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Workshop Model and Its Structure

Balanced Literacy, known also as the Workshop Model, presents a methodology of organizing a balanced program in literature. Balanced Literacy includes the Writing and the Reading Workshop Model. The main point of this approach is the modeling of the literacy strategy. The second step is the organization of small groups of students. After the groups are organized the students follow the teacher’s instruction and realize in practice the proposed strategy. In this case, the teacher is a passive observer; he does not participate actively in discussion but just monitors the process. Representatives of the groups share their results.
The Workshop Model is the result of collaborative work of different language schools all over the country. The development of this model lasted over thirty years and it is thought to be first introduced in 1987 by Nancie Atwell. She was first to systemize all the knowledge on this subject. Other theorists and philologists proposed only their additions but the whole concept has not changed greatly since that time.
The main aim of the Workshop Model is to encourage students to read, develop fluent reading, improve writing and reading skills and examine texts from different perspectives. Work in small groups allows to discuss texts, prove own point of view, finds arguments, thoroughly examine details, work with authentic texts and propose own strategies. All these activities contribute to the development of perfect literacy habits. However, “reading workshop is not intended to replace guided reading groups where specific needs are addressed in a flexible, small group setting” (Keene, 1997, p. 18). Guided reading groups as well as individual consultations can take place in the course of independent reading.
One of the greatest advantages of the Workshop Model is its accuracy and structuring. Its structure consists of three main stages which can be called in such a way: a mini-lesson, independent reading and sharing.
Mini-lessons are only 5-10 minutes long and they are aimed to give a general impression of the task. These lessons are oriented either on individual students, small group or the whole group of students. The teacher prepares some meaningful facts from the author’s biography, gives some guidelines how to analyze a book and think critically and proposes some strategies for further work. The topics of mini-lessons can be the following: writing/reading strategies; interpretation of illustration; implicit/explicit information; description of characters; a good beginning/ending of the story; plot development; good book choice; author’s style; genre’s peculiarities; characters’ comparison, etc. The presentation of these topics prepares students for the independent work which is the second component of the model structure.
This stage is an independent work on the project. Students either read proposed texts or write essays in accordance with the themes proposed, while the teacher controls the process and makes his observations. Independent reading/writing is the most significant and the most important stage in Balanced Literacy, so it requires the longest period of time – about 30-40 minutes. Independent reading presumes students’ ability to choose appropriate books and read with confidence. “It is on the continuum of reading instruction that flows from teacher Read Aloud, to Shared Reading, to Guided Reading, to Independent Reading where the child takes on full responsibility” (Trehearne, 2006, p. 84). The main aim of this part of the lesson is to learn students to select and read great amount of books and then analyzes these books – to master the technique of “conscious reading”.
Necessary instructions and procedures for choosing a book should be clear and through. A teacher must explain them to students at the very beginning of the course. The better a teacher explains which strategies to apply and why it is so important the more possibility is that students will be occupied with reading during this time than any other activity. Independent Reading is usually a necessary part of the model and it often takes part every day. Time can vary from 15 minutes to 40 at dependence on grade level. The more proficient students are the more time they should have for independent reading. During the independent work students can use such strategies: read the text carefully, define its organization, identify its type and genre, prove the evidence from the text, revise the work, discuss it with other participants of the group and prepare the whole analysis of the text.
As it was mentioned above, the teacher only monitors the process. At this time his main task is to check selected students by conferring with them. This helps him to make it clear how students use reading strategies, choose books for reading and follow instructions. Monitoring of students’ work is very important because it is aimed to encourage students to choose correct books. This approach excludes the choice of books which can be perceived and interpreted in a proper way at that stage of studying. “Monitoring is accomplished through individual conferencing, running records should indicate areas of growth or deficiencies as well. Students responses to the literature or lack of thoughtful responses would also be a way to monitor student's independent reading progress” (Brailsford, 2004, p. 97). Special attention should be paid to this stage.
The final stage of the workshop session is sharing among students. This stage is also of great significance. New information and knowledge should be shared in order to assimilate it better. Sharing provokes new thoughts, ideas and, as a result, interpretations. It helps to develop critical and analytical thinking. Moreover, it learns students to insist on their point of view and find factual evidence working with the authentic text or critics. Also, it makes the student more confident in himself and develops the feeling of self-esteem if we analyze this stage from the psychological point of view. That is one of the most common and widely used examples of the workshop model structure.
The Workshop Model is of great importance today because its main aim is to involve students into reflecting upon reading and writing. One of the advantages of this approach is the work with the authentic texts. “The workshop model is consistent with the authentic experiences; complex learning, negotiated curriculum and metacognitive experiences students will have throughout their day” (Brailsford, 2004, p. 113). This model is especially useful for ELLs because, firstly, it is well structured, secondly, it is oriented on student’s individual needs and thirdly, it engages students of different levels. ELLs have a possibility to choose authors, texts and genres in accordance with their English level, preferences and abilities. One more advantage of this model is the fact that it is not a program with defined timetable and restrictions but rather a variable model. Every teacher can adopt it to the needs of particular groups and include his corrections of the plan. The workshop model provides great opportunities for students because it operates with a great number of authentic texts. Such approach encourages children to read books in original, improve their writing and reading skills and develop critical thinking. “In addition, the very fact that it is not a scripted program promotes teachers’ ongoing curriculum development and revision to best meet the needs of his or her present group of learners” (Brailsford, 2004, p. 82). All these advantages in comparison with other approaches show that this model is appropriate for different groups of students, especially for ELLs.
To sum up, the Workshop Model also known as Balanced Literacy was first introduced thirty years ago in 1987 by Nancie Atwell. This model becomes more and more popular nowadays due to its good organization and clear structure. Its structure includes three stages: mini-lessons, independent work and sharing. The most important stage is independent work because it presumes students’ work with authentic texts, however the significance of the first and the third stages should not be neglected. Mini-lessons are aimed to prepare students for individual work, develop their reading and writing strategies. Sharing helps students to express their opinions freely. This model is especially appropriate for ELLs because it takes into account individual needs of students and their level of knowledge. It presumes that it is possible to find appropriate authentic text for every student. Individual consultations in the context of this approach allow discussing all difficult and problematic parts in the text. Moreover, sharing of opinions after reading develops students analytical and critical abilities, improves their reading and writing skills and promotes authentic reading among students.

References
Brailsford, A., & Coles, J. (2004). Balanced Literacy in Action. Toronto: Scholastic.
Fountas. Irene and Pinnell, Gay Su. (2001). Guiding Readers and Writers/Grades 3-6, Portsmouth, NH,Heinemann.
Keene, E. & Zimmermann, S. (1997). Mosaic of Thought: Teaching Comprehension in a Reader’s Workshop. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Trehearne, M. (2006). Comprehensive literacy resource for grades 3-6. Toronto: Nelson Canada.

 

 
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