Classroom Management in a Reading Workshop
Beth Newingham shares ideas for a more productive independent reading time.
Reading workshop is a staple in my daily routine. During this time, students are reading self-selected books independently. They have chosen the books from my classroom library and have already made sure the book is at their “just right” level based on its color code. While students are reading their books, I am conferring with individuals, conducting guided reading groups or strategy lessons, facilitating book clubs, etc. For this reason, it is important that I have clear routines and procedures in place to keep my independent readers on task and truly engaged in their reading. Below are some management ideas that help make this possible in my classroom.
At the beginning of the year, we determine rules about independent reading time in our classroom. One rule is that you must find “your own” place to read and not distract other readers. For some students, this is hard. They would rather sit together with their friends and pass the time. For this reason, I have a book nook rotation schedule that is switched every day so that every student has a certain place he or she should be reading. I also have pillows, bean bags, and dish chairs that are popular among my readers. These items are included on my book nook rotation schedule so that no time is wasted after the mini-lesson arguing over who gets the pillows when we are transitioning to independent reading time.
Each reader has his or her own book box. (You can also use gallon-size bags for this purpose.) Readers are asked to keep enough books in their box to last them for at least a week of independent reading time. Without Book Boxes, my students would spend more time browsing the classroom library than they would engaged in text. You can either have designated “shopping days” where four to five readers are allowed to switch out the books for new books in their book boxes, or you can just have readers visit the library when necessary. I always make sure that readers visit the library in the morning (if necessary) rather than during the independent reading block of our reading workshop. Selecting books should not take away from important time spent engaged in text. The book boxes are kept on a special bookshelf in the classroom library.
Organized Classroom Library
Students need to be reading at their “just right” level during the independent reading block of reading workshop, so they need to be able to locate appropriate books without spending hours browsing the library. This means it is important to level at least part of your library. As students develop strong interests in literature, it is also important that your classroom library is organized in a way that they can easily find their favorite series books, favorite genres, and specific topics without having to search for extended periods of time. When I feel a child is ready to move to a new level (or when a child feels that he or she is ready to move up to a new level), the student completes what I call a "trial read." They student reads a chapter book at the new level and fills out a Trial Book form. When he or she finishes the book, I then meet with that child to discuss the book and assess his or her comprehension of the text.
Students must record ALL books they read throughout the year in their Reader’s Notebook. They visit this log often to reflect on their own reading habits, create genre graphs, set monthly reading goals, and help them assess their reading progress.
Independent Reading Checklist
Unfortunately, I cannot be watching every reader during the workshop. I am often busy conferring with individuals or meeting with small groups. For this reason, my students complete a quick checklist that helps them monitor their reading behavior each day. The checklist only takes about 2 minutes at the end of independent reading every day. This checklist adds an accountability factor to the workshop and serves as a constant reminder of expected reading behavior. I look at my students’ checklists often and use them as points of discussion for some of my readers during the time we confer.
While my main form of assessment is done when conferring with readers or meeting in small groups, I also want to hold students accountable for authentic reading when they are not working directly with me. As students read their books, they are asked to use post-it notes to record the thinking that they are doing as they read. After they get done with a book, they remove the post-it notes and organize them onto paper. I give students page protectors to cover the sheets so that the post-it notes do not fall off. I like to look at these pages to assess students’ level of thinking, and I often refer to the post-it notes when conferring with readers.
Once reading workshop begins, I really try to tolerate very few interruptions. Since reading workshop always occurs immediately after our morning work, I tell students that they need to go to the bathroom before we start. (Of course in emergency situations students must be allowed to go to the bathroom, but emphasizing the need to go before instruction begins leads to far fewer students leaving the classroom during this time.) Students must always check the book nook schedule in the morning so that they know exactly where they will be reading each day. Students must also have their book boxes ready before independent reading time starts so that there are not groups of students browsing the classroom library during the time that they should be engaged in their texts. Of course things do not run smoothly every day, but I have found that careful management in my reading workshop is the most important factor in its success.