Workshop style teaching is student driven, rooted in reality and the real world, and requires the teacher to LISTEN to her students in order to move them forward. This does not mean standards, objectives, learning targets, or goals are ignored: they remain the starting point for instruction no matter what style of teaching you prefer.
There are lots of ways to go about planning an integrated unit of instruction using a workshop instructional model. Jenn (featured in That Workshop Book by Samantha Bennett pg. 194-195) used a style that I have relied on for years, but she took it to a point that I never have before. She started with the objectives, goals, and standards. After listing those, she started researching the content, beginning with the resources provided to her by her school and district. She expanded into gathering more focused information found in trade books, internet websites, and talking with friends and experts in the field. Finally–and here is where I have never gone before–she started writing (journaling may be a more appropriate description) to get her ideas out and think through what she was learning on the topic and how it related to her learning targets for her students. As she wrote she followed her thoughts, did more digging, talking, asking, writing, until she was able to write out the unit as a conceptual, cohesive, piece. Here’s how she describes her planning process:
“Overall, I know that I seek to develop units that have a compelling topic, that create a need to know for students, that connect to students’ personal lives, and that have a fun, authentic, active project designed at the end. I believe that students need to have an important anchor experience or anchor text that is relative and accessible. I think a parallel historical and current study helps with this.
I know for me this means that I have to dedicate a lot of time to “mucking about” in the content when I am planning…I need to read about it, talk about it with my friends,…sometimes I write extensively in my journal, and then read some more, ask questions, talk some more, etc. This is how I learn, so I need to create the same experiences for the students in my classroom.”
So far I’m right there with her, but Jenn takes it a step further. Her planning outcome resembles an essay that reflects what she’s learned, the targets for her students, the processes and content she will focus on, and the student outcomes she expects. Taking the time to write this all out helps her clarify, refine, and direct her teaching during the unit.
I think this could be a valuable step for me. Right now I’m in the middle of writing an integrated three-week unit on the founding of the thirteen American colonies. Although this is material I have taught a number of times to children of varying ages and intellectual levels, I have spent a considerable amount of time currently researching the material, and I think the unit was well planned before I began writing it, I still find myself wobbling around and losing focus. I’ve set it aside for several months because I felt like I was walking through an amusement park fun house. Before I go back to it this month, I think I’ll spend some time ruminating in writing, like Jenn, to see if I can find what it is I’m really after.
I’d be really interested to hear how you go about planning a unit and keeping your focus sharp!
Originally published on August 5, 2010 on another website.