A few years ago, I remember sitting in the bleachers at opening session listening to our superintendent deliver his yearly “welcome back” speech. In his talk that day he shared with us an encounter he had had with some students over the summer. During the town’s Fourth of July celebration, he had asked these students, “What is one piece of advice you wish you could share with your new teachers?” He told us that the students wanted their teachers to take the time to get to know them. To get know who they really were, not just as students, put as people too. To find out what they’re interested in, their hobbies, what’s easy for them, and what’s hard. In a nutshell, the students wanted their new teachers to build relationships with them. They wanted their new teachers to see them as more than just students. They wanted their new teachers to care about them. As I thought about these ideas, I thought about my own three boys. The teachers they liked the best, the classes they were the most successful in, were usually the classes where the teachers had taken the time to build relationships with them. As a parent, I deeply appreciated this. I wanted my children to not only be successful, but to like school and enjoy learning. Teachers that take the time to build relationships with students honor that request.
In chapter two of Read, Write, Teach, Linda shares with us not only her beliefs on the importance of relationship building, but also several strategies, classroom routines, and even team challenges that help to facilitate this process. Even the covers of the Reader’s/Writer’s notebooks become an opportunity for getting to know students. Linda has her students create collages of things they care deeply about on the covers. Following her reflective style, Linda gathers evidence and takes careful anecdotal notes on the students as they participate in each activity. She learns valuable information about her students, how they learn, their interests, what they care about, and how they work with others. She is well on her way to building lasting relationships with each and every student within the first few weeks of school!
In chapter three, Linda allows us a peek inside her planning process for reading-writing workshop. Actually it’s more than a “peek”. Linda generously shares her curriculum overview, the expectations she has for workshop and the writer’s-reader’s notebook, a pamphlet of information for parents (perfect for open house night!), and other forms and strategies she utilizes to help workshop run smoothly. Again, I felt as if I had found a mentor. This is exactly the type of information I was searching for when I first starting teaching workshop. Linda offers us ready-to-go ideas that she developed through years of research, working with students and constantly asking for their feedback. In fact, asking for feedback and allowing for student choice, are reoccurring themes throughout her planning process. What this chapter gives us is a framework. This framework, combined with feedback from our own students and the power of choice built into the structure, will provide for a powerful readers/writers workshop.