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Transforming English Education: A Journey of Workshop Teaching

As an English teacher, my journey began like many others. I started by teaching spelling and grammar in my first job, diligently sending home spelling lists and designing worksheets. However, when my students began composing texts, I was disheartened by their writing. It lacked depth and authenticity, filled with perfect sentences but devoid of heart, riddled with clichés and empty narratives.

Where was I going wrong? 

Fast forward to 2011, A pivotal moment arrived when I embarked on pioneering the Reading and Writing Workshop. Mentored by Gita Varadarajan, a staff developer from Columbia University in New York, my teaching career took a transformative turn. As I was introduced to the world of workshop teaching, I realized that my service as a teacher would never be the same again.

After a decade of practice, a distinct ambience fills my classroom and exudes a distinct atmosphere worth pondering. It resembles a workshop, akin to artists in a studio or scientists in a lab. Some students write independently, while others collaborate with peers. Some are engrossed in books, studying them before jotting down notes. Every student is invested in their own writing journey. I move from child to child, providing guidance and support. Charts of writing strategies adorn the walls, serving as resources for students. It feels akin to a pottery class, with everyone working with clay, each crafting their own unique piece under the instructor's guidance.

As Lucy Calkins points out in “Living Between the Lines”, “We don’t need to have salt aquariums, elaborate learning centres, and frequent field trips to lead effective reading and writing workshops. But if you are going to teach reading and writing well, our classrooms must be filled with student’s voices and their lives. We don’t need to be Super-teachers to teach children to write, but we need to love and respect our children and to help them love and respect each other- and themselves.”

Learning and growth often unfold invisibly, leaving teachers wondering about students' inner thoughts. Learning isn't merely about acquiring knowledge; it entails observing, practising, and eventually internalising skills until they become one's own. A workshop teacher guides children as they craft texts that transport readers across time and space.

Writing Workshops

In the writing workshop, students undergo the writing process just like professional writers do, beginning with rehearsing, planning, drafting, revising, editing, and ultimately publishing. The focus of instruction is on imparting strategies for enhancing composition, including writing with elaboration and detail, amplifying the writer's voice, and mastering the mechanics of writing. These strategies are conveyed through concise 10-minute mini-lessons, where the teacher demonstrates the approach using their writing as an example. Subsequently, students spend the majority of their time working independently, with the teacher guiding individualised coaching, small group sessions, and one-on-one interactions. Thus, the instructional model follows a gradual release of responsibility, prioritising differentiation and facilitating the transfer of strategies to promote genuine comprehension.

In these classrooms, young writers no longer rely on excuses like "I have nothing to write about" or questions such as "What should I write about?" Instead, they courageously delve into their innermost thoughts and feelings, allowing us to gain insight into their true selves— their fears, anxieties, joys, and frustrations. As teachers accompany these writers on their journey, we listen attentively, gaining a deeper understanding of our students than ever before. Without their written narratives, we wouldn't have known about Aashna's grandmother's passing, the challenges little Akilesh faced when transitioning to a new school, or Kaveri's exhilaration upon mastering the art of diving. Throughout the year, as students explore various genres of writing, we continue to uncover new facets of their personalities. We learn from their expertise as they share their knowledge in instructional and informational texts, understand their perspectives as they articulate their views through persuasive essays, and delve into their imaginations as they craft realistic fiction. Above all, we connect with their deepest emotions as they pour their hearts into personal narratives.

As a literacy specialist, I refrain from coaching students solely for tests. Instead, I cultivate highly skilled writers who excel beyond standardised assessments. This approach fosters democratic values and equips children with the ability to engage in critical discourse and articulate their opinions effectively.

At Neev Academy Bangalore, writing has fostered a community where students and teachers care for each other. Teachers focus on teaching writing strategies rather than dictating content, sharing their own stories and working closely with students to inspire and empower them. By immersing students in rich literature and nurturing their writing skills, teachers help students embrace their lives and realise their dreams.

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