Often when I visit schools to help teachers with Reading and Writing Workshop, they assume that because I believe in Reading and Writing Workshop I am not a big advocate of play. I am always surprised to hear that because I am a HUGE advocate of play and choice time in the elementary classroom. This assumption has left me wondering about the images that people have of play and choice time and the images that people have of Reading and Writing Workshop. Obviously, there are differences between the two, but I do want to suggest that what we know about play/choice time should influence Reading and Writing Workshop, and what we know about Reading and Writing Workshop should influence choice time and play. I want to talk next about how this idea might play out in the classroom.
I believe that every genre unit of study in Writing Workshop should begin with immersion. Rather than teachers starting a unit by delivering lessons, I believe units should begin by giving kids extended time (about a week) to explore the genre by looking at examples and talking about what they notice. When I do this in classrooms, there is a buzz in the room and an excitement in the air. Just like play has elements of exploration, creativity, and excitement, so does immersion in writing. Kids are also driving the curriculum because the conversations are focused on what the kids notice about the genre rather than what the teacher has chosen for them to notice. I find that if units start this way kids are much engaged in the more focused lessons that teachers do next in the unit because they have had a chance to ‘play’ with the genre beforehand.
Recently, I was conducting a guided reading lesson with a group of first grade kids. The book I was using was about a little boy who fell down while walking to the store. As I began my book introduction, the kids became obsessed with the fact that there was blood on the little boy’s knee and they kept wanting me to show them where the blood was. Also, they were quite taken with one picture because it showed the little boy paying attention to a motorcycle on the street, rather than to where he was going. They wanted to talk and talk about this page and I watched how the ‘play’ with this page helped them to understand that the boy fell down because he was looking at the motorcycle and not paying attention to where he was going. The guided lesson continued and the kids practiced many important print and comprehension strategies. The play that happened before their reading once again helped them to become more engaged with the more formal aspects of the guided reading lesson.
In both of those examples, there is an element of play in the Reading and Writing Workshop. Kids were given time to explore, talk, and create in ways that were similar to how they explore, talk and create while engaging in play and/or choice time.
In many classrooms that I work in teachers are not only conducting Reading and Writing Workshops, but they are fitting in choice time or play. In some of my favorite classrooms teachers are taking the structure of Reading and Writing Workshop and bringing that structure to their choice time. They are starting the choice time with a lesson that helps the kids to explore and create in deeper ways. Then, the kids go to choice time activities and the teacher confers with them. Finally, the teacher brings the kids back together for a share. I don’t believe that giving this structure to the choice time takes away any of the creativity or exploration of this time. As a matter of fact, I think the structure allows the kids to focus on their thinking because they can count on the consistent structure of workshop teaching.
So back to my question: Is there a connection between play and Reading and Writing Workshop? I think the answer is a resounding yes!
What do you think?