What Do You Think of the Reading Workshop? or How Not to Teach Reading Comprehension

  • 21 September, 2019
  • 73 Comments

Teacher question:

I saw you make a presentation recently, and I was surprised to hear that you did not like the conferencing that is provided in Readers Workshop. That is the method that our district requires. Isn’t it research-based?

Shanahan responds:

No, it definitely is not research based.

I can’t find a single study that supports its use.

I can’t even find any study that supports programs that include this approach.

Of course, a lack of research support for a particular method doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. Perhaps the technique has never been studied, or if it was investigated maybe the study had some important flaw.

I don’t think that’s the problem here, though. I think it is just a bad idea.

Readers Workshop is an approach that seems to have emerged from Writers Workshop. I’m more sympathetic to the latter than to the former. Although there are important connections between reading and writing, that does not mean that they should to be taught in the same way—and in this case, the workshop method is not particularly supportive of reading.

There was a similar approach recommended for beginning readers back in the 1950s referred to as “individualized reading” (thank you, Jeannette Veatch), but this modern version doesn’t seem to be closely aligned with that.

Basically, readers workshop provides extensive collections of books, emphasizes student choices of what will be read, limits students’ reading to texts that can be read easily by them, requires that the students spend extensive time reading these books, provides explicit teaching through mini-lessons, and monitors and supports reading comprehension development through one-on-one teacher-student conferences.

There are various problems with this approach, but, to me, the most egregious ones are the heavy emphasis on texts that the kids can already read well, and the remarkably weak support provided for making sense of text.

Last week I defined reading “as making sense of text by negotiating the linguistic and conceptual affordances and barriers to meaning.”

By that definition, high quality reading comprehension instruction would introduce students to texts that they could not already read easily or well, and would provide some kind of guidance or support to help them negotiate the text or content features that might be tripping up their sense making.

Of course, easy books are important in this Readers Workshop since the kids will be doing so much of the reading on their own, and with so little teacher support. Hard to imagine many students reading hard books on their own for 80 minutes per day (40 minutes during the workshop and another 40 at home in the evening)—though those amounts of reading are surely admirable.

The lack of teacher support strikes me as, well, bizarre.

Awhile back I got in a Twitter fight with some teachers who were claiming that they were able to get kids to do ambitious, sophisticated close readings of challenging texts through their one-on-one conferences that typically take 1-3 minutes.

Don’t get me wrong, discussions of books can be very powerful stimulants of reading comprehension and learning. Research has certainly shown that to be the case (Murphy, Wilkinson, Soter, Hennessey, & Alexander, 2009).

But it highly improbable that a 1-minute discussion of a text is going to help a student develop some deep insight to meaning, to grasp some subtlety expressed idea, to gain purchase on a concept like symbolism or allusion, or to learn how to deftly connect prose and graphics.

My hunch is that teachers who think such brief exchanges are effective are those who have not been fortunate enough to engage in deep discussions of books.

Even more disturbing was that my Twitter compatriots were not only certain that these brief text conversations were potent teaching tools, but that they didn’t have to know the books the kids were reading.

I thought that was kind of crazy, but then I recently read Lucy Calkins’ Units of Study for third grade. It’s one thing to say something dopey on Twitter (who hasn’t done that?), but to write it in a book takes some real forethought.

On page 52, teachers are given advice on how they can fake it when they haven’t actually read the book. Calkins and company are concerned that teachers might “feel insecure” having to confer about unknown books. They make no mention of the instructional value of reading guidance from a teacher who couldn’t possibly know what the student is dealing with, but we certainly wouldn’t want uncomfortable teachers.  

Yes, if you’d read the book you might know that the confusing thing is that two of the characters are really similar, or that the most important idea is that the changes in the setting are reflective of the changes in the characters, or perhaps it’s the comparison of two science concepts.

But since you haven’t read it, you can’t help with or emphasize any of that.

And, yet, according to Calkins and company you can conduct a probing interrogation like, “Can you tell me a bit about the main character?”

Little Johnny is fighting his way through Moby Dick, and the teacher’s one-minute conference might go something like this:

Teacher: Johnny what are you reading?

Johnny: Moby Dick.

T: How’s it going?

J: Good.

T: What can you tell me about the main character?

J: He’s a whale.

T: What have you learned about him?

J: He’s white.

T: Is the main character the narrator?

J: Sure. Moby tells the story.

The fact that little Johnny isn’t really understanding Moby Dick could easily be lost on a teacher who herself hasn’t read the text.

This illustration is silly, of course. First, no kid in Readers Workshop is likely to decide to take on Melville, even in high school. Second, no teacher is going to let a kid take on Moby Dick because its Lexile level will likely be beyond their supposed “instructional levels.”

Nevertheless, the point is a fair one: Kids learn more from texts when they are engaged in discussions of those texts (Tharp & Gallimore, 1988; Murphy, et al., 2009), but the discussions that have been studied are led by teachers who have read the texts and who are going to help the students to develop a coherent understanding of them. 

There are wonderful research-based guides out there that provide direction for leading such discussions based on teacher knowledge of the text (Dwyer, Kelcy, Berebitsky, & Carlisle, 2016; Kucan & Palincsar, 2018). But, then what else would you expect from the research community? They couldn’t possibly understand the depths of comprehension that can be stimulated by teachers without any real knowledge of a text.

Of course, teachers who follow textbooks can fall into the same trap. They convince themselves that because the textbook editor has read the story and provided some questions that they don’t have to read it, too. You know them, the “We’ll learn this simultaneously” crowd.

This is like those supposedly “driverless cars.” The car might do most of the driving, but there has to be a human holding the steering wheel and paying attention. No matter how good the textbook program, teacher still need to read the texts to be adequately prepared to guide kids’ reading when it needs guiding.

Next week’s blog entry will focus on why effective math teachers don’t need to know anything about mathematics?

Comments

See what others have to say about this topic.

Marilyn Zecher
Sep 21, 2019 03:20 PM

I agree that brief discussions about a book the teacher does not know do not help students really dive deeply into complex text. This is particularly egregious for students with disabilities who may need additional support with decoding or vocabulary even though they are perfectly capable of literacy insights and larger ideas within the text.

As to your the topic of next week's blog, I have very strong feelings b/c I offer professional development on teaching math to all kinds of learners. I am a certified academic language therapist who specializes in multisensory strategies for math instruction K-algebra. There is a reason so very few students with LD are not proficient in math when they begin algebra in 8th grade. Much of it has to do with teacher preparation and knowledge of math at lower levels. Not knowing the mathematical concepts and how to teach them leaves many teachers offering only procedural instruction. This is especially true when students get to multiplication and fractions. You can see state test scores for students with LD begin to decline after fractions are introduced and they plummet by 8th grade. Let's have that discussion.

Gretchen
Sep 21, 2019 03:21 PM

I had a very fortunate experience to attend a one day workshop/experience at a nationally acclaimed model school yesterday. I learned much, but I was very disturbed by one “master” teacher who said he spent 20-30 minutes of his 60 minute block allowing students to do self selected reading while he conferences with students. All the teachers loved the idea, but I was cringing on the inside because it just perpetuates this cycle of ineffective reading “instruction “.

Shellie
Sep 21, 2019 03:28 PM

I wish more people in education would read this! I am in a district that loves this method and I’m very disturbed by it. Sigh...I’m SO tired of the constructivist method of teaching. Why have teachers anymore? They are just babysitting at this point. But hey I’m 45 and have taught 15 years successfully what do I know, right? I asked at a Readers Workshop meeting recently “when do the kids learn the classics? You know, books they won’t ever read voluntarily?” And the very very young, bouncy, bushy tailed presenter actually said “well they really don’t NEED to read those. Most people agree we should move away from those required lists. I mean culturally we don’t even know or agree on what is relevant to read anymore anyway.” It truly hurts to hear this is how we are training the next generation of teachers.

Jamie Metsala
Sep 21, 2019 03:29 PM


I recommend, "Motivating Reading Comprehension: Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction", by John Guthrie, Allan Wigfield , and Kathleen Perencevich (Editors). It's from 2004 - but don't let that deter you. Lots to learn here about teaching reading comprehension within an engagement framework. The book has many classroom examples that will resonate with teachers. The focus is on grades 3-6, but very relevant to Middle school teachers as well.
For Middle and High School teachers, see Engaging Adolescents in Reading, by John T. Guthrie (Editor).

Kausalai Wijekumar
Sep 21, 2019 03:39 PM

I wish EVERY TEACHER would be required to read these insightful comments Dr. Shanahan!

SHERRI MORGAN
Sep 21, 2019 04:04 PM

I respect your opinion. My question to you would be how would you teach reading to 3rd graders? Please answer with your best choice in a researched based curriculum and/or methodology. I am interested in your opinion.

Tammy
Sep 21, 2019 04:12 PM

I have the same question as Sherri Morgan. We also use workshop model AND we use Lucy Calkins as our guide. I am very open to ideas/suggestions to help our students to become competent lovers of reading. Thanks!

Cindy Matthews
Sep 21, 2019 06:31 PM

You are spot on. I am a Reading Specialist who has been teaching reading at the elementary level, middle school level, college level reading department, then back to coaching reading and writing instruction. It seems everyone in my area has drunk the Calkins kool-aid but I truly agree that she has bitten off more than she can chew with reading. In fact, reading workshop notwithstanding, I was just made to give up my fledgling Fundations initiative in K-2 because Calkins Phonics is endorsed by the district and my Fundations implementation was decided upon and funded at my building level based on our interpretation of the data. Can I move to Chicago and help you run a study to put this issue to rest? Discouraged in Massachusetts.

Harriett
Sep 21, 2019 07:19 PM

The good news is that Tim isn't the only one saying that the emperor isn't wearing any clothes. The wonderful new audio documentary by Emily Hanford, At a Loss for Words https://www.apmreports.org/story/2019/08/22/whats-wrong-how-schools-teach-reading, also calls out the reigning emperors who have a stranglehold on many districts, and she meticulously dissects their midguided approaches. At the end, she states: "I wanted to know what the authors of those materials make of the cognitive science research. And I wanted to give them a chance to explain the ideas behind their work. I wrote to Calkins, Fountas and Pinnell and asked for interviews. They all declined. Heinemann sent a statement that said every product the company sells is informed by extensive research." There are many of us who are thinking globally but fighting locally.

Courtney
Sep 21, 2019 08:24 PM

Why is the education community referring to students as learners? I find this very disturbing. Also, my daughter went to a school that used the approach by Calkins and she became a very lazy reader and learned nothing. This program is harmful and I don't understand why so many teachers have embraced this terrible curriculum. They don't read classics in this program because too many white makes wrote the classic books and there isn't enough "diversity". That is the real reason why the classics have been tossed in this program. They care more about diversity than actual quality literature that might have a focus and value on God.

Lori S.
Sep 21, 2019 08:35 PM

Preach.
????Please help districts, schools, leaders, & teachers learn that Reader’s & Writer’s Workshop are not research based practices. Add to that message that high-quality curriculum should be adopted & implemented instead of the workshop model.
????Please stop revising, writing, editing, enhancing, supplementing curriculum... etc.

????Leaving old practices behind that haven’t worked doesn’t mean we have failed! ????

Angela
Sep 21, 2019 09:07 PM

I read through the comments, and I wanted to respond briefly.

I’m really over the idea of getting kids to love reading. I’ve learned so much these past few months about learning disabilities and how kids struggle to read. I understand the concept that reading is not natural, and it is a difficult process for more people than we admit.

I want parents and student to know the magic of reading. It is amazing how our brains are able to create an interface between different parts to learn how to read.

This is not as easy for some learners as others and just wanting them to love reading is not enough. We have to use reading strategies based on scientific research. Teachers have to be adept in knowing the major areas of of reading outlined by the NRPR (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension) and the strands that fall under each one of those areas (see The Simple View of Reading).

Teachers also need to understand the strategies and techniques that are required to help struggling readers when they have weaknesses in any of these areas (see Structured Literacy). There are other resources available that will help, but they are not always the resources that are found in schools.

I’m not against the love of reading, I just stopped saying that as I began to realize the very real struggle students are having and the very real problem of getting better scientifically-based research strategies in our schools that match the findings from cognitive neuroscience, educational psychology, education, and linguistics. Hopefully, when we start doing that, we will be better able to support more young readers, and they will have a better chance to enjoy reading.

Tim Shanahan
Sep 22, 2019 02:24 AM

Jamie

I want to make sure you know that John Guthrie doesn’t support teachers not knowing the books—nor does he recommend having kids read whatever they want from 1000 books. Just saying...

Tim Shanahan
Sep 22, 2019 02:28 AM

Sherri and Tammy— I’ve written such pieces a number of times in this space. How about typing Chicago Reading Framework into search function on this site. You can find out how Chicago teachers actually improved kids’ reading achievement. The key is a substantial amount of explicit teaching of key elements of literacy in ways that have made a difference in kids’s learning in the past.

Tim

Jamie Metsala
Sep 22, 2019 03:45 AM

Tim, I was just adding some recommended resources for teachers to your recommendations. I was not disagreeing with your comments whatsoever. Best.

Donna Perry
Sep 22, 2019 10:15 AM

I have had years of training in the Readers and Writers program. I was required to use this program even with students who had significant learning disabilities. It was frustrating at best. I would follow the method verbatim and yet the students still could not improve at an acceptable rate. The method can be aesthetically pleasing for a principle to observe because it is a system that follows the same steps with every lesson. Schools having the Teacher College Readers and Writers method “were keeping up with the Jones’” It ALWAYS bothered me that it would be unlikely that I’d be able to read every book so that I could ask appropriate questions. The students who gained the least by this format were the students with learning disabilities. I always felt that I was cheating them.

I am glad that you broke down some of the specific logical reasons as to why parts of the workshop model logically do not work. For example, being limited to few minutes to conferring with a student without LD is too short but for a student with LD, it was most definitely impossible and a waste of time with students with LD. It always frustrated me to not have read the book the student was reading. I was constantly trying to read as much as possible so that I could better guide my students.

Deb
Sep 22, 2019 12:14 PM

Thank you for all you do Mr. Shanahan. What are your thoughts on the research behind reading volume? We do a mix of direct comprehension instruction and independent reading in hopes of students utilizing and practicing the skills taught on their own. My worry is that without any independent reading time, students leave each grade having read class texts only - sometimes three or four books total. I do agree fully that a workshop model alone is not enough.

miriam giskin
Sep 22, 2019 02:22 PM

I think we have to draw a distinction between upper and lower grades, as well as between beginning, struggling and proficient readers. I taught the workshop model in grade 2 very successfully because I tested each student to determine their strengths and needs. I provided instrutional time that focused on phonemeic awareness, phonics, and decoding as well as on comprehension. I taught whole group, small group and individual lessons. Students were given direct expilcit instruction, time for guided as well as independent practice and I saw the workshop as a structure that allowed students to have choice (when they had finished assigned work) to work with partners and independently and to provide me the time to work with small groups and individuals. If there is sufficient teacher guidance and support as well as student accountability this independent work time can be called a workshop or by another name but effectiveness as always depends on appropriate instruction which depends on in depth knowledge of the students.

linda schutz
Sep 22, 2019 03:25 PM

Many colleges focus on reader's workshop with their students. We have to use the research based curriculum presented by our district. There is no choice in how you teach something. Eventhough teachers point out areas that are weak within the curriculum, the curriculum director will not let us faulter from it. I do get to choose read alouds at transitional periods. Most of my time is spent assessing students using research based material that is not developmentally appropriate for first graders. But, the district wants everyone doing the exact same thing at the exact time so they can track the data that shows this is not working. Why don't districts listen to teachers who know what works and what doesn't. I'm so sick of the term research based. My students are more than what research shows.

Jo-Anne Gross
Sep 22, 2019 03:38 PM

Hi Tim,

Can you help us one day,maybe not under this specific topic,understand why districts buy most things that are not research based.
I`d love to see it as a topic.
That`s the reality,I have become so used to it that as a teacher trainer with a study behind my work and honoring the NRP research and the NICHD fabulous study I take it as a given that that`s what will happen.Where I am able to make a difference is in Tier 2 and 3.

Ann
Sep 22, 2019 10:14 PM

Parents and school boards will have to get involved for anything at all to change in the areas saturated by the workshop myth and Lucy Calkins. The upper middle class suburbs of Chicago are awash with it and I can’t think of a single town using anything else. But, I feel confident that if the general public knew we had a reading program with no actual reading material, they would see instantly how idiotic that is.

Michelle
Sep 23, 2019 12:01 AM

Tim, the RW you mention here is merely one layer of what happens. Reading in a complex process...so is the teaching of reading. Instead of having kids do "busy work" while the teacher is working with small groups, or doing 1:1 conferring, students are given time to read books of their choice. There is goal-setting and planning involved in their personal choice reading. Much of the heavy comprehension work is done through Interactive Read Aloud or in small group instruction (some call this guided reading). The teaching that takes place in these settings are intended to help students to extend the same thinking work in their independent books. Richard Allington has researched that too much time is spent on non-reading tasks, not on actual time with eyes on text. This method provides many scaffolds for children to read a range of books they can read successfully with instruction on texts that are just beyond what they can read on their own.

Helen Hoffman
Sep 23, 2019 01:30 AM

Can there not be room for independent reading as well as instructing? Enabling kids to discover that reading is an enjoyable experience, that reading stories is fun, that learning through reading is interesting, isn't wasted time.And kids will often challenge themselves to read something more difficult if it interests them. This doesn't mean teachers don't also engage with kids in classroom texts, instructing as appropriate, enabling discussions, and asking kids to write and respond.

Anna Gill
Sep 23, 2019 01:38 AM

Every reader brings their own context to a novel. They should be judged not on the ideas that result from the novel but for how well they express and defend their ideas to another person who comes from another context. To make a change in 'reading', we are going to have to shift society. It's time that we valued depth of understanding not amount of knowledge. This is about time. Allocate 30 seconds to the answer, not 10 seconds.

Tim Shanahan
Sep 23, 2019 04:02 AM

Michelle— the interactive read alouds May focus on listening comprehension, but those are so brief and the teacher does the reading, so I don’t think that changes things much. Calvin’s does suggest some group guided reading with the lowest readers, but makes this so conditional (she recognizes most teachers won’t be able to fit it in) that I think that too rare.

Tim

Tim Shanahan
Sep 23, 2019 04:06 AM

Linda — I agree with you. We should just trust people without all this requirement for data. The drug companies could do much better if they didn’t have to show that their products worked, and doctors shouldn’t be expected to treat patients more effectively thsn they feel would be appropriate, and the banks shouldn’t have to show that they haven’t swiped our money. Teachers definitely know what is best for kids and parents and the rest of us should butt out. You’re definitely onto something.

Tim

Tim Shanahan
Sep 23, 2019 04:10 AM

Deb—
Research has found that it is very difficult to get much of a learning effect from independent reading. Teachers providing explicit teaching has the biggest impact on learning. Encourage kids to read at home or if you’d prefer to have them just reading during the day perhaps you could accompany them home in the evening to provide teaching.

Let’s face it required free reading is not independent reading and isn’t likely to teach kids to enjoy reading—especially the lowest achieving of them.

Tim

Wendy Bartell
Sep 23, 2019 10:30 AM

The Units of Study are much more than what is represented here. Deep, rich discussions about reading also happen during interactive read aloud and shared reading. A conference can last longer than 1-3 minutes. The student achievement data from the Teachers College schools in New York as compared to the schools using other curricula speaks volumes. I invite anyone to look at it; it can be found on TC's website or on the NY Department of Ed. site.

Wendy Bartell
Sep 23, 2019 10:38 AM

Here is the link to 2018 data which is based on the state-wide test all students take at the end of the year:
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1PlFs2mwBJIRN-f-LR3gT11VYeTS1K09l/view?usp=sharing

Tim Shanahan
Sep 23, 2019 12:15 PM

Wendy— first, what you shared wouldn’t be referred to by scientists as data— they’d call it “advertising”. You’re comparing apples and oranges. Nothing was done to make these data comparable. Comparing kids on the upper level east side with high poverty kids in the Bronx and attributing the differences to Units of Study is silly.

How do teachers lead these deep book conversations without reading the books? Championing the effectiveness of ignorance in teaching is bad for kids and bad for teachers?

Tim

Chris Walsh
Sep 23, 2019 04:26 PM

When we say that a teacher is using a Reading or Writing Workshop approach to instruction, we assume, perhaps, that the teacher relies only on this method for teaching literacy. We assume that the only reading done in the classroom is in the books the teacher has not read. Not necessarily true. And you assume that conferencing for one minute with each student is all the reading instruction the student receives. That may or may not be the case either. Every classroom is different. Every teacher is different. Every day might be different!

In many classrooms, teachers have a variety of kinds of reading and writing activities happening throughout the week, often simultaneously. A teacher who believes in a balanced literacy approach will ensure that the curriculum and instruction and assessment are aligned and differentiated to reflect the learning needs in that classroom.

This piece is an insult to teachers who use this method and stick with it because it works. It takes a well-documented approach that we've used for decades and discards its value simply because there is no "scientific evidence" to support it? Teachers would not continue to use it if they didn't see results. They use it because they believe it increases reading skills, stamina, motivation, engagement, and transfer of learning through reading to other content areas. They see the changes in their students' literacy skills as they meet their reading/writing goals. They know that reading for meaning is limited when we remove student choice and free and voluntary reading from the ELA curriculum. Teachers are collecting this data daily and making informed decisions about future instruction using the data.

Teaching reading comprehension doesn't have to be "either-or"; it can be "and".

Let's celebrate the diverse nature of our work and support the many different approaches that help us get our jobs done well. Please respect the challenging professional decisions teachers make each day, and be willing to learn from each other what works for everyone.

LaRae
Sep 23, 2019 06:35 PM

Marilyn Zecher, I believe that in your passion and enthusiasm for the comments that Dr. Shanahan shared, you may have overlooked the sarcasm intended by the teaching math comment. As for your first paragraph, I could not agree with you more. Have an awesome week!

Sandra Wilde
Sep 23, 2019 06:45 PM

Tim, what you’ve written is a sarcastic parody of reading workshop, as evidenced in the Moby-Dick example. Just two comments about this approach, which indeed has its origins in the important individualized reading approach developed by Jeanette Veatch in the 1950’s. First, children don’t stagnate at the level of books they happen to be currently reading. The workshop, through a lot of independent reading and other activities like guided reading, helps them move forward through increasingly difficult books. Second, the conferences are brief coaching check-ins that allow the teacher to informally monitor and respond to each student regularly during workshop time.

Denise Trainor
Sep 23, 2019 09:18 PM

Sandra, I am line with you! To say there is no research behind Calkins, Fountas & Pinnell, Allington, Cunningham, Goudvis and Harvey , etc. is beyond ridiculous and misleading. Mr. Shanahan, you are rehashing, once again, the old arguments of the 'reading wars.' Are we really doomed to repeat all of this? Is Reading Workshop without challenges? No. The difficulty with creating and sustaining effective reading workshops is that teachers aren't trained adequately for the process. It takes a broad understanding of the reading process (from all theories, mind you.) Once armed with deeper knowledge and understanding, reading workshop is extremely effective in creating, improving and fostering readers. For those readers who need more structure, the informed teacher can identify and support that child using a different approach,. But since Professional Development is fly by night at best, states only require 6 credits in the teaching of reading, and teachers colleges/universities offer limited views/theories of reading, it is most efficient to promote your views. Keeping in mind, most teachers who read you were most likely still in school during the height of The Reading Wars, your views and arguments are new to them. All you're offering is the same old stuff, but on a different day.

Wendy Bartell
Sep 24, 2019 02:17 AM

The school I worked in was NOT in the upper East Side... To categorize TC schools as being located in the wealthy areas is very misleading.

Denise K Trainor
Sep 24, 2019 02:30 AM

Wendy- Bartell-- Thank you for mentioning TC' schools! Many are in impoverished areas!

Harriett
Sep 24, 2019 04:29 AM

At the end of At a Loss for Words: How a flawed idea is teaching millions of kids to be poor readers (https://www.apmreports.org/story/2019/08/22/whats-wrong-how-schools-teach-reading), Ken Goodman says "My science is different," and Emily Hanford remarks that "this idea that there are different kinds of evidence that lead to different conclusions about how reading works is one reason people continue to disagree about how children should be taught to read.

And therein lies the tragedy of our profession.

Erik
Sep 24, 2019 09:36 PM

This reflects a narrow and limited definition of the reading workshop and doesn’t take into consideration how it should be implemented as part of a balanced literacy framework that includes interactive read aloud, shared reading, guided reading, independent reading with explicit strategy instruction, and word study. When these components are well planned and work together, the conditions of tackling complex texts with students when the teacher knows the text exists. It is also done using a differentiated approach where students are working with texts that are challenging yet still within their zone of proximal development.

Tim Shanahan
Sep 25, 2019 01:43 AM

Denise—what research are you talking about? You made it up.

Tim

Tim Shanahan
Sep 25, 2019 01:48 AM

Erik— I just finished reading three grade levels of Units of Study... I’m not the one who wrote that teachers didn’t need to know the books...or that guided reading something that you should try to work in occasionally with the lowest readers. I saw the explicit strategy instruction but the recommended teaching didn’t look much like the research based practices, and the word study is extremely limited. If that’s a bad description of Units of Study then you’re complaining to the wrong guy.

Tim

Tim Shanahan
Sep 25, 2019 01:51 AM

Wendy

What do you think those data show? I think you are fooling yourself... I’m willing to believe that program works, but you’ve got to show improvement when you switch to that program. That you have test scores means nothing, all public schools have test scores.

Tim

Tim Shanahan
Sep 25, 2019 01:53 AM

Denise
Please explain how teachers who don’t know a book lead kids to a deeper interpretation of it?

Tim

Kylene Beers
Sep 25, 2019 01:42 PM

Most often criticism of Notice and Note - which requires kids to actually notice and then ponder the author's craft - is that "It's really hard to use if you haven't read the book. ". Um, yes. As always, Tim, you make such important points. We don't agree on everything, but that rub is where I always learn from you. Thanks for keeping me thinking.

Lois Dierlam
Sep 25, 2019 07:51 PM

DOes anyone know of a research based comprehension program? We use SPIRE for decoding and there are stories, but that is the main focus;

Philomena Marinaccio
Sep 26, 2019 02:31 PM

Thank you for the shout-out for Jeannette Veatch and the etiology of individualized instruction. The meaning of this term has been incorrectly used interchangeably with personalized learning and modified to mean whatever program publishers want it to mean.

Mark
Sep 26, 2019 06:44 PM

Tim,
Is there a curriculum you recommend? I can't imagine there is a perfect curriculum, but is there more perfect one you can steer us toward? I imagine it's easy to tie one's name to a critique, but can you provide us a better alternative?
Thanks,
Mark

Elizabeth Robins
Sep 26, 2019 06:50 PM

Thank you for highlighting the issues with Lucy Calkins' Reading Workshop.

I have been retired for 5 years from elementary teaching. Through former colleagues, I have been horrified to hear that my former district has spent a lot of money on purchasing first her Writing Workshop and now these materials ... and the misguided training that accompanies them. Distressingly, I am now learning that not only does Calkins fail to provide a structured, evidence-based phonics approach to teach beginning reading, but provides no support for effective comprehension development in third grade ... and likely beyond.

Selection of these programs shows the literacy director and team are not aware of the latest (or indeed any) cognitive-based science studies. Did they rely on publishers having done due diligence with the latest research? Teachers take direction from admin, and in turn parents depend on the district and teachers being knowledgeable about the best way to teach reading's basics of decoding and comprehension. Sadly, this does not bode well for the students, especially those who experience difficulty in learning to read.

Harriett
Sep 26, 2019 07:00 PM

I suggest going to Ed Reports and examining their ratings and recommendations.

Denise K Trainor
Sep 27, 2019 12:35 AM

Yep, Tim, I made all of this up!
https://epsy.ku.edu/sites/pre.soe.drupal.ku.edu/files/docs/research/spear/Balanced_Literacy_in_an_Urban_School_District.pdf
Allington, R.L. McCuiston, K & Billen, M. (2014).What research says about text complexity and learning to read. Unpublished. The Reading Teacher, pp. 1-10.
Allington, R. L. (2012). What really matters for struggling readers: Designing research-based programs (3rd ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Anderson, R. C., Wilson, P.T., & Fielding, L. G. (1988). Growth in reading and how children spend their time outside of school. Reading Research Quarterly, 23, 285-303.
Brozo, W.G., Shiel, G. & Topping, K. (2008). Engagement in reading: Lessons learned from three PISA countries. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 51(4), 304-315.
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O’Connor, R.E., Bell, K.M., Harty, K.R., Larkin, L.K., Sackor, S.M., & Zigmond, N. (2002).Teaching reading to poor readers in the intermediate grades: A comparison of text difficulty. Journal of Educational Psychology, 94, 474-485.
Allington, R. (1983). Fluency: The neglected reading goal in reading instruction. The Reading Teacher, 36, 556–551. Allington, R. L. (1983). The reading instruction provided readers of differing reading ability. Elementary School Journal, 83, 548–559. Anderson, R. C., Wilson, P. T., & Fielding, L. C. (1988). Growth in reading and how children spend their time outside of school. Reading Research Quarterly, XXIII, Summer, 285–303. Au, K. H. (1997). Ownership, literacy achievement, and students of diverse cultural backgrounds.

Denise K Trainor
Sep 27, 2019 12:37 AM

And all of this too!
In J. T. Guthrie & A. Wigfield (Eds.), Reading Engagement: Motivating Readers Through Integrated Instruction (178–182). Newark, DE: International Reading Association. Barr, R, & Dreeben, R. (1991). Grouping students for reading instruction. In R. Barr, M. L. Kamil, P. B. Mosenthal, & P. D. Pearson (Eds.) Handbook of Reading Research, Volume II. Mahway, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Baumann, J. F., Kame’enui, E. J., & Ask, G. E. (2003). Research on vocabulary instruction: Voltaire redux. In J. Flood, D. Lapp, J. R. Squire, & J. M. Jensen (Eds.). Handbook of Research on Teaching the English Language Arts, (2nd ed.), 752–783. Mahway, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Baumann, J. F. (2009). Vocabulary and reading comprehension: The nexus of meaning. In S. E. Israel & G. G. Duffy (Eds.) Handbook of Research on Reading Comprehension (223–246). New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group. Beck, I. L., & McKeown, M. G. (1991). Conditions of vocabulary acquisition. In R. Barr, M. Kamil, & P. D. Pearson (Eds.). Handbook of Reading Research, (Vol. 2), 789–814. New York: Longman. Biancarosa, G., Bryk, A., & Dexter, E. (2008). Assessing the value-added effects of Literacy Collaborative professional development on student learning. Paper presented at the 2008 Conference of the National Reading Conference, Orlando, FL. Campbell, J. R., Kelly, D. L., Mullis, I. V. S., Martin, M. O., & Sainsbury, M. (2001). Framework and specifications for PIRLS assessment 2001. Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College, Lynch School of Education, PIRLS International Study Center. Campbell, J. R., Voelkl, K. E., & Donahue, P. L. (1997). NAEP 1996 trends in academic progress (NCES Publication No. 97-985). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education. Cipielewski, J., & Stanovich, K. E. (1992). Predicting growth in reading ability from children’s exposure to print. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 54, 74–89. Clay, M. M. (2001). Change over time in children’s literacy development. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Clay, M. M. (1991). Becoming literate: The construction of inner control. Auckland, New Zealand: Heinemann. Commeyras, M., & Sumner, G. (1998). Literature questions children want to discuss: What teachers and students learned in a second-grade classroom. Elementary School Journal, 99, 129–152. Cullinan, B. (2000). Independent reading and school achievement. School Library Media Research (Vol. 3). Retrieved from . Dahl, K. L., & Freppon, P. A. (1995). A comparison of inner-city children’s interpretations of reading and writing instruction in the early grades in skills based and whole language classrooms. Reading Research Quarterly, 30, 50–74. Fountas, I. C., & Pinnell, G. S. (2008). When readers struggle: Teaching that works. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Fountas, I. C., & Pinnell, G. S. (1996). Guided reading: Good first teaching for all children. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Fountas, I. C., & Pinnell, G. S. (2006). Teaching for comprehending and fluency: Thinking, talking, and writing about reading, K–8. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Fountas, I. C., & Pinnell, G. S. (2009). Prompting guide 1: A tool for literacy teachers. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Fountas, I. C., & Pinnell, G. S. (2008). The Fountas and Pinnell prompting guide: Teaching for strategies in reading and writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Fountas, I., & Pinnell, G. S. (1999). Guiding readers and writers, grades 3–6: Teaching comprehension, genre, and content literacy. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Gerla, J. P. (1996). Response-based instruction: At-risk students engaging in literature. Reading & Writing Quarterly: Overcoming Learning Difficulties, 12(2), 149–169. Goatley, V. J., & Raphael, T. E. (1992). Non-traditional learners’ written and dialogic response to literature. Fortieth Yearbook of the National Reading Conference (313–322). Chicago: National Reading Conference. Goldenberg, C. N. (1992/93). Instructional conversations: Promoting comprehension through discussion. The Reading Teacher, 46, 316–326. Good, T. K., & Marshall, S. (1984). Do students learn more in heterogeneous or homogeneous groups? In P. L. Peterson, I. C. Wilkinson, & M. Hallinan, (Eds.). The social context of instruction. New York: Academic Press. Guthrie, J. T., Wigfield, A., Metsala, J. L., & Cox, K. E. (1999). Motivational and cognitive predictors of text comprehension and reading amount. Scientific Studies of Reading, 3(3), 231–256. Hiebert, E. H. (1983). An examination of ability grouping for reading instruction. Reading Research Quarterly, 18, 231–255. Hiebert, E. H., Colt, J. M., Catto, S., & Gury, E. (1992). Reading and writing of first-grade students in a restructured Chapter 1 program. American Educational Research Journal, 29, 545–572. Hill, M. (1998). Reaching struggling readers. In K. Beers & B. Samuels (Eds.). Into focus: Understanding and creating middle school readers (81–104). Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon. Hoffman, J. V., Roser, N. L., & Farest, C. (1988). Literaturesharing strategies in classrooms serving students from economically disadvantaged and language different home environments. In J. E. Readence & R. S. Baldwin (Eds.), Dialogues in literacy research: Thirty-seventh yearbook of the National Reading Conference (331–338). Chicago: National Reading Conference. Holdaway, D. (1979). The foundations of literacy. Sydney, Australia: Ashton Scholastic. Institute of Education Sciences. (2004). I

Denise K Trainor
Sep 27, 2019 12:37 AM

Since your website won't let me put in too much info: Here's even more:
dentifying and implementing educational practices supported by rigorous
evidence: A user friendly guide. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education. Kaye, E. L. (2008). Second graders’ reading behaviors: A study of variety, complexity, and change. Literacy Teaching and Learning, 10, 2, 51–75. Lyons, C. (2003). Teaching struggling readers: How to use brain-based research to maximize learning. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Morrow, L. M. (1992). The impact of a literature-based program on literacy achievement, use of literature, and attitudes of children from minority backgrounds. Reading Research Quarterly, 27(3), 251–275. Morrow, L. M., O’Conner, E., & Smith, J. (1990). Effects of a story reading program on the literacy development of at-risk kindergarten children. Journal of Reading Behavior, 22, 225–275. Nagy, W. E., Herman, P. A., & Anderson, R. C. (1985). Learning words from context. Reading Research Quarterly, 20, 233–253. National Assessment Governing Board. (September, 2008). Reading framework for the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress. Washington, DC: NAGB National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction: Reports of the subgroups. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, NIH Pub. No 00-4754. Newkirk, T. (2009). Holding on to good ideas in a time of bad ones: Six literacy principles worth fighting for. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Nystrand, M., & Gamoran, A. (1991). Student engagement: When recitation becomes conversation. In H. C. Waxman & H. Walberg (Eds.), Effective teaching: Current research (257–276). Berkeley, CA: McCutchan. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2000). Measuring student knowledge and skill: The PISA 2000 Assessment of Reading, Mathematical, and Scientific Literacy. Pearson, P. D., & Camperell, K. (1994). Comprehension of text structures. In R. B. Ruddell, M. R. Ruddell, & H. Singer (Eds.), Theoretical models and processes of reading (4th ed.) (545–586). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum. Pikulsky, J. J. (1997). Factors common to successful early intervention programs. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Pinnell, G. S., Pikulski, J. J., Wixson, K. K., Campbell, J. R., Gough, R. B., & Beatty, A. S. (1995). Listening to children read aloud: Data from NAEP’s integrated reading performance record (IRPR) at Grade 4. Report No. 23-FR-04 Prepared by Educational Testing Service under contract with the National Center for Education Statistics, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education. Pinnell, G. S., & Fountas, I. C. (1999). Matching books to readers: A leveled book list for guided reading, K–3. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Pinnell, G. S., & Fountas, I. C. (1998). Word matters: Teaching phonics and spelling in the reading/writing classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Pinnell, G. S., & Fountas, I. C. (2006). Leveled books, K–8: Matching texts to readers for effective teaching. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Pinnell, G. S., & Fountas, I. C. (2008). The continuum of literacy learning, K–8: Behaviors and understandings to notice, teach, and support. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Pinnell, G. S., & Fountas, I. C. (2008). When readers struggle: Teaching that works. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Pinnell, G. S., Lyons, C. A., DeFord, D. E., Bryk, A. S., & Seltzer, M. (1994). Comparing instructional models for the literacy education of high risk first graders. Reading Research Quarterly, 29(1), 8–39. Pressley, M. (2000). What should comprehension instruction be the instruction of? In M. L. Kamil, P. B. Mosenthal, P. D. Pearson, & R. Barr, (Eds.) Handbook of reading research, Vol. III (545–586). Mahway, NJ: Erlbaum. RAND Reading Study Group. (2002). Reading for understanding: Toward an R&D program in reading comprehension. Santa Monica, CA: RAND. Resnick, L. B., & Hampton, S. (2009). Reading and writing grade by grade. Newark, DE: International Reading Association. Slavin, R. E. (1987). Ability grouping: A best-evidence synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 57, 293–336. Stahl, K. A. D. (2009). The effects of three instructional methods on the reading comprehension and content acquisition of novice readers. Journal of Literacy Research, 40, 3, pp. 359–391. Taylor, B., Short, R. A., Shearer, B. A., & Frye, B. (1995). First grade teachers provide early reading intervention in the classroom. In R. L. Allington & S. A. Walmsley (Eds.), No quick fix: Rethinking literacy programs in America’s elementary classrooms (159–176). New York: Teachers College Press. Wentzel, K. R. (1996). Social and academic motivation in middle
school: Concurrent and long-term relations to academic effort.
Journal of Early Adolescence, 16, 390–406.

Tracy
Sep 27, 2019 10:18 PM

In Reader’s Workshop, as in all instructional frameworks, there should be the flexibility to adapt to the needs of your students AND to balance direct instruction with personalized support. Too much focus on self-selected, independent-level reading does not follow the systematic, explicit teaching of skills which research has proven as necessary. Too much focus on always teaching all kids from on-level text alienates the kiddos who are grade-levels above or below in their reading ability. There has to be a balance between meeting students where they are while also pulling them along to reach where they should be.

Wendy Bartell
Sep 28, 2019 01:17 AM

Lucy Collins has written a thoughtful response to this attack on reading workshop and the Units of Study curriculum. It is on TC's Facebook page.
That data is the state ELA test all students take at the end of the year. TC schools consistently outperform other schools in the state, and "those schools" are not in the wealthy upper east side as you claim.

patricia pollack
Sep 28, 2019 02:12 AM

I found this article to be counter intuitive to teaching the reader as opposed to teaching reading. Workshop teaching allows for personalized learning; differentiation; and building profiles of students as readers. Conferring is a practice that allows teachers to customize feedback; set goals; model strategies; and inspire new learning. Perhaps those who have commented on this article do not know the true structure of conferring - or even the true definition of workshop teaching - as it does not only include independent practice - but also allows for responsive small group instruction.

There are other models of workshop teaching and conferring, and Lucy Calkins is not the only educator or researcher who promotes and writes about this form of teaching. Perhaps before condemning a practice, you should refer to and research all types of conferring and workshop practices. Most educators who use conferring 'well' would not start with a conversation about the book - but instead would begin by asking what the student is using as a reader - helping to build awareness and metacognition.

Jeni
Sep 28, 2019 02:28 AM

Dr. Shanahan,

I am a supporter of workshops and the Units of Study, but as a learner, I try to get my hands on as much new learning and information as I can. I appreciate cognitive dissonance and recognize that the places that make me uncomfortable are where I learn. I appreciate your perspective and have sought out your blog and heard you speak at conferences simply to continue to challenge myself and stay informed. However, I am always dismayed at the tone of your writing, the sarcasm, and the disrespect. If your goal is to really influence teachers to listen to you and consider your viewpoints and question their own, being condescending and disrespectful is not going to accomplish your goals. It’s actually distracting from the points about literacy instruction you are trying to make.

I’m still not quite sure either what the instruction you are recommending looks like. Seems like more time is spent bashing balanced literacy/workshop. I’m sincerely interested, but feel like I’ve never gotten a clear picture of what you think would be better, particularly how to manage, support, and motivate students with very complex text who are not reading at grade level.

Thanks for your insight. Considerate reply only, please.

Emma T
Sep 28, 2019 05:24 AM

It seems convenient that you presented your argument against the workshop model without acknowledging the many other components, beyond independent reading and conferencing, that do in fact provide students with ample opportunities to engage with very advanced texts. These components include read aloud, shared reading, guided reading, and strategy groups. They are all outlined in the curriculum itself.

I am a second grade teacher and I have seen the strides students can make within the workshop model. My students love reading, and, like adults, they get a large amount of choice in what they read. This prepares them to be lifelong readers. I’m not quite sure from your post what you envision as the ideal reading instruction practice, but it sounds a lot like forcing students to read things they don’t care about. Of course, students in upper grades should be exposed to a wide variety of influential texts (and they actually are in the Units of Study curriculum, through suggested mentor texts, read aloud, and shared reading). But young children who are just developing as readers should surely have the opportunity to explore and become excited about books.

If you have any innovative suggestions for how to help a class of second graders, ranging in grade level in reading from kindergarten to fourth grade, all make a year’s worth of growth or more in just one school year, please share it in a more specific, less sarcastic and negative way. Until then I will continue to use a balanced literacy approach, incorporating Units of Study as well as many other best practices.

KB
Sep 28, 2019 10:15 AM

Denise- Someone learned how to copy and paste. Did you google “research articles to support reading workshop?” Many of these articles will not support the units of study, especially the brain researched ones. I also hear a lot of people throwing around the term “researched based.” Obviously we need curriculum that is backed by research, but more people should be asking if the units of study are evidence based, especially in high poverty schools. It’s interesting to hear how many people cite how NYC schools have embraced and grown from Calkins when there were numerous articles written by nyc teachers stating that the units of study were detrimental to their students and were producing kids who could not produce sentences.

Laura
Sep 28, 2019 12:41 PM

I believe you have a profound misunderstanding of reading workshop, and furthermore, as a teacher at a TC Project school in the south Bronx, I find your assumption that TCRWP only works with affluent and mostly white schools offensive. 1 in 4 of my students live in temporary housing and nearly 30% have a learning disability. TCRWP pilots Units of Study in our school. Since starting with the Units of Study six years ago, ELA proficiency levels in my school have quadrupled. I find workshop to be especially helpful in working with IEP students-- the consistent teaching structures and gradual release provide consistent support, while small group work can be highly differentiated. Also, most of the reading Units are book club units--I hardly have 30 students reading 30 different books as you suggest. For example, instead of teaching "The Giver," I teach into the literary tradition of dystopian literature. We read several short stories as a whole class (The Lottery, Harrison Bergeron, Ponies) and then the students read several (2-3) dystopian novels in clubs. "The Giver" might be one of these books, but I can also incorporate more contemporary YA literature like "The Hunger Games" trilogy. It's pretty easy for a teacher to read six YA books and coach in with a couple clubs a day. The shared texts provide access to grade level text—and with such a highly differentiated class, this model allows me to support my below benchmark readers and provide enrichment for my above benchmark readers. Also, even if I haven’t read a book, the bands of text complexity allow me to provide students with some predictable “look fors” in their text. The Moby Dick conference you offer in your post demonstrates that you have zero understanding of how reading conferences go or how the bands of text complexity can inform a teacher—have you ever even visited a school that uses the Units? Or observed a teacher conduct a reading conference?

Finally, I believe in choice. The few times in my life reading was ruined for me was when someone forced me to read a book and/or made me dissect it for two months. You seem to believe reading is best taught through a teacher centered approach, in which the teacher slowly and painfully guides an entire class through a novel. I believe this simply promotes fake reading--what Beers and Probst call, “aliteracy.” Kids who are able to read, but uninterested in doing so. As such, I prioritize helping kids become avid, thoughtful, lifelong readers. The Units of Study and TCRWP are assisting me in that powerful work. I hope you will consider visiting some Project schools so you can actually know what you are talking about—no curriculum is perfect, but your dismissive attitude while clearly being so ill-informed is very disappointing, especially considering the breadth of your audience.

Harriett
Sep 28, 2019 03:56 PM

Some history from Natalie Wexler's The Knowledge Gap, page 96:

"The pilot (of the Core Knowledge Language Arts) lasted three years, folowing a thousand students from kindergarten through second grade. In 2008, the same year the pilot began, Klein rescinded his mandate that all schools use Calkins's curriculum. When the results were released in 2012, they showed that students in the Core Knowledge schools scored significantly higher on reading comprehension tests than those in the comparison schools. They also came out ahead on tests of social studies and science knowledge. Calkins objected that she hadn't personally worked with the comparison schools, and there was no way of knowing how faithfully any of them adhered to her model. Nevertheless, after the results of the study came out, the city's Department of Education omitted her program from its list of recommended curricula."

Annalisa Hardy
Sep 28, 2019 08:11 PM

Please compare your Moby Dick reader’s “conference” to this one, approximating what I heard in classroom this week:

Teacher: What can you tell me about your main character?

Student: Katniss is about to leave home, where she lives with her mom and her sister. She’s just volunteered to take her little sister’s place in the Hunger Games, which she might not survive. I think she’s really brave.

Teacher: Can you turn to the moment in the text you discovered she was brave? Read me this part?

Student reads a page or so aloud-

Teacher: Nicely done. Last time we conferenced we set a goal for you, remember? You jotted it here. We worked on attending to end punctuation, letting it affect the reader’s voice you hear in your head. I heard you do that here...and here...you have been attending to that goal, keep that up. Now, can you tell me about about how the author showed “brave” on this page?

*brief discussion of textual evidence*

Teacher: I notice that here, in these few lines, Katniss doesn’t exactly seem brave...what do you think I noticed?

Student: Well, she’s thinking about the doubts she has, she’s thinking about being afraid, and even imagines running away. That doesn’t sound brave.

Teacher: But you still think the author wants you understand she’s brave?

Student: Yes, because even though she’s not feeling brave in the inside, she overcomes that feeling and does the brave thing.

Teacher: Whoa, that’s important thinking. Maybe we should work on setting a new goal. As you read on, keep a critical eye out to notice the moments characters are conflicted, more complex than a single simple trait can describe, ok? Maybe a character will behave in a way that’s surprising, because it’s out of character. Jot that goal down, and if you notice that, will you write about it, and flag it in your text, so in our next conference, we can discuss it?

I have seen workshop not work, I’ve heard conferences like your Moby Dick exemplar. Regarding TCRWP curriculum, I’ve seen that not work mostly when teachers were ill-prepared to teach it, due to lack of training, or because they couldn’t handle the rigor themselves, because they were neither readers nor writers. Happily, I also hear targeted, goal-centered, teaching conferences. It seems like any framework for teaching workshop can be done well, or poorly. My own GT eighth grader was in a non-workshop room last year. Classics, tough text, whole class novels. You know how many books he read willingly? None. He hated Fahrenheit 451, and the class spent a month on it. Many of the students in my best workshop rooms read upwards of thirty novels. Engaged, moving straight up levels of complexity, while receiving whole group instruction and experiencing discussion of appropriately challenging shared mentor texts.

Possibly dismissing the whole workshop framework, every classroom and every component, as equally ineffective is not fair? Research aside, have you visited many workshop classrooms, heard many conferences, listened to mini lessons?


Elizabeth
Sep 29, 2019 02:54 AM

I’m curious about your thoughts on teachers that do both small group guided reading that is highly focused on deep comprehension AND conferencing with students on self selected reading or skill based instruction.

Sam
Sep 29, 2019 11:24 AM

Any feedback on American Reading Company?? This sounds similar and my school wants to adopt it. I haven’t been able to find any real information.

Harriett
Sep 29, 2019 03:42 PM

From Ed Reports https://www.edreports.org/compare/results/ela-38
ARC (American Reading Company) Core (2017)
Published By: American Reading Company | Date Published: 9/17/2018 | View These Reports
GRADE
LEVEL
TEXT QUALITY
BUILDING KNOWLEDGE
ALIGNMENT RATING
USABILITY RATING
Third Grade
37/42
32/32
Meets Expectations
30/34
Fourth Grade
37/42
32/32
Meets Expectations
30/34
Fifth Grade
38/42
32/32
Meets Expectations
30/34
Sixth Grade
35/36
32/32
Meets Expectations
30/34
Seventh Grade
35/36
32/32
Meets Expectations
30/34
Eighth Grade
35/36
32/32
Meets Expectations
30/34

Ann
Sep 29, 2019 09:33 PM

Myth 1: Teachers think Lucy Calkin's Workshop works and that's why they use it.

Teachers who like it are the ones most willing to speak publicly and the rest don't want to have a big red bullseye painted on their chest for speaking out. I think the majority of teachers of elementary students who are currently using the Units of Study in Reading would trade it in for a program that had some high quality texts that were worth reading and made it easier to move students to higher levels of comprehension. Almost every lesson Lucy has would be better if there was something students could read where that particular aspect of reading is evident. Learning is easier when responsibility is gradually released as in, "I do. We do. You do." Lucy is "I do. You do." Lucy spends thousands of words telling you what to think and feel and how to emote. She should have spent that time writing a few stories instead because she's certainly never at a loss for words. Maybe someone should offer teachers some alternatives and see what they would actually choose.

Myth 2: The workshop approach is so powerful because it capitalizes on the power of choice. Students are more invested because they choose their texts.

First, this exaggerates the impact that choice can have. Choice has an impact but nothing like the impact of someone teaching you something. I’m pretty sure that’s been explained by John Hattie and probably others. Second, I question how much choice exists in the workshop. There are always constraints put on kids. Students are often counseled away from material deemed too hard or material deemed too easy. They need to be reading something from the genre the class is currently working on and/or something from a new genre because they should be stretching themselves. I would argue that many kids would prefer just to read something in class that the teacher has chosen and then be given the liberty to read whatever they want when they’ve finished their work or when they’re at home. When you are a workshop teacher, you become the reading police. It might be worth asking kids which scenario they would prefer because right now kids are being robbed of instruction so they can have this gift of choice and they may not think it’s much of a gift.

Myth 3: You can do everything within the workshop approach. Guided reading, close reading, partner reading, independent reading, book clubs.

Well, maybe myth is the wrong word. You can do all of that but since you have to invent all of it on your own, you’ll work 14 hours days and quickly burn out. There are schools that do what Laura described and have specific texts and in some cases a system of teaching the Units of Study that is so altered it only has a passing resemblance to what actually came in the box. In some cases, this is because Teachers College has done a bunch of extra work in creating all these new accompanying documents and even sends people to work in certain schools to make all of that magic happen. Of course this costs additional money which makes it a great business model. Create something that can’t be successful without your paid help. It still surprises me that this flies. Nobody would put up with this in any other area of their lives. In addition, once all of this adding on is done, is it still the workshop described in the Units of Study or is it just its own curriculum that allows for some amount of self-selected reading that the most struggling readers rarely get to because they are in need of the teaching that the teacher is doing.

For some reason, “workshop” has become the “fresh air and sunshine” of education. It’s as if there’s something about it that is so magically wholesome and full of vitamins that only people who hate children would deprive them of it. I know I am not alone when I say that if I’d realized that education was so steeped in “feel facts,” I might have chosen a different career. Tim, you calling a spade a spade and shutting down the “feel facts” is one of the few things that gets me through that frustration.

Denise
Oct 03, 2019 02:04 AM

KB- SO much of that research supports the theories behind Reading Workshop. Are you a teacher or emergent and/or beginning readers? Or perhaps higher level readers? Intermediate grade levels? Middle school?

Christine
Oct 03, 2019 02:29 PM

I am a parent of a first grader who is attending a public school in Houston that is using the Lucy Calkins program. She attended a Reggio Emilia philosophy play based kindergarten where reading was not taught. My daughter is expected to draw pictures in class and write stories about them. I'm wondering if this is appropriate for her ability when she doesn't know how to read yet. She is crying a lot and dreads going to school. Does anyone have any suggestions?

Sharon Kane
Oct 06, 2019 01:45 AM


I suggest starting with the thorough research by Gay Ivey and Peter Johnston. They provide a quantitative analysis of scores on achievement tests; and the dozens of rich quotes from authentic conversations about books between and among students and teachers will sound far different from the Moby Dick scenario presented in this post.
Ivey, G., & Johnston, P.H. (2013). Engagement with Young Adult literature: Outcomes and Processes. Reading Research Quarterly, 48(3), 355-375.
Ivey, G. (2014). The social side of engaged reading for young adolescents. The Reading Teacher, 68(3), 165-171.
Ivey, G., & Johnston, P. (2018). Engaging disturbing books. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 62(2), 143-150.

Philip Mirci, Ph.D.
Oct 07, 2019 11:45 PM

I doubt that we could engage is a discussion given the unexamined assumptions present it your condemnation of Readers' Workshop ... What you have described as Readers' Workshop caused me to wonder if we had the same understanding of it. I am concerned about appeals to research related to literacy because the "research," as you seem to use it, is the end all or final word. The rebuttal by Lucy Calkins evidenced a depth and specificity missing in your blog posting. My hope is that your future work will reveal that you've "done your homework."

Kerry
Oct 17, 2019 03:14 PM

Tim - I appreciate Jeni's comment on tone. My school uses TC Units in reading as well, and as a reading interventionist, I do have reservations about the lack of direct instruction and support my students are making.

I *AM* really interested in what you recommend - either specific curriculums or methods of teaching - as an alternative to the workshop model. I think this would really help the skeptics to know what the alternative is.

Thank you!

Deb
Oct 17, 2019 05:22 PM

I use the workshop model for teaching reading (grade one) and find this structure is excellent. A short mini lesson and then students are off practicing the strategies taught. Individual conferences are used for differentiation. Yes, students choose some of their books and teachers choose other books. In a true workshop model, other very important lessons, especially on comprehension, are done during read-alouds as well. Interactive read alouds are also used for instruction. There is no one model that reaches everyone, everyday, but add in guided reading and skills groups and this method is jammed packed with reading instruction. I'm really unclear as to why some folks are against it but my guess would be that some teachers are not using all the components or the observers do not either understand what they are seeing or do not see all the componets. When I look at the researched used in the Units of Study by TCRWP, I see a significant amout of research from experts in the field of reading.

Lisa Force Lang
Oct 28, 2019 12:14 PM

Interesting food for thought and reflection. If independent reading and conferring were all that was happening in literacy instruction, I might agree. However, with balanced literacy, there is also guided reading, shared reading, read alouds, interactive reading (and the writing instructional models paired with those). All those are also important opportunities for richer deeper discussions with teacher and peers and where expert teachers are also teaching whole group, small groups, and individuals for deeper comprehension and the integration of literacy processing skills and strategic activities. Just like I would not give my children only a honey lemon cough drop for strep throat, I would not give them only independent reading and conferring. However, I would give them that honey lemon cough drop along with rest, plenty of liquids, antibiotics, chicken soup, and read them a good book. Independent reading and conferring provide important teaching and learning opportunities but are not the only models for instruction.

Elizabeth
Nov 02, 2019 12:57 AM

Thank you for writing this article. I currently work in a TC school and find the program and PD somewhat “cult like”. I am not surprised by the angry supporters of this program. It seems that anyone who speaks out against Lucy Caulkins is immediately criticized so they learn to be quiet. Teachers in my district have been publicly criticized and generally condescended to by TC trainers. I find it interesting since the majority of these PD leaders have had very limited classroom experience. I have been teaching for 20 years and enjoy learning new approaches. But TCRWP has been offensive to veteran teachers. Whatever good they can offer has been overshadowed by insulting and aggressive PD.

Lara Handsfield
Nov 11, 2019 03:55 PM

I agree with what you’ve written regarding the value or lack thereof for using reading conferences to teach reading skills. There are indeed plenty of other structures for doing that. My “yeah but” here is that for many teachers, such conferences provide windows into students’ likes, dislikes, reader identities, and affective dimensions of readers’ literacy development. Reading conferences can be a really valuable time and space for learning those things.

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What Do You Think of the Reading Workshop? or How Not to Teach Reading Comprehension

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