Workshop Is Not a Verb

While I was finishing up work one afternoon, a colleague’s second grade daughter came into my office. Since I’m an inquisitive (some say nosey) person, I asked her what she was doing in reading class. In my position, I work with junior high teachers and have nudged them to move away from a whole class novels in favor of a deeper focus on learning standards while encompassing elements like choice in reading/writing material, teacher modeling and conferring, and collaboration (aka, structures of workshop). This structure has been embraced in elementary schools for some time now and is slowly making its way into secondary schools in my area. So, naturally, when I asked the second grader what she was working on, I hoped to hear that she was learning about genres or characters or author’s craft – even “just reading”. What I did not expect to hear was “I’m doing workshop.”

It caught me by surprise- what does “doing workshop” even mean? I started thinking about the word workshop and how I’ve experienced it in the past. I’ve attended workshops where I learn new content, skills, and strategies. I’ve facilitated workshops where teachers learned about content, skills, or strategies. I’ve worked in a workshop in my garage – I like to tinker with power tools on occasion. I have never actually workshopped. I don’t know how one would go about workshopping. The best workshops I’ve attended included instructional time and small group or independent work time. During a workshop, what I did was learn, read, write, and collaborate; I did those things with an expert sitting nearby to guide me through the murky areas where I struggled the most.

Workshop is not something we do, it’s simply the way classrooms are structured. Students are not workshopping; they are working on skills and strategies. They are learning through minilessons and conferences. They are reading in their independent, oftentimes choice, texts. They are practicing their writing in their notebooks and paying attention to the craft of writing. They are having conversations with their teacher or their peers about the hard work they are doing in the classroom. In these classrooms, workshop is not the outcome; it is the vehicle for deep learning. So please, well-meaning teachers, stop saying you’re doing workshop and consider saying you’re teaching skills and strategies, coaching reading  and writing, and cheering on readers and writers.