What I learned in my very first week of workshop

Hello again, virtual friends! I’m fresh off of week one of this brand new school year, and it was somehow a crazy whirlwind and one hundred days long all at once. By the end of day one, everything hurt. By the end of day two, it felt like surely it must be Friday. At the same time, my classes flew by, and before I knew it, it was 4pm on Friday and my first week was done. Before I start week two, I wanted to take the time to reflect on the first week. I know this will be good to look back on before I start school next year. Hopefully it is useful for you, too!

So here are some things that I learned in my first week as a teacher of reading and writing workshop in Spanish Heritage 1:

  • Class time *flies* by. By the time we read for 10 minutes and go through the Quick Write process, half of the 50-minute class period is gone. That leaves 25 minutes for a mini-lesson and then giving students some actual writing time. I know I will have to make some adjustments. I will also probably get used to it. Right now, each class feels like a sprint, and I feel kind of rushed and panicky the whole time. I know independent reading and quick writes are incredibly valuable. I also know that if students are ever going to make progress on their writing products, they need time. So that’s something I will keep working on.
  • Class time *flies* by. I know I said this before, but I want to focus on the positive part of this. When I ask students to wrap up their writing and complete the exit ticket, they look around in surprise and ask, “Is class over already?” Time is not just moving quickly for me; my students also feel like our time together is really short. I think this can be attributed to starting with independent reading and moving through several very short processes after that, all of which force kids to be engaged. When they are engaged, they don’t have time to get bored. And if they don’t have time to get bored, they don’t feel like class is never going to end.
  • Starting the first day without going over rules and procedures and expectations and grading scales is totally fine. No one is dying to sit through an explanation of these things. In fact, a whole week has gone by, and not one student has asked how they are being graded.
  • Setting the tone on day one with what class is actually going to be like is engaging and effective. My students were engaged in my letter, they did a great job with their first exposure to the quick write process, and they really seemed to appreciate that I was open with them right from the start. I am so glad that I started class this way this year.
  • Kind of a side note: This year, for the do now on day 1, I asked students to write their full name, preferred name, preferred pronoun, and something they wanted me to know about them. Most were pretty unremarkable, but one student whose records say female wrote that their preferred pronoun is “él.” This simple task took students less than 2 minutes, but allowed me to learn something super important that hopefully makes that student feel more welcome and comfortable in my class. Please, take the time to ask. It is so worth it!

Just because I had a positive week overall, doesn’t mean that I have it all figured out. There are a lot of things that I’m still feeling unsure about. Here are a few of the biggest ones on my mind:

  • Making it cohesive: I feel like I have managed to implement all of the pieces of workshop so far, and they are going fairly well. I have choice reading and quick writes and mini-lessons and writing workshop time. What I don’t have is a theme or idea that is tying each piece to the next. Honestly, my students don’t seem to notice or care, but it makes *me* feel like something is lacking. I want to make sure that my quick writes are not only an opportunity to practice writing quickly about what you think, but also a way to come up with ideas that you might use in a future writing piece. Right now, that’s not really happening. So I need to think about how I can tie everything together better.
  • Grading: So far, I have not graded anything. I haven’t even remembered to take attendance most days – yikes! I have come up with a plan to grade the different pieces of our workshop that fits with our school’s prescribed grading categories. I’m just not sure how it will all work. When will I collect notebooks and actually have time to look at them? I have 100+ sophomores in my 4 Heritage classes, plus 20 more in AP Spanish Lit. How do I handle students who don’t complete their (graded) writing products?
  • Seating: For the first time ever, I started the year without a seating chart. For three of my four classes, it went pretty well. For my last class of the day, it was kind of disastrous for some students. Overall, I’m pretty happy with this little experiment. I will be letting students in those first 3 classes continue to choose their seats. For the last group, I am making a seating chart today. I hope, however, that with time they will mature enough to handle choosing their own seats in the future. I liked allowing them to choose at the start, because they were less uncomfortable sharing their writing with a friend than with a stranger.

At the end of the day on Friday, I texted my friend and ELA colleague. She is also new to workshop this year, and I’m so lucky to have someone with more experience teaching reading and writing to talk to and plan and process this crazy journey with. I think my message to her sums up my first week perfectly:

I also shared this with a friend and teacher-educator who has been an amazing resource and mentor to me for the last three years:

She was writing to invite me to possibly lead an online professional development on using language arts methods in the heritage language classroom. Stay tuned to see if that pans out!

If you are a new or experienced workshop teacher, I’d love to hear what you do in your classes. If not, I’d still like to know what language arts activities work well in your classes. Good luck as you start another school year! I hope it is AMAZING!

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