Blending Reading & Writing Workshop: Organization & Assessment - Room 213

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Blending Reading & Writing Workshop: Organization & Assessment

Yesterday, I wrote about the reasons why I'm going to blend my reading and writing workshops this year. Now, as promised, I'm going to share more of the specifics for how I'm going to do that.

Let me start at the end. Before I can get too far in planning my blended workshop, I have to know where I'm going, what I want students to be able to do, and how I am going to assess their progress and success. Our department does not have a final pen and paper exam; instead, students complete a final assessment that focuses on all of the strands of our curriculum - speaking and listening, reading and viewing, writing and representing. This final assessment, a mulit-genre project, will be worth twenty percent of the final grade, with the other eighty coming from their classwork throughout the semester.

Final Assessment: the multi-genre project: 

Tips and tricks for blending reading and writing workshop in the secondary classroom.
This project will actually begin early in the semester with an inquiry question that students would like to explore. They will choose a question; then, attempt to find answers for their inquiry question in the books they read and use these ideas as a jumping off point for their own writing. At the end of the year, they will complete a multi-genre project that will illustrate their exploration of the question. This will require that they explore the ideas in non-fiction, poetry and other texts as well as their novels. It will also require that they experiment with various types of writing as they explore the idea. Students will pass the completed assignment in to me for assessment, but they will also present a portion of it as part of the speaking component of the course.

The remaining eighty percent of their mark will come from the following: 

1. A final portfolio and conference: 
During the final conference, students will show me the work that they choose to put in their portfolio, work that represents their growth as a reader and writer over the semester. They will need to show me evidence that they have attained (or are working on) the skills we focused on during the semester. The portfolio will include their top three pieces of writing, ranked from one to three, along with a corresponding form that explains the reasons for their choices. They will also have a checklist of skills that we have worked on, and they will need to show me, in their writing, evidence of their success with each skill. I will already have graded or seen all of the work in the portfolio, so this is not about me assigning a "good copy" grade; instead, the portfolio and conference are about putting the responsibility on the student to show me that they have learned and grown as a writer. It's important that you give students time to do this and clear instruction about what you want the final portfolio to look like. For example, they should arrive at the conference with annotated writing, so they can quickly and easily show you their skills. You can find an editable checklist of skills in my Writer's Workshop Bundle.

During the semester, they will be assessed on the following:

2. Their Notebooks: 
Every two weeks or so, I will take in the notebooks. I will do a quick look to see if the students have been keeping up with them and that the required entries are there. Because there aren't enough hours in the day to read everything, I will ask students to use post-it notes to mark two entries: one that they are most proud of and one that they'd like some feedback on. They will write their questions and comments right on the post-it note. They will also use highlighters to indicate passages for me, so I can easily locate them. These strategies will allow me to get through the notebooks more quickly and them to get some direct feedback. This feedback is the primary purpose for me taking in the notebooks. I don't assess the students based on the quality of their work, only that it was completed.

2. Conferences: 
While my kids are writing, I will be circulating with my clipboard, doing Quickie Conferences. Student will be told what skill I'm looking at and will be ready to demonstrate it for me. For example, I might be focusing on a writer's use of figurative language for effect. Students will know they will have to find a passage in their reading and/or writing where this occurs and have it ready to show me. I'll circulate and have a sheet with everyone's name on it and stop at each student's desk. They will show me the passage; if they are bang on, I'll check them off. If they aren't correct, we'll have a quick conversation about it. These checklists will go in a binder for later reference. My longer conferences will require that I sit down with students one-on-one. I use this time to focus on skills that take a little longer to demonstrate, or to do some instruction, based on the deficits I found during the quickie conferences.

3. Annotated Good Copies: 
When I asked for good copies in years gone by, I wanted perfectly edited and formatted assignments. I still do. However, now good copies come in with words, phrases, and even whole passages highlighted or underlined. There will be writing in the margins. If the work comes in electronically, students will use the comment section of Google Docs to make notes.  This is because I'm putting more responsibility on the students for their evaluation. I want them to do the thinking necessary to illustrate that they have learned the targeted skills for that assignment. As a side bonus, this process makes it a lot easier to grade because the student has already pointed out the elements that you are looking for. They will also be required to write a short reflection about the piece and the process they went through to create it.

4. Speaking & Listening Assignments: 
Reading and writing is not the only part of my curriculum, so we will also be working on speaking and listening skills. Students will get formative and peer assessment based on the talking they do during conferences and small group discussions, but they will also have several formal speaking assignments throughout the semester. Most of these will occur during the later half of the course, when I actually add in two full class studies: Macbeth and Animal Farm. I believe there is benefit in doing full class study and you can read about my reasoning here. This year, instead of dividing up the week, we are doing just workshop until November when we will do the full class texts together. At this time, students will do several speaking assignments, including a rhetorical speech and a debate. These go very well with Macbeth and Animal Farm, as we take a close look at the power of language with those texts.

Class Organization
Now that I have my assessments planned, I can zero in on what my days will look like. This is the plan for now:

Monday-Wednesday (focus on skill building)
There is no one-size fits all approach to workshop, but, generally, teachers who use workshop will include silent reading, book talks, mini-lessons, independent work, collaborative work and sharing. The length of time devoted to these elements will vary, based on the age of your students and the length of your classes. I have high school students for seventy-five minutes a day for one semester. That's a long class, but if you have a shorter one, you likely have your kids for the whole year. Therefore, you can allow less time for each segment and just take longer to get through the lessons.

1. Silent Reading for fifteen minutes (this will usually be at the beginning of class, but sometimes I'll start with a prompt; On Wednesdays students may be asked to choose to read something from another genre*).

2. Book Talk & Mini-Lesson (10-15 minutes)

3. Skill Building Exercise (10-15 minutes)

4. Independent Writing Time (conferences) (15-20 minutes)

5. Sharing Time - students will share their work with others to get feedback (10 minutes)

6. Closure (2-5 minutes)

* Genre reading -- Students will primarily be reading novels during workshop. However, I need to expose them to other genres, like short stories, non-fiction, poetry and drama. Therefore, on Wednesdays, they may be required to choose from collections I will provide for them in the classroom, depending on the focus for the week.

Thursday-Friday (focus on writing process)
On these days, I want students to dig in and work.  They will get a longer silent reading period (20 - 25 minutes) and then with they remaining time, they will move through stations, as necessary, to work on the areas that they need to focus on. During this time, I'll be doing individual conferences or small group instruction.  The conferences will focus on the student's attainment of last week's goal and the small group instruction will be based on the needs I've been noticing during the quickie conferences. and/or notebook assessment. For example, I might group the students who are struggling with transitions to do a short reinforcement lesson with them.

So there it is, the plan for 2017, semester one. Since I began using workshop, no semester has been the same, as I keep tweaking it to make it better. I am by no means an expert, so I'd love to have you share your great ideas so others can learn for them too. And stay tuned, as I'll be sharing more specifics all week.  Make sure you're signed up for my 5 Days of Workshop Freebies, so you can get inspiration and help for planning your workshop!

Click HERE to read the next instalment: A Closer Look at My Lessons.


  1. Our high school department has debated on whether to use the workshop approach, but always become stymied on how to accurately assess student work on literature that we haven't read. How do you handle this issue?

    1. I find that conferencing takes care of this quite well. When the kid is face to face with you, having to back up their understanding of, for example, character development, you can tell very quickly if they have read and understood the text. The main thing with workshop is that it puts the focus on skill building, rather than on content. You can read more about conferencing here:

  2. Your daily breakdown is really helpful. What is the difference between your mini lessons and skill building exercises? Are the skill building exercises just an extension of the mini lesson or are they something completely different?

  3. Hi, Kim. The mini-lesson is direct instruction from me and the skill building exercises are work that the students would do based on the lesson. So I'm in front of them teaching/modelling, then they work on something. I hope that helps!

  4. Would love to know how this worked in sem one!

    1. For the most part, very well. We had larger classes than normal this semester (35), so it wasn't as easy to conference as quickly as it has been in the past. I found some ways to make those more efficient (conference bookmarks) and had to do more quickie conferences than sit down ones. We're just finishing up the semester, and I had several students tell me that they finally learned to enjoy reading this year, so that was a BIG victory!


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