Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Core beliefs

In two days, I will have the opportunity to share my class, specifically my reading workshop, with Samantha Bennett, author of That Workshop Book. In addition to Samantha, there will be a large group of educators watching the workshop on a live video feed from our classroom downstairs to our commons area. In preparation for our time with Samantha, she asked us (Katie of Creative Literacy will be sharing her writing workshop) to reflect on our own teaching, learning, our core beliefs, and what guides our instruction.

Because I've spent so much time on this reflection, I've decided to share it with our readers as well as the group on Friday. First, I will share my core belief section, and then by Friday, I will post the section on what guides my instruction. Since I believe that many of our readers here at Literate Lives are educators, I would love to open a dialogue about what your core beliefs are, and what guides your instruction. Please leave your thoughts in the comment section and I promise I will respond. I hope it will be a fun way to get the great thinking that we do out there and visible to all. Thanks for participating!

Here are my core beliefs (a little long, I admit):

My Core Beliefs

Belief in Workshop Model - When I came to the Dublin school district in 1986, I had already been teaching for seven years and thought I had a handle on what would be expected of me as a teacher. My life took a turn that summer day long ago when I was moving into my new classroom when another new teacher to the district was doing the exact same thing. She would be teaching across the hall from me. At the time, I had never heard of the workshop model. I had been taught how to teach with basals for reading, and to use teacher prompts, English books, and cute projects for writing. This wise beyond her years teacher introduced me to the work of Donald Graves and Lucy Calkins, and the idea of implementing a writing workshop in the classroom. Mini lessons, conferring, small groups, share – this all became new lexicon for me. Through the years, I have continued to develop and refine my approach to workshop – even at this stage of my career, I continue to be a work in progress. I thrive on professional development that pushes my thinking about workshop in any form. When a new professional book comes out with the topics of reading workshop or writing workshop, I just have to have it. And none of this might have happened had I not met my teaching colleague, Mary Lee Hahn (Reconsidering Read Aloud), on that hot summer day so many, many years ago. I realize how fortunate I was to have someone like Mary Lee travel with me on my journey to understand, and make sense of, how workshop might operate in my classroom.

Belief in the importance of building community - In order for our workshop to run smoothly, I invest a great deal of time at the beginning of the school year, and then throughout the year, developing and building a community of learners in our classroom. We spend time on activities that allow us to know each other as people, often with a twist of their history as literate learners in there as well. We share our favorite books from when we were younger. We take pictures of ourselves reading in our favorite places at home, share them, and post them in the room where they hang for all to see. We continually share stories of our lives outside the walls of school. Like all the other classrooms in our school, we write a class pledge together in a shared writing activity during the first week of school – the pledge embodies the expectations of each and every community member. These are just some of the threads that we weave together that make the fabric of our class community.

Belief that children should have choice in reading and learn to become life-long readers - As our community begins to develop, we are then able to focus on what I view as critical if my students are to become life-long readers. We spend much time chatting about how important it is for the students to know themselves as readers. I use myself as a model for how that can happen. I bring in pictures of my overflowing bookshelves and baskets of books, magazines, and newspapers at home, I bring in a variety of reading materials I might be involved with at any given time, I share how I decide if a book is “just right” for me or not. When my students hear and see what I know about my own reading identity, it allows them to start analyzing what their interests are, and who they might be as readers. A crucial part of establishing a reading identity is knowing that “choice” is important in our workshop. Students in our classroom select books based on their interest, their comfort level, friends’ recommendations, my recommendations (I am always bringing in current books or current additions to series), their interest in a particular series, their interest in a certain genre or author. The list goes on and on. The important thing, though, is that the students are selecting their own texts for reading. They have choice and they learn how to articulate why they make the choices they do.

Belief in the apprenticeship model - The final piece of my core beliefs is embedded in our district’s learning framework. This is not earth-shattering, but it is so smart. Basically, our learning framework, and for the purposes of our time together, our literacy framework, is entirely based on the gradual release of responsibility from the teacher to the student. It works in the same way apprentices have always worked – first the teacher models how to do a skill in front of the student, then the student and teacher work together to perform the skill, next the student works with other students and then checks back with the teacher, and finally the student is ready to try the skill on their own – independence and mastery of the skill are met. That independent stage is our goal, but working through the previous stages is how we get there.

That being said, with the learning/literacy framework in mind, and knowing that focus lessons are not to take up the bulk of any workshop, I am very thoughtful in my planning of literacy instruction (see attached planning for this week’s literacy instruction). We can spend anywhere from several days to several weeks on a new strategy, depending on the needs of the particular class and the difficulty of the skill. I model, we try it together, they try it in small groups, and then I use some type of quick formative assessment or anecdotal observation to learn who truly is independent and who needs some more time with the skill. The beauty of the workshop is those students needing more time can practice with me in a strategy group or individually during the “work” part of the workshop.

**I'll keep you posted on how the demonstration teaching goes this Friday as well. :) I'm both excited and nervous to have Samantha Bennett watch our reading workshop. I keep telling myself it will just be another day in our very busy workshop.


  1. Samantha Bennett is wonderful. I heard her speak at CCIRA. She is just super. Very motivating. Enjoy

  2. Looking forward to seeing you, Katie, and Samantha.
    What a great exercise- writing our belief statements. Sometimes it is hard to put into words what is at the core of all we do

  3. Yahoo, you've hit the nail on the head! I couldn't agree with you more. With my transition to kindergarten the only thing that came to me that I would add, change or somehow weave into your thinking is the word intentional. These new babies who are experiencing school for the very first time need workshop, choice, gradual release, and I know you, you are very intentional in all you do. Maybe I'm getting at the explicit language, it seems to have to be all so precise for them and yet not black and white. We need to engage their individuality and creativeness. Can't wait to see you this weekend and remember to smile. :)

  4. What wonderful reflection Karen! Thank you for continuing sharing your thoughts and beliefs with all of us. I cant wait to see you tomorrow!

  5. Hi to all my central Ohio blogging friends! So glad you'll be there tomorrow. Hopefully, some of you will be there Saturday, also, when I can just be a member of the audience. :)

    Mandy - intentional is a great word. I think that comes in my next section -- what guides my instruction -- that is where I am intentional about what needs will be addressed.

    Radical Abandonment - hi! Thanks for stopping by and your comment. I just had dinner with her tonight so we could meet, and she could not be more delightful and energetic. Really looking forward to spending time with her.

  6. Somehow I could not find your attachment for your instruction. Would love to see it. Thanks so much for inspiring me to think about this!