Using Workshop-Style Teaching in the Lower School

Written by Amy Darsey and Jen Tatasciore, Lower School Directors of Teaching and Learning

Workshop-Style Teaching

Workshop is made of four essential parts: the mini lesson, conferring and small group work, independent work, and the share. Minilessons are intended to be short instructional times, 15 - 20 minutes, where all children are invited to interact with a skill or strategy. Teachers use this time to introduce and model new skills or build on previous ones, providing an opportunity for children to continually add to their toolbox as they develop their comprehension of new material. As Lucy Calkins, author of Units of Study, explains, “The [mini]lesson is meant to be helpful to people in their ongoing work, today and in the future, not just an activity to do for the day.”

Once the teacher has modeled how to apply the skill using several examples, the children then practice the same skill with a partner. “Turn and Talk” is a way for children to engage with a classmate as they work collaboratively to explore and apply the skill or strategy together.

After the mini lesson, teachers set the children up to begin applying the strategies they’ve been learning to their independent work. While the children are working independently, it allows the teachers to pull small groups and confer with students to develop skills further. This helps teachers target the individual needs of the children and meet them where they are - differentiation! Together, they will review the skills through modeling and practicing in order to develop goals with the child. This will allow the child to continue learning new ways to grow in all areas.

Once the children have had time to work independently, in a small group, or one-on-one with a teacher, the class will gather once again as a whole group on the rug. This time is spent celebrating what has been done during independent work time. Teachers may also take time during the share to offer the students more practice with a given skill or strategy.

This approach to teaching and learning allows the children to engage in richer conversations and navigate materials and texts with the goal of developing their own thinking and ideas - critical thinking! Research has shown that this approach provides students the opportunity to develop their metacognitive skills, or learning habits, that focus on 21st century skills - or what you may have heard referred to as the 5 C’s: collaboration, critical thinking, communication, creativity, and character. This in turn provides students the mindset to engage in problem solving, analysis, and reflection on the content they’re learning. All of the lessons are rooted in the development of these skills so children can now do things with the information they’re learning.

And as the children engage in this learning throughout their journey in the lower school, it is our hope that they will take these skills with them to middle school and beyond. To become active, engaged learners - asking and chasing questions, clarifying meaning, and using their learning for a greater purpose.
 
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