Workshop style teaching involves presenting a lesson to the whole group, releasing students to practice the lesson skills presented, working individually with students and small groups during the work period in order to learn more about what the students can and cannot do, and bringing them back together for sharing, clarifying, and debriefing at the end of the work period. Often times students are applying the lesson objectives in a variety of different ways. For example, in a writing workshop the skill lesson may be about organization. At the end of the lesson, the students will apply the skill to a piece of writing they are working on. This could be writing assigned by the teacher, it could be a piece the student has selected and is currently working on, or even a piece the child hasn’t worked on for a while. Regardless of where the writing piece originates, each student is working on applying the lesson skill to a piece of writing that is theirs, and so it is at an appropriate developmental and educational level for them. The same thing applies to reading workshops: the students apply the lesson skills to a piece of reading material that is at an appropriate level for them. Students can all engage in reading, writing, speaking, listening, and thinking with each other, at a level that is developmentally possible for each of them individually.
A general education classroom that includes special needs students needs to have a rich collection of reading material, spanning the levels of all students in the class. If you can’t find reading material appropriate to the needs of some of your students, have them or other students create appropriate works, publish them, and keep them for the rest of your life! Share them with others. Audio, visual, tactile, and kinesthetic resources need to be abundant as well.
Workshop style teaching works the same way, with a cycle of lesson, work time, debriefing, no matter what content area you are teaching. You may bring the children back for a brief period during work time to clarify, refocus, or share, and then send them back to complete the work period. It is a flexible format that allows you to develop the “endurance” of your students toward longer and longer work periods. The work time is a key instructional period for you as you circulate to learn more about what and how your students are learning and where you can lead them next.
If you take a look at workshop style instruction, at least in the areas where meeting multiple needs is the most difficult, you may begin to see a way that you can be inclusive, meet a wide variety of needs, and still maintain high standards for all the children in your classroom.