At Trinity School, our goal is for students to have an appreciation for everything they learn. We empower our students to make choices in their education, voice their opinions, and set academic goals for themselves as they learn and grow. For reading and writing, our Early Learners are focused on establishing routines, listening to stories and retelling them, drawing, forming letters, and gaining print knowledge and phonological awareness. Beginning in Pre-K, the reading and writing workshop model provides opportunities for Trinity students to select texts that interest them while expanding their genre and to make choices in their writing across a variety of purposes.
The structure of the workshop approach to teaching is made up of the mini-lesson, work time, and share time. During the mini-lesson, teachers target one teaching point, and students receive direct instruction on a specific skill in a short duration of time. The teacher makes connections, tells stories, provides time for active engagement, and then sends the students off to “work” while reminding them that these are skills that they will practice every day.
“The focused and engaging format of the mini-lesson is perfect for our younger students,” says Pre-K Lead Teacher Katherine Anderson. “Using that structure within the workshop approach allows us time to individually work with the children to assess and build their confidence as writers.”
During independent work time, students have time to develop and hone these strategies. They may read and write independently, participate in a strategy group with peers, or conference with their teacher based on specific goals they have set. Teachers have a chance to get to know their students as readers and writers so that appropriate feedback is given to improve student achievement.
“While mini-lessons are geared to teaching strategies and skills to the whole class, small group instruction and one-on-one conferences between teachers and students are tailored to individual student needs,” says Kindergarten Lead Teacher Mary Jacob Harris.
At the end of a workshop session, students are invited to share a piece of their work and celebrate those strategies with their classmates.
“With captivating mini-lessons and high-interest topics that build off of one another, students’ imaginations and inner desire to learn more have increased,” says Brook Ovorus, Fourth Grade Lead Teacher. “Fourth Graders are eager to share what they have written and are exhilarated when discussing books they are reading.”
All of this structure has been put in place with research, best practices, and known success. The workshop model of instruction was developed by Lucy Calkins, founding director of the Reading and Writing Project at Teachers College, Columbia University, and author of the best-selling grade-by-grade Units of Study curriculum guide books. The units provide a structure in reading and writing that fulfills cross-curricular connections alongside reading and writing for specific purposes and genres. Students begin to have an appreciation for craft while becoming creative and competent communicators.
Calkins says, “Teach the writer, not the writing.” At Trinity, we would add, “Teach the reader, not the book.” Personalization, differentiation, and specific goal setting with actionable feedback are apparent during these moments. The sheer volume of books that students encounter and the amount of writing that they produce during their work time show that students are building stamina as readers and writers. There is a strong correlation between the effects of reading and writing and how they support one another in academic success. Students who spend time reading become better writers, and vice versa.
Over the past several years, Trinity’s Literacy Committee has spent countless hours researching, analyzing, and balancing our literacy instruction so that we come to vertical and horizontal alignment throughout grade levels and divisions. Additionally, the professional development that has occurred around the workshop model of instruction has impacted every member of the Trinity community. Trinity Teachers have mastered their craft by studying alongside Calkins at Columbia University, visiting out-of-state schools that exclusively use the workshop model, and working with local professors in the literacy field.
We are proud of our pedagogy, methods, and skills and celebrate continued growth from our students. We anticipate greatness in our youngest learners to our Sixth Grade leaders. Whether it’s drawing with strings of letters or crafting a narrative, our students are sharing their voices, telling stories, and learning about the world around them more than ever.