At The Project School, the teaching of reading and writing will occur through the workshop model. Workshops are highly structured, predictable, purposeful and well planned; they allow for students to take initiative, create work, and learn in a way that is meaningful.
The Project School has chosen to employ the Reading and Writing Workshop approach because its constructivist philosophy most naturally aligns with our core beliefs about teaching and learning. The work of Nancie Atwell, Lucy Calkins, Anne Goudvis, Stephanie Harvey, Ellin Oliver Keene, Regie Routman, Katie Wood Ray, Susan Zimmerman and others have provided us with well documented and researched strategies, approaches and structures that will supply the foundation for our work. The workshop model is consistent with the authentic experiences; complex learning, negotiated curriculum and metacognitive experiences students will have throughout their day. The environment engages them in the real work and problem solving of readers and writers on a daily basis. This approach is founded upon the belief that students must be actively involved in and reflecting upon their learning.
We have examined a wide variety of available basal readers and language arts series and have not found any that allow for meeting the needs of individual readers and writers in the way the workshop model does. While the workshop model is highly predictable and structured, it is also accommodating to the individual needs and strengths of students across a wide range of levels. The workshop model also provides the best fit for the P3 curriculum, which is at the heart of our educational approach. The ability to choose topics, genres, authors and text formats that connect to our Compelling and Generative Topic allows our work to provide a continuous sense of interrelatedness and the presentation of content through multiple representations and perspectives.
The Writing Workshop approach is the result of more than thirty years of work by the leaders of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project and thousands of affiliated schools across the country. Tools such as Lucy Calkins Units of Study for Writing have grown out of collaborative curriculum development and revision, action research, assessment, input from students and, of course, teaching.
Similarly, the Reading Workshop approach, first introduced by Nancie Atwell (1987), has its origins in the collaborative efforts of many theorists and practitioners who built upon the use of the writing workshop’s systematic and easily implemented active approach and expanded these concepts to include reading.
Because the Reading and Writing Workshop approach is a model, not a program, it is nearly impossible to compare this approach to a packaged program. Working from the workshop model, each teacher will choose the components and method most appropriate to the needs of his or her current group of students.
Richard Allington, in his 2005 article, “What Counts as Evidence in Evidence-Based Education?” suggests that rigorous, independent research is rarely available, even from large commercial products. He offers the following advice for choosing a literacy program:
Examine the program’s educative potential. In other words, how will this program develop teachers’ expertise about effective instruction?
Examine the program’s potential to engage minds and foster an interest in reading. After a decade of researching the design of reading instruction, The National Reading Research Center determined that the “key to reading proficiency is engagement in reading. Key to engagement is how interesting the texts and the curriculum topics are.” (Allington, 2005)
The Reading and Writing Workshop model provides myriad opportunities for growth in the teaching of reading and writing through a vast array of published books and articles, conferences and workshops, school-based professional development and possibilities for teachers to pursue their own action research projects to further examine their practice. In addition, the very fact that it is not a scripted program promotes teachers’ ongoing curriculum development and revision to best meet the needs of his or her present group of learners. The workshop approach uses authentic literature and trade books, encourages student choice and promotes reading and writing related to topics of interest and relevance to students.
Through its use in the New York City public schools, the Reading and Writing Workshop approach has a proven track record of improving student achievement. The NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress), sometimes referred to as “the nation’s report card” has been used to compare and contrast different state exams. Several years ago the NAEP assessment found that New York City’s children wrote as well or better than children in every other major United States city.
"Across the nation, NAEP scores have been basically unchanging for thirty years. The current administration declared a triumph when this year's national average rose 1%. Meanwhile, scores in New York City rose a dramatic 7%, since the city's leadership brought balanced literacy and assessment-based reading interventions to scale. New York City's African-American students and English Language Learners improved in even more dramatic ways. According to the NAEP, New York City's lower income African-American and Latino children far outperformed similar studies in large cities in the nation as a whole."
From 2005 until now, NAEP has disaggregated data to show progress in ten large urban cities. From the first data point in 2002 until the most recent data in 2005, New York City has made a 10% gain. Sheila Ford, who announced the NAEP scores in a press conference in Boston, said, "This is a very significant gain." It is particularly important to bear in mind that meanwhile, New York City has 1.1 million children with 85% of them eligible for free and reduced lunch. (www.unitsofstudy.com/faq)
The NAEP Reading Report Card for the Nation (U.S. Department of Education 1999) has also determined large-scale correlational evidence for the positive effects of extensive reading on reading achievement. At every age level, reading more pages in school and at home each day was associated with higher reading scores. The heart of the Reading Workshop is time spent reading authentic texts.
At The Project School, we continuously embed activities that promote proficiency in the types of questions students find on language arts sections of proficiency tests, such as ISTEP+ and NWEA. In the embedded activities, students:
- read and discuss a variety of fiction, nonfiction and poetry.
- use a variety of graphic organizers to understand the organization of texts and to organize his/her writing.
- identify the genre and text structure of texts encountered during Reading and Writing Workshop.
- provide evidence from the text to support his/her thinking while writing about or discussing a text.
- write frequently with opportunities to write to given prompts and topics of his/her own choice.
- have occasions to work within time limits.
- revise and edit their work.
- explore the rubrics and expectations of specific tests.
- study testing as a genre and learn the format and expectations of this genre just as they would biography or poetry.