities and needs, and at times, we may become “stumped” as to which course of action to take with individual readers. If reading was a simple "diagnose-prescribe" or “assess-then-teach-relationship”, programs alone would be able to teach all readers to read in a relatively short period of time. As classroom teachers, we know that this is not the case. We must become “reflective practitioners” who continually question our practice, keep an open mind about the methods and experiences we provide in our classrooms, and use assessments to inquire into the needs, interests and abilities of our students. However, with this stance of “reflective practitioner” comes a certain amount of uncertainty. We need to be able to act on our beliefs without allowing those beliefs to close our minds to new possibilities. In essence, we have to be able to act, while at the same time critiquing our actions.