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Planning Read Alouds that Support the Workshop Model

lock·step noun, often attributive \ˈläk-ˌstep\
Definition of LOCKSTEP
1: a mode of marching in step by a body of persons going one after another as closely as possible
2: a standard method or procedure that is mindlessly adhered to or that minimizes individuality
in lockstep
: in perfect or rigid often mindless conformity or unison <politicians marching in lockstep with the party line
Retrieved from Merriam-Webster.com on 9/20/10.

A few days ago I was talking candidly with an experienced upper elementary school teacher who was distressed about the way he was expected to plan with his colleagues.  He hasn’t been feeling administrative pressure to plan in a certain way.  Quite the contrary.  It’s his colleagues with whom he is frustrated.  His grade level colleagues are pressuring him to meet with them every day, before school.  They want to plan out the way read alouds, that support the work the students are doing in Reading and Writing Worskhop, will be carried out in all of their classrooms across the grade level.  He told me his colleagues believe in being on the same page, in the same book,  at all times.  If that weren’t tricky enough, they are insisting they must stop the read alouds in same place to ask their students the same questions, do the same stop and jots, and the same turn and talks.

Once he finished telling me about his frustration I said, “That doesn’t sound like an effective use of planning time, nor does it sound like the work is in the spirit of the workshop model.”

“I know!” he replied looking relieved.

When I was a classroom teacher, I tended to over-plan my read alouds.  Most of the time the books I read were sprinkled with sticky notes (see silent slide show at the end of this post) of places where I wanted to make sure I would think aloud, have the students do some work (e.g., stop and jot, turn and talk), or where I’d point out the qualities of good writing.  Even though I did an abundance of pre-planning, I didn’t always act on all of the post-it notes I had inserted into the books I read since {a} I often found I had planned too many places to stop, which broke up the flow of the story, {b} I stopped in places where my students were reacting to the text, or {c} I came up with new ideas about the text I wanted to share with my students as I was reading on a given day.

Students across a grade level should walk away from school having learned the same concepts.  However, I’m worried about the kind of lockstep planning the teacher described to me the other day.  While collaborative planning sessions are worthwhile, spending hours mulling over a text each week in the name of teaching the exact same thing at the exact same time seems futile.  Effective planning happens when teachers collaborate to find different ways to meet the standards and teach their students in meaningful ways.  When collaborative planning turns into a time to just copy down what the other members of the “team” are doing, teaching becomes stagnant and robotic.

Prior to writing this post, I explained the situation this teacher was having with my mother-in-law, who is a literacy coach at an elementary school in Connecticut.  (I wanted to make sure I wasn’t completely off-base with my thinking.)  She shook her head as I told her about the lock-step planning that I had learned about earlier in the day.  To paraphrase, she said something like this: The point of workshop is to teach your kids what they need.  If everyone is doing the same thing across all of the classes on a grade level, then the teaching isn’t being responsive to the kids’ (i.e., the kids in each class’s) needs.

We don’t all have to use the same book to teach a concept to our students.  There isn’t one book out there to teach students how to write with voice.  There isn’t just one text in the world that will show students how to write well with figurative language.  There isn’t only one mentor text we can use to show students how to write a piece of short fiction.  The beauty of teaching is finding books we connect with and sharing them with our students.  As long as we are meeting grade-level standards, so all students walk away from school having learned what they’re supposed to learn, we should plan our instructional goals with our colleagues, but still keep our teaching our own so that it meets our students’ needs and fulfills us as educators.

Stacey Shubitz View All

Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.

9 thoughts on “Planning Read Alouds that Support the Workshop Model Leave a comment

  1. I think collaboration is wonderful and has taught me a lot. I like the idea of sharing great read alouds for writing workshop and for reading strategies. However, I agree that that having a rigid system of teaching is just ridiculous and takes out the students’ needs and the teacher’s creativity and strengths.

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  2. One of the great joys of teaching is getting to know your kids so that you can plan readalouds that work for them…I think that this is what you and your mother-in-law pointed out as well. Teachers who prefer the lockstep method seem to need to reassurance that they are “doing it right” – but that takes away from our individual creativity – another great joy in teaching. I think our grade levels should cover the same concepts, but leave it to the creativity and individualism of each teacher to seek the best format and pacing for their classroom.

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  3. I can understand this teacher’s frustration. That seems like a nightmare on many different levels. I would not even like to be told which book to read aloud, let along where to stop each day and where to pause… I like having the flexibility of matching a book that I think a particular class will like and that will match with whatever we are currently focusing on.

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  4. I completely and totally agree. In fact, I’d take it a step further. As someone who has taught high school, I find that each class is different. Although I may have three classes of ninth grade students, have the same objective for each class, and teach the same standard in each class that doesn’t mean I will, necessarily, teach each class in the same way.
    The lockstep concept doesn’t take into account the different students and different learning styles/personalities you may have in your classroom.
    Great points!

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  5. wow, powerful beginning.

    As i read this all I could do was yell, “THANK YOU!!!”

    Thank you for writing about this issue. It needs to be brought to light!!! I think this lockstep behavior is just good intentions gone bad.

    ….For me, using someone else’s post-its in a read aloud is like someone telling me when to sigh or have chill bumps… ya just can’t fake it.

    Thank you for affirming the angst that a lot of us feel!

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  6. I fully agree, i feel badly for the children that are being put through a more rigid system that doesn’t embrace teacher’s gifts, strengths and differences. I hope that this teacher read your response, thank you!

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