Parallel Frameworks: How Readers and Writers Workshops Work Side by Side

Parallel Frameworks: How Readers and Writers Workshops Work Side by Side

Literacy Specialist – Many teachers in Rocky View Schools have started to explore the benefits of incorporating the Lucy Calkins Units of Study in Writing and the Units of Study in Reading to elevate, enhance and engage students in their writing. These Units of Study were developed through the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, from the Teachers College at Columbia University. This process approach to literacy instruction introduces carefully scaffolded skills and strategies, through sequenced mini lessons, to support students in developing and sharing their written ideas, and in accessing new information. Through the Gradual Release of Responsibility, skills and strategies are introduced and modeled for students using mentor texts and expert thinking strategies. Teachers can serve as the in-house experts to model how mature readers and writers think. Using these examples, teachers can identify and support students as they begin to transfer effective writing techniques, styles and devices from the pros into their own writing; therefore, enhancing and elevating student writing. While the Units of Study in Reading and Writing focus on building student independence through the gradual release of responsibility, there are many parallel structures that help students to learn important literacy skills. These structures include the cycle of workshop, the four part mini lesson, and the structures for conferring with students.

The Gradual Release of Responsibility plays an important role in the development of literacy skills and behaviours. The structure of “I do, we do, you do” promotes the introduction of new concepts through modelled thinking and learning strategies, then guided practice, with intentional time for independent consolidation and practice of literacy skills. This structure allows for teachers to work with small groups, or individual students, while students work independently, and facilitates differentiation of instruction. The level of student independence required to optimize this model takes time. To build independence and stamina with students, intentional focus can be given to routines and environmental structures, like anchor charts and stamina graphs.

As they move through the cycles of Readers and Writers Workshop, students focus on developing the strategies and skills that will elevate the confidence and independence with which the are able to access and communicate ideas. Elements of choice, whether students are reading or writing, are important for student engagement within the workshop. Sessions are scaffolded in such ways that allow for students to connect their reading and writing to personal experiences and expertise. While there is an obvious difference between the two Workshops in terms of instructional content, (ie. reading-based instruction vs. writing-based instruction), many elements remain consistent. “If you have taught within a writing workshop structure, the reading workshop structure will be very familiar to you… the structure upholds the tenets we all know are necessary to teach children to read (and write)” (Calkins, 2015, p.27). The cycle of workshop begins with a quick mini lesson, consisting of four parts. This is an opportunity for teachers to explicitly introduce and model new writing or reading strategies. The four part mini lesson is only meant to span about 10 minutes, and is broken down into the following components:

  • Connection: Connecting to prior teaching and learning.
  • Teaching: Introduction and modelling of strategies through teaching.
  • Active Engagement: Active consolidation with classmates before independent practice.
  • Link: Connect back to teaching point. This sets students up to leave with a plan for the independent component of workshop.

After the mini lesson, students move to the independent reading or writing stage in their cycle of workshop.

The independent phase of the Cycle of Workshop is important for students to consolidate, practice and build confidence with skills and strategies that are introduced through mini-lessons and small group work. Students need this time in order to grow independence in using and transferring new strategies to support them in accessing and communicating their ideas.

To ensure successful and productive student work during this time, teachers can intentionally introduce and model expectations for independence. By taking time to build routines for sustaining stamina for both reading and writing, teachers ensure that they have time to confer with students, and host small guided sessions with students, to focus on differentiated needs. Class discussions and modelling of behaviors to support independence, and setting and keeping track of goals as a class can support successful stamina building.

While students work independently, there are many flexible opportunities for teachers to support students with their writing. During this time, teachers are able to gather formative assessment data, and provide feedback to students. By conferring with small guided reading and writing groups, targeted strategy groups, and individual groups of students, students and teachers set goals, and identify strategies to elevate student reading and writing.

After students have had an opportunity to read or write independently, and to practice learned strategies, it is important for them to share their growth with others in partnerships and then as a whole class. Together, partners share and show how they have incorporated strategies into their ongoing reading and writing practices to enhance their communication. After partners share with one another, the whole class comes together once more for the Teaching Share, bringing the Cycle of Workshop to a close. Here, the class celebrates together how students are making use of the focus strategies and skills introduced at the beginning of the cycle, or perhaps from a past day’s mini-lesson. In both Readers and Writers Workshop, this is an important component of the cycle, as it will be the connection point, or base of reference, for the next day’s mini-lesson.

The parallel Cycles of Readers and Writers Workshop offer support for teachers to explicitly model and introduce strategies, in a scaffolded fashion, and then to work with students to support their differentiated needs. To ensure that reading and writing instruction occurs as part of a Comprehensive Balanced Literacy diet, the instruction within the Cycles of Workshop is specific and targeted to diversify student learning, and to maximize student literacy growth.

Literacy Assessment for Learning

Literacy Assessment for Learning

Literacy Specialist – In order to understand students as readers, it is important for teachers to collect information data about their reading and plan from there. In the first weeks of school, this can be a bit daunting; however, it is also a valuable opportunity to get to know students as individuals and to start building relationships.

Being able to make the most of this valuable time with students requires the rest of the class to work independently. This would allow teachers time to meet with students and gather information about student reading. The beginning of the year is a great time for teachers to work with students to establish routines and expectations. Together, they illustrate and practice strategies for independence to incrementally build stamina around sustaining classroom routines. Over time, students are able to work with increasing independence, providing teachers with the time they need to gather information about the readers in their class to drive student instruction.

To build independence, students and teachers need to clearly establish and practice routines and expectations for the literacy block. It is important to take time to illustrate what following the expectations does and does not look like, and to outline the roles of all class members. Co-created class anchor charts are a great way to remind students of agreed upon expectations and routines. Other classroom structures directly support student independence in the literacy block, including student specific book boxes, environmental print, and readily available materials for reading and writing.

Taking time to embed formative assessment opportunities in classroom practice helps teachers to determine the next steps for instruction. The data gathered through assessment can help to inform the focus of whole group instruction, as well as small, more guided activities like Guided Reading, one-on-one conferences and targeted strategy groups.

Over time, ongoing formative assessment becomes a running track record of student reading growth, which translates into anecdotal data for sharing with parents and students through online student portfolios and report cards. The RVS Literacy Profile is a great place to record and collect this data. Teachers can use the RVS Assessments for ongoing formative assessment to understand the needs of their students, rather than periodically taking chunks of time away from instruction to assess readers for report cards. Using this data, teachers are then able to plan their whole group and small group instruction to target specific areas of need as indicated by students.

The RVS Literacy team is working on an assessment package for schools to distribute later this month. All of the RVS tools for assessment can be found on the RVS Literacy website, including the RVS Running Record and RVS Comprehension Assessment forms, and grade level correlation chart. To speak with our team about how you can begin using this tool to gather formative data in your own classroom, please contact us!


Building a Rich Literacy Culture in Your School Community and Classroom

Building a Rich Literacy Culture in Your School Community and Classroom

Literacy Specialist – The research is very clear about the rewards of motivating kids to read, to think deeply, to talk about what they have read and to find something new. After all, practice makes perfect so that means read, read and read.

The only way we will see our students’ reading improve is to provide them with literacy-rich environments where they have access to copious numbers of books; they are surrounded by adults and peers who model strong reading behaviours; they are provided opportunities to question, wonder, make connections and have authentic conversations about what they have read with the people in their lives; and they are taught to read for joy, pleasure and purpose. Literacy researchers such as Allington, Calkins and others tell us that if we provide these environments, students will do better in school, achieve higher results and most importantly become successful, lifelong learners.

But motivating students to do what is good for them can sometimes be a challenge. Here are some suggestions to cultivate a culture of reading in our schools and classrooms:

  • Have students help to curate classroom libraries. Let them categorize, group and organize your library and in turn provide them with ownership over the collection. Use student librarians to help keep classroom libraries in order, organized and returned.
  • Create Personal Reading histories about books that matter and that have had a significant influence in their lives.
  • Organize book talks about summer readings or organize monthly discussions.
  • Show that you are a reader: create teacher book clubs, write your own book reviews, facilitate student/teacher breakfast book clubs and encourage parent/student book clubs.
  • Create a “buzz” around book selections by reading snippets of books that are funny, serious, sad, dramatic, strange or mysterious. Kids and adults love to be read to. There is a book for everyone; helping students find it is the key.
  • Host a book tasting or speed dating with text.
  • Create a Battle of the Books team to compete in the RVS Battle of the Books competition on Feb 15.
  • Use QR codes and Image Mapping AR apps like Aurasma to make reading and vocabulary activities come to life.
  • Have authentic conversations about reading with students and encourage them to have them with one another. This is a way to explore the deeper aspects of reading comprehension with readers.
  • Meet with students in different contexts (one-on-one, guided groups, small targeted strategy groups, partnerships) to target and support their growth in reading, introduce strategies, and to set goals.
  • Become a book champion! Share what makes books great and why students need to read them!
  • Invite the support of community members and organizations through Rocky View Reads partnerships.
  • Incorporate podcasts that can hook reluctant readers while boosting critical thinking and comprehension.
  • Vocabulary Parade: Students and staff dress up to illustrate vocabulary words in interesting ways (think of a roving cardboard rowboat full of sailors for the word nautical).

So, as the school year begins, let’s all roll up our sleeves and work together to create literacy-rich environments that will open our students’ worlds to new vocabulary, new ways of thinking, new perspectives and new understandings. Let’s continue to build a culture of reading in Rocky View so that our students can reap the rewards of a literate life. For more ideas and information check us out at

Listening Tails

Listening Tails

Child Development Advisor – Chestermere Therapy Dogs Society (CTDS) was created in 2014 from the heart and vision of an amazing individual, Steven King. He believes that animals, particularly dogs, can add tremendous value to our lives. From this vision, several programs have been developed. The one I would love to introduce you to is Listening Tails!

The Listening Tails program is designed to help children improve their reading skills and confidence by reading out loud to a therapy dog. Each student will read for 15 minutes once a week for six weeks. Prairie Waters Elementary School is so blessed to have two dogs (Shadow and Atlas) and two handlers (Tanya and Sheldon) once a week for an hour and a half. This allows for 10 students each week to participate in the program.

Listening Tails has been running strong at Prairie Waters Elementary School since the Spring of 2015. We have been lucky enough to provide this opportunity to approximately 75 students. The program’s success stems from the fact that dogs love the attention they receive when children read to them. Another key to the success of this program is that dogs are non-judgemental listeners. There isn’t an adult looking over their shoulders correcting them, and no added pressure of an audience of people.

Steven King quotes that “being a volunteer-driven organization, nothing could have happened without the dedication and commitment of the volunteers in Chestermere and surrounding areas who, from day one, have embraced the idea of help through therapy dogs. As an organization, CTDS understands that the dogs are the centre of attention, but nothing happens without the loving care of their dog handlers who give selflessly of themselves each time they attach the CTDS bandana around their dog’s neck.”

Our students absolutely love being chosen to participate in Listening Tails; choosing which child gets to have a coveted spot on the list is one of the hardest decisions to make. Every student who has participated in this program has nothing but positive things to say. Many students ask to partake regardless if they are an emerging reader. The connection our students feel towards the dog is magical.

Our school is a happier place when Shadow and Atlas are here. The dogs bring a positivity to the hallways that is difficult to describe. Prairie Waters is thrilled to have the Listening Tails program at our school and is so appreciative of the dedication and commitment that Tanya and Sheldon have for bringing the dogs once a week from September to June.

The Listening Tails program is truly a win-win situation. The students love the time they spend with the dog, the dog loves the one-on-one attention they receive from the student, and the handlers leave our school feeling they have made a difference in the lives of a child. If you have any questions about this program, please do not hesitate to contact me or visit the Chestermere Therapy Dogs Society website.

PISA Day 2016

PISA Day 2016

Superintendent of Schools – Today the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released the results of the 2015 administration of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). PISA is a two-hour standardized test that attempts to assess the competencies of 15-year-olds in reading, mathematics, and science. It is administered in 70+ countries / regions. This version of the assessment focused mostly on science but also measure literacy and mathematics as well.

PISA is not without controversy. Canada and Alberta traditionally has done quite well on the tests and these results are often cited by jurisdictions around the world where results are strong. It is often one of the measurements used to compare provinces and countries. In Alberta, the government states that “Alberta participates in international studies of achievement, along with other provinces and countries. These include: Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).”

Recently the Alberta Teacher Association voted to urge the Minister of Education to withdraw participation in PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS. Here is some background on the issue as described by the ATA:

“The PISA ideology accepts that economic imperatives, growth and competitiveness are the primary aims of schooling, and assures that student achievement in math and science are used as the key indicators of the future economic health for a region or society. It fails to recognize that the role of education is much broader and includes (among a host of other responsibilities) the nurturing of social cohesion in rapidly changing complex societies, passing on our diverse cultural heritage and the promotion of civic engagement and citizenship.

The real issues affecting society at this historical moment are the rise of societal inequalities, the need for greater social cohesion among polarized perspectives, and the collective actions necessary to combat climate change and its impact on local and global economies.”

Canadian students are doing well on these international measures. We remain a very high performing system across the globe. Alberta continues to be a strong performer and the results demonstrate there is no need to panic. In science, Alberta (if it was its own country) would be the 2nd highest performing jurisdiction in the world. Our reading and math results are strong too. Reading remains very high overall and our math results continue to tell the story that we have work to do in that area. In science, overall, performance for girls and boys were equal which is good. In reading girls outperformed boys and in math the boys outperformed girls.

We need to empower and support our classroom teachers continue to provide effective classroom practice to improve overall student achievement, including aspects that are never tested on tests like PISA, PIRLS or TIMMS. Yes, literacy and numeracy and science are important but so are the arts, wellness, social studies, along with competencies such as critical thinking, problem solving, communication, citizenship, wide variety of literacies, etc. Truth be told, I’ve never hired anyone based on their PISA score, grade point average, or IQ test.

A number of countries have made PISA results the end-all and be-all. Students are subjected to repeated test preparation sessions and “drill and practice” to try and move up or maintain PISA results. In the end, is that the type of schooling we want for our leaners? I say “no”. We need our youth to be able to learn throughout their life and take on challenges that do not even exist today. They need a strong foundation of literacy and numeracy skills but it needs to extend well beyond just that.

In my humble opinion – our professional teachers, who know our students best, are in the best position to assess the achievement of students and support them on their own learning journey. Observations, reflections and classroom based assessments really tell the story. When we make learning real, engaging and visible it answers the questions about the effectiveness of our classrooms.

For more about the Canadian results see –


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