Thursday, August 22, 2013

Getting Started with Reader's Workshop

Shaping a Reading Community
The calendar turned to August and in a snap my mind began racing with thinking about school.  I’ve started making lists of things to do, items to purchase, arrangements to consider, ideas for learning, books to request, and ways to grow our learning community.  This part of the year always finds me a bit uneasy.  Though I am excited, I always worry a bit too.  Will our classroom become a place where students feel safe, are willing to take risks, and are interested in the learning taking place.  Will my new students be eager to be at school every day?  Will this group of first graders be able to grow a community that supports one another in learning?  Will I be able to help them to grow as readers and learners?

Last year, as March and April rolled around, I remember moments of looking at our learning community during Reader’s Workshop and smiling with pride.  I could have walked out of the classroom and students wouldn’t have noticed.  There were students engaged in a variety of types of learning.  I noticed a small group working together on a study of pets.  They had books collected on their tables, notebooks out, and were reading to discover the answers to questions they had asked.  There was a group circled on the floor with a collection of planet books talking about discoveries.  There were students blogging about book favorites on the computer.  There were pairs reading together, individuals snuggled in spots with a good book, and a variety of books being read in the classroom.  They had come to rely on one another.  The quiet hum of thinking, learning, reading, and collaborating could be heard around the room.  

Now it is August.  Uneasiness settles in as I wonder, how do I get back there?  Will we be able to accomplish this as a new community?  How will we determine the way we organize our library, the way we use our time, the volume we are comfortable with during the workshop?  How will we create a common language to use to talk about books and share our thinking?  Will we be able to learn to listen to one another, consider the ideas being shared, and add to them or even disagree politely with them?   

Getting Started
When making decisions about setting up our workshop and planning our first days together I try to step back to think about my beliefs about reading instruction.  What do we need to thrive as reading community?  What do young readers need to own their learning?  I want to start our workshop on the very first day of school.  I want students to know Reader’s Workshop is a place where we read books and my hope is they will look forward to this time each and every day.  As I get the room ready I try to think about:
  • Time:  Readers will need plenty of time to enjoy books independently.  I try to be especially mindful of students receiving support in reading as often they end up with the least amount of time to enjoy books, yet they need the most.  Time reading provides authentic opportunities to use new strategies and come to greater understanding.  
  • Choice:  The choice of books, reading goals, and ways to share thinking should belong to my readers.  Introducing possibilities, keeping an eye on new discoveries made by students, focus lessons and community conversations about developing our reading lives will help to grow the choices readers make during our workshop.  
  • Space:  The classroom should have a variety of types of spaces for readers.  As I look around my room, I hope to create spaces for whole group conversations, small groups working together, pairs reading together, as well as individuals who prefer a little nook to quietly curl into as they read.  I also want to consider the location of books, tools, and technology for readers.  
  • Strong Library:  Across the year our library will grow and change as it is shaped by the reading lives of the students in our classroom.  I like our library to surround us as we work together across the day.  I consider the placement of books, wanting to have books within reach no matter where students choose to sit during Reader’s Workshop.  Books will rest across the main shelves of our library, but they will also sit on our math tool shelves, near the reading nook created, on tables, in the center of the classroom, near our wonder area, and anywhere I think I can squeeze a few baskets.  
  • Conversation:  Each year, our community seems to have readers who like the room quiet, readers who love to laugh over books with friends, and readers who like to think in small groups about topics of study.  This can be tricky to balance in small spaces and will be shaped in conversations across our first days.  However, I know I want to provide time, space, and opportunity for readers to talk about books.  For many, conversation and social interaction will be what brings them into books.  

First Steps
What will the first days of our workshop look like?  During the first days I will try to be mindful of the choices readers are making, notice the smart decisions they are making, consider the books they seem to revisit, and have conversations to discover who they are as readers.  In the first weeks I’ll try to consider where we are, but also keep an eye toward where we are going.  

First Days
Moving Toward
Reader’s Workshop is a place where we read books.
Reader’s Workshop is a place where
we read books, share our thinking,
and discover new learning.  
Discover who we are as readers.  
Grow our reading lives.  
We talk about books.  
We grow our thinking by talking, writing,
and creating new understandings
with books.  
Books to begin our workshop.  
Growing our library to support our
reading lives and topics of study.  
Discovering new genres, authors,
and topics of interest.  
My responsibility as a reader.  
Student responsibility for the other
readers in our classroom.  
Reading with partners.  
Talking and growing our
thinking with learning partnerships.  
Having a plan for Reader’s Workshop.
Setting goals for growing as a reader.  

Getting Ready
Somehow the gathering of a few baskets of popular book collections to place around the room starts to put me at ease.  I try to think of collections I think students may have enjoyed in kindergarten, as well as books to help us with beginning community conversations.  Baskets of picture books about vehicles, pets, friends, reading, numbers, as well as song books are some of the collections I have started.  I only want enough books to get us started.  There are many empty baskets filling the shelves too.  This new community will decide what we need to add to the shelves that surround us.  I’ve requested many new titles from the library, created Evernote folders to document the reading journeys of these new young learners, and started to plan the structures to support our learning as the year begins.  I’m feeling a little better now.  I remind myself to trust the process and the new students who will soon share this space with me.  I’m looking forward to beginning a new journey.  


  1. I love this so much Cathy. The progression you've shared around how first graders grow as readers and writers is so spot on. The key is in surrounding them with books and then watching them to make sure you add or shift or remove books to help support their new interest in this medium. I love it when we sit in circle time and kids share books they can't get enough of. I never know what it will be and that makes each year new and amazing. Thank you for this!

    First in Maine

  2. I enjoyed reading your chart of reading workshop right now and where it is headed. I often think we forget the simple ways at the start of the year and how they lead to big things, all in good time. Thanks for the reminder here too. I wish you the best this year.

  3. What is Evernote?