Taking Literacy Beyond the Workshop

Children are curious by nature. They see the world in small details and a vast whole simultaneously. They ask questions without one right answer and see wonder in everyday things. When cultivated, they love reading, see themselves as writers and develop deep mathematical reasoning. This leaves me with space to wonder.  How do we utilize the classroom community as a catalyst for curriculum and instruction?  Conversely, what instructional strategies promote a holistic and empowering classroom community for learners while reaching curricular goals?

As I push myself to see my teaching, their learning, in the context of the real world, I struggle to see the permanent confines of subjects.  When we talk of being college and career ready, how does isolation of learning support this?  To clarify, I am not calling for an end to subjects, nor do I believe that all learning should be intermingled with other content.  I am a firm believer that reading and writing instruction, especially in the early years, requires deep content knowledge and strategies to apply literacy skills. However, it is unfair to assume students operate in compartmentalize subject areas best.  Just because it is easy for educators to think of the skills of reading, writing and math as separate entities children do not necessarily see them as such. Some students require application of skills in holistic ways to make meaning.

In the search to bring curriculum and students closer together I discovered Phenomenon Based Learning.  This is an approach based in Finland where educators cycle through an interdisciplinary unit of study for several weeks centered around one, real-world phenomenon or event. This inquiry, project based work sounds like one big, multi-lesson, multi-content area, multi-day workshop where children have space to apply, question, develop and produce meaningful work. So I’m planning a unit for my students to wonder, question, apply and create solutions to book deserts in our community later this year incorporating multiple subject areas and service learning. 

When I shared this idea with a colleague her first response was surprise that I would give up precious readers and writers workshop time. Her second response was “Oh, I get it. It will be like one cohesive learning workshop.”

Is it possible to suspend our focused, explicit content area instruction temporarily to create spaces for students to exist within highly contextual learning to  observe, question, dream, create and preform for something bigger then themselves? I am hopeful.