What's the difference between a reader's workshop and a POWERFUL reader's workshop?
By the time students reach 5th grade, in any school that has made the workshop model the "norm," a "been there, done that" kind of attitude often develops. By now, the hope is that these soon-to-be middle schoolers have become avid, experienced readers. So what's the job of a 4th or 5th grade teacher? What I realized in my 2nd year of teaching 5th grade, was that it was up to me to guide my students into becoming coaches of their own reading, ready to take charge and blast their reading lives into orbit. Metaphors aside, I feel it my responsibility to help them become powerful readers and thinkers.
Selecting a Worthy Text
My first priority when developing my beginning of the year reading curriculum was to select a read-aloud text rich with complex ideas and themes- A novel that was worthy of the powerful thinking I was planning to teach them how to do. A colleague of mine steered me toward a relatively new book that has become a true gem in my classroom: R.J. Palacio's Wonder. If you haven;t read this powerful story yet, you are missing out.
After being home-schooled for four years, Auggie,
who suffers from a severely deformed face, enters
the fifth grade at Beecher Prep School and does
his best to be just an ordinary kid with an
extraordinary face.The first few days of school are
more than difficult. Try as he might to ignore them,
Auggie must endure the looks and whispers—even
the cruel game, “The Plague,” where everyone is
afraid to touch him. Julian especially causes
Auggie’s days to be miserable, making references
about Auggie’s face and veiled threats to harm him.
The flip side is that Auggie has the steadfast support
of his first friend, Summer, and his best friend,
Jack, and his teachers and the principal like
him. But for every positive, there is a negative:
Jack betrays him, a gang of kids try to hurt
him, and some particularly insensitive parents
even try to have him removed from the school.
Yet, Auggie shows amazing understanding and
compassion. As the school year progresses,
Auggie learns that, though there will always be
people who want to taunt him and make his life
miserable, he can have true friends despite his
looks. The wonder of Auggie’s extraordinarily
unique presence is that the people around him
learn what it is to be kind and to be courageous.
~ Random House Publishing
I began my workshop this year by asking students to reflect upon the kind of readers they are and the kind of reader they want to become. This reflection will help set the stage for the goals they will write for their reading lives.
Also, as part of this reflection process, students will identify the reasons why they read and their TOP TEN book list. This will probably take at least two days.
Once students have had an opportunity to reflect upon their reading lives, I introduce them to the concept of having agency and working to become powerful readers. They get really excited about this, because they are realizing that they are in the diver's seat this year... They have more control than ever before.
Next, we begin to explore what POWERFUL readers do, beginning with some of the things we pay close attention to while reading. Throughout the first few weeks, we will explore all of these things deeply, but I like to throw it all at them right away. For students experienced with a workshop model, these should be strategies already in their arsenal. We focus on getting to know our main characters. Wonder is a perfect book to do this with. Wonder tells the story of fifth grader August from several different points of view. Students will complete a character map for each of the main characters (August, Via, Jack Will, Summer, Julian, Miranda, etc...)
Students will realize quickly, that Wonder is a challenging text. We take the time to make a list of things that make it challenging: Multiple perspectives, references to song lyrics, Star Wars, old television shows, etc... We discuss the importance of working harder when the book gets harder.
Can be used with any book!