What A Year: Reflections on my First Year of Workshop Teaching

In all new experiences, expect the unexpected

Books from my classroom library.

Wow! When I think back to August 2019, I can say with 100% certainty that I had no idea of where this school year would lead. Between the COVID-19 pandemic, emergency distance learning, and the murder of George Floyd and subsequent civil unrest that directly impacted my students and their families, it was an unimaginable series of events that meant I didn’t see my students for the last 3 full months of school. It was all honestly a bit traumatic, and it’s been hard to get past that trauma (and my anxiety about the upcoming school year) to write this post.

Recently, my WordPress app informed me that it had been 3 months since my last post. I never intended to go so long without writing something new. I actually started, and accidentally deleted, this post a month ago. And tomorrow marks one year since my very first blog post. So, although it’s already the end of July, I am finally ready to reflect on my first year as a workshop teacher. And what a year it was!

Obviously this wasn’t the year any of us imagined. But in spite of how it ended, I learned a lot. And my students, my brilliant, wonderful students, made massive gains in their reading and writing skills. I feel like I could go on forever, but will try to summarize briefly what went well and what I plan to change going into my second year of workshop.

What went well

Reading:

  1. Students read every day in class. They often asked for more reading time.
  2. Students across the board became more confident Spanish readers.
  3. Students explored many genres and got better at choosing books they enjoyed.
  4. All students improved their reading skills in Spanish.
  5. Most students completed their weekly independent reading homework (2 hours independent reading total each week, including 40 minutes IN CLASS and 80 minutes OUTSIDE OF CLASS.) This was the only homework I assigned.
  6. Many students regularly exceeded their weekly reading goals.
  7. Being able to send books home with students every day meant that they read so much more than when we only did FVR in class. This led to stronger reading skills and increased confidence.

Writing:

  1. Students wrote every day. This was a goal of mine and I made it happen!
  2. Through Quick Writes, students improved their writing speed and stamina.
  3. Quick Writes also reinforced the importance and habit of revising EVERY TIME you write.
  4. Writing mini-lessons were effective for teaching new skills and reinforcing skills taught in the English class.
  5. I could actually *see* the improvement in student writing over time.
  6. Students incorporated the mini-lessons successfully into their writing.
  7. Students referred back to mini-lesson notes while writing!

Other:

  1. Class went by quickly; students often exclaimed, “What? It’s time to go already?” at the end of class.
  2. Students were engaged in the work of reading and writing for the majority of class every day.
  3. Sharing our writing built a strong community that carried over into distance learning.
  4. The videos, poems and other texts for quick writes helped students explore their identities, relate to each other and recognize shared experiences.
  5. My students became more confident in their Spanish.
  6. We didn’t waste time on worksheets that were extremely difficult for many students and extremely simple for others.
  7. I didn’t collect assignments every day that I never had time to look at, score and put in the gradebook.

What I still need to work on

  1. Reading and writing conferences: These were hard for me! I struggled with what to ask or say to students. I struggled to get more than one word answers even when I asked open ended questions. I struggled to prioritize conferring about reading when there were a million other things I could do with those 10 minutes of silence. So I wrote a list of questions and prompts and carried them with me to every conference. I started listing the students I would check in with on my slides as a bit of accountability – if students were expecting me, I couldn’t just bail. These helped with the routine but not as much with the quality of the conferences. This is definitely my biggest priority to practice and improve.
  2. Making sure Quick Writes and Mini-lessons are connected so that everything we do is cohesive for students. This is the second biggest improvement that I know I need to make.
  3. Preparing book talks in advance instead of doing them on the fly.
  4. Communicating clear expectations for writing assignments (this got easier as the year went on and *I* had a clearer idea of what to ask of students).
  5. A grading system that is clearer for students. Really this just means that I need to be more explicit and repetitive in my explanations of how grades are earned.
  6. A grading system that is more manageable for me (haha, wish me luck!).

Overall, it was a year full of ups and downs, but one that I’m very proud of. I set out on a journey about 12 months ago to make massive changes in my class, and in spite of many unexpected challenges, I succeeded. And more importantly, my students succeeded. We grew together as a community of readers and writers, just as I had hoped we would when I read them my letter on Day 1.

As always, I am planning still more big changes for the year to come. I’m working to add more social and racial justice content and discussions to my units. I’m trying to put together some lessons using clips from the Netflix series Gentefied to talk about gentrification, stereotypes, the feeling of not being enough, and more. And of course, these changes also must adapt to hybrid/distance learning. It’s a steep learning curve, but I’m confident that if we work together, we can all be successful through this challenging time.

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