The workshop model, the brainchild of Lucy Caulkins and Carmen Farina, is new for us at my school. Some time last year it was decided that this model was the right one to address our sliding state test scores and our "changing demographic". First, our faculty meetings started following this format.
The idea is that the teacher acts as more of a facilitator, getting students started thinking at the beginning of class with an activator, then teaching the material for the day in a mini-lesson, then providing work time for students to hash it out in groups. At the end of the class, the teacher does a formal or informal check-in with the class. Each component has a recommended amount of time attached to it.
At the beginning of the year, I embraced the idea of adopting this model. One, because there was no choice. Two, I was trying to stay optimistic. At the start of week 4 of school, though, as I become more familiar with the model, my doubts are growing. This is not a criticism of our coaches, or of our principal. I just think we need to approach using any kind of model critically.
Here are the pros I have found so far:
- provides structure
- good especially for beginning teachers
- students know what to expect in each class
- a model that works best for ELA
- I find it very rigid (what if one day you want to extend your lesson beyond the 10-15 minutes recommended?) and scripted.
- not great for beginning ELL students
- patronizing for experienced teachers
In the workshop model, the work session consists of students figuring things out mostly in groups. My ELL students, especially when they first arrive in the U.S., are not accustomed to working in groups and helping each other. Whether I put them in cross-language or same-language groups, so far I have had limited success. On Friday, one of my students ended up not speaking to her partner, and another one ended up in tears. I don't think they shouldn't ever work in groups, but I do think it's a skill they have to learn - little by little.
We are, of course, not even at the end of September. Maybe as the teachers at my school get more used to the model, and if we are able to discuss ideas that worked with each other, and if we are given time to figure it out ourselves, AND if we are able to reflect on it as a faculty to decide if it is working or not ....then MAYBE it will be the right model for us.
Trying to stay optimistic. Thoughts?
The NYC public school system adopted this model in 2004. Here is more information, and a critique, of it: