Workshop Style Teaching–From Jenn’s Point of View

Jenn is a middle school language arts and social studies teacher.  By definition she is integrating instruction. She describes these twin focuses as content goals (social studies outcomes), and process goals (language arts skills).  Here is a little excerpt from the book (That Workshop Book by Samantha Bennett pg. 194-195) which talks a little more about her unit planning style:

“Jenn knew she needs to muck about to make meaning and build in time for her students to do the same.  Jenn spent several workshops (class periods) digging into the majority, concurring, and dissenting opinions of the Supreme Court in New Jersey v. TLO.  Jenn’s mini-lessons, all connected to the purpose “Was the search legal?” were also informed by students’ ability to determine importance and make meaning from the text over two weeks.  Because of the complexity of the text, the complexity of the case, and the complexity of the Fourth Amendment, Jenn had to toggle back and forth between attending to content and attending to the processes of making meaning.  After each mini-lesson, the students continued to read, write to hold their thinking, and talk to deepen their understanding of the Fourth Amendment, the court case, and the Supreme Court decisions. The mini-lesson topics included:

Making Meaning from Supreme Court Decisions
•    Content goal:  Warrant Clause and Reasonable Clause of the Fourth Amendment
•    Process goal:  How to break down complex text.  Jenn did a think-aloud with the Supreme Court decisions using one color highlighter for information that applied to the Reasonable Clause and another color for information that applied to the Warrant Clause.  She showed students how for a few paragraphs and then asked students to do it on their own.  At the end, she asked students to synthesize what they had highlighted in their own words.

Reasonable Clause
•    Content goal:  What counts as a reasonable search?  What counts as an unreasonable search?
•    Process goal:  Jenn modeled how she determines importance in text to get to the content.

Citizen Rights
•    Content goal:  Do kids and adults have the same rights?
•    Process goal:  Activating background knowledge

Reasonable Suspicion and Probable Cause
•    Content goal:  Reasonable suspicion and probable cause
•    Process goal:  Apply and extend understanding by role-playing different reasonable suspicion and probable cause scenarios

The reflective quick-writes morphed over time, too.  Two big questions she asked students to reflect on over and over were
•    Should there be a be standard for searches that people in power must follow?
•    Should the standard be the same for kids and for adults?

These questions were directly tied to Jenn’s big guiding questions and also related to her reflection about students taking action as citizens.  She wanted them to understand that although their rights were limited, TLO [the court case] fought the powers that be and students do have power in our society if they engage by reading, writing, thinking, and talking.”

This shows the way social studies and language arts instruction work together when integrated.  Reading, writing, listening, talking, and thinking strategies are taught in the context in which they are used in real life, as needed, when needed.  Sometimes more of the workshop period is spent on developing the language arts skills needed for the task, while other times the focus is more on the content goal.  In many of my units, I find the first week spent on reading, researching, analyzing, evaluating, and discussing, while the next period may focus more on writing, sharing, revising, more researching, polishing, and publishing.  The point is, students are learning the skill and using it in the pursuit of something real, to produce something of value to a real audience in real life with a real outcome.  It may be several weeks before the product is even started, as the students do the background work of learning about the topic, but no matter what they are learning or working toward, they are reading, writing, talking, listening, thinking, discussing, arguing, and pursuing something of value and importance to them in order to produce something of value and importance to someone else, not just their teacher.

That is the outcome of workshop style instruction.

How do you select authentic products for your students to create?

Originally published on August 6, 2010 on another website.

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