Three Reasons You Should Do Reader's Workshop in High School - Room 213

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Three Reasons You Should Do Reader's Workshop in High School

I am so very lucky to teach in a district that is promoting a reader's workshop approach in our high school English classes. In fact, over the last two years, they have stocked our classroom libraries with multiple copies of many best selling YA books.  We have different genres, different subject matter and different reading levels - everything you'd need to start reader's workshop.  More importantly, our head of curriculum has uttered this sentence several times: "you don't need to teach a full class novel."
Reader's workshop in high school? YES!

However, as exciting as this is, it's also a little daunting. That's because it's hard to teach an old dog new tricks.  No matter how much you like the idea of reader's workshop, no matter how much you know it makes sense, the pull of "the way you've always done it" is powerful.  There are also many objections from we high school teachers who like to analyze text and prepare our kids for college.  How can students possibly be ready for the next level if they are just reading for fun?  First of all, there is a lot more to reader's workshop than {gasp} reading for fun, and three really good reasons why you should use it in your classroom:

1. Students are not reading your full class novels.  
One of the biggest myths that we English teacher's subscribe to is that our students actually read the full class novels.  Check out this video from Penny Kittle for a little bit of reality:

After I saw this, I did a survey of my own twelfth grade students.  Almost seventy percent of them said they did not read every novel assigned to them over their high school career. Twenty percent hadn't read one.  And yet, there they were in their last English class before they graduated.  They told me the same things as the kids in the video: by using the Internet and by listening in class, they were able to fake their way through.  Sadness.

2.  Students going to college need to build reading stamina.
We're doing our students a huge disservice by allowing them to continue to fake their way through our classes, because they aren't building the reading muscle they are going to need in college where they will have to read many, many pages of text. We all know the power of putting the right book in the hands of a reluctant reader, and by allowing students to choose books that they want to read, at their own reading level, they are far more likely to want to read.  If they want to read, they will read, and they will be able to increase their fluency and stamina. And, even more importantly, we can give our students a gift they will have forever: a life-long love of reading.

3.  They will do more critical thinking and analysis.
One of the biggest objections to reader's workshop for high school teachers is that a workshop approach won't allow them to teach the students the all-important analytical skills they will need to be successful in post-secondary studies.  When a teacher facilitates a whole-class novel study, s/he is in the driver's seat and can plan activities that will allow students to learn these skills.  However, sadly, that idea is just as much fiction as the texts we teach.  Let's face it.  The Internet has made it so easy for our students to find answers without doing any thinking for themselves, and many of them will do more work pretending to read than they would have done had they actually cracked the spine a few times. Reader's workshop offers them an opportunity to learn the skills they need while reading the books they want to read.  For example, if you want your students to discuss the theme of To Kill a Mockingbird, those who haven't read the book can just listen to and get answers from those who did read it.  However, if you model the skills they need to discover theme, and then ask them to do so in their individual novels, they are on their own.  They are forced to do it themselves (and may be more happy to do so with a book they have chosen). In the end, then, more students will end up doing more thinking with reader's workshop than whole class novel study.

Reader's workshop in high school? YES!Switching over to reader's workshop can be a little scary. Trust me; I've been there.  I'm quite an old dog in teacher years.  However, the rewards for both teacher and students are worth it.

If you're thinking of diving into a workshop yourself, stay tuned over the next few weeks as I blog about my preparations for my start of school in September (all posts are now compiled HERE).  You can also check out my products for reader's workshop.


  1. Share your reader's workshop concerns or success stories!

  2. You don't hear much about Workshops in the ELA classroom anymore. I was excited to see your post.

  3. I hope it's making a comeback!

  4. I’m just reading this now Jackie and loved the video. Hope to share with my colleagues.