Bennett, S. (2007). That workshop book: New systems and structures for classrooms that read, write, and think. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Author: Bennett, Samantha



Every once in a while, a writer comes along and makes us consider things in a totally new way. Every once in a while we get the chance to read something that speaks so directly to us it feels validating and inspiring, all at once. Bennett's That Workshop Book is a once in a while read for teachers and literacy coaches. Passion just might be contagious: Every page exudes Bennett's passion for teaching and learning; every page nudges readers to consider, think, reflect, explore, tweak, risk. Bennett put as much attention into the layout of her book as into the content, and thus created a tool that is accessible and easy to navigate, provoking, thoughtful, and at times funny, but that constantly nudges readers to consider their practices. The book becomes coach-on-paper.

Bennett's book is filled with stories of classrooms that use workshop. Bennett observed these classrooms as an instructional coach. She introduces each classroom by sharing the letter she emailed to the teacher about what she observed. In this way, each story becomes more real and personal to the reader. Each story is different. Each story implements workshop differently-providing critical insight into how flexible workshop can be. Each story shows students doing the work of learning, and teachers listening to teach. The stories range from first to eighth grade, and include language arts, science, and social studies topics. They provide honest, real, often chaotic and messy, reflective, and fun glimpses into how workshop fills classrooms with the work of learning. Jumping into each story, when needed, is the Teaching Fairy who becomes a coach for the reader: She is a witty, clever character that helps label what is happening in the story; she makes the connections between vignette and content, and raises the critical points a literacy coach might raise.

Teaching as listening versus teaching as talking. This perspective on what teachers must do-listen to teach-is the cornerstone for Bennett's book. Listening is how teachers know what their students know and are able to do. Listening is how teachers decide what to do tomorrow to help their students continue to learn. Listening is how we move the focus of the classroom from what teacher say to what students do. Workshop-in structure, routine, ritual and system-is how teachers listen. Working from the core belief that “writing is thinking," Bennett clarifies that workshop is where students do the work of learning, and contends that it is a structure, a routine, a ritual, and a system for the classroom. She elaborates upon each of these elements of workshop in the first chapter of the book. “Workshop is a way to structure class time that gives students the bulk of time to do the work of learning" (p. 8), explains the author. Describing routine, Bennett says, “As a routine, the workshop is the regular order of events in classrooms where students are doing the work" (p. 12) and elaborates, “if students know that every day, without fail, they will be expected to read, write, and talk to make meaning of the world around them, they are more likely to take to the risk to attend to making meaning" (p. 13). The author's passion shines again as she explains workshop as ritual: “If each day, a teacher focuses on students making meaning of important content-meaning that is inspired by the content of the minilesson, listened to during the worktime, and then labeled and celebrated in the debrief-then student thinking sits at the heart of each minute in the school day" (p. 14). Workshop is a system “because it must be all three parts-minilesson, worktime, debrief-orchestrated with purposeful reasons in a purposeful manner in order to serve a common purpose" (p. 14). Bennett contends that workshop is not a strict model that teachers drive; it is where students do the work of learning.

This book does not belong on teachers' and literacy coaches' shelves; it belongs on their desks, ready to clarify, remind, inspire, and nudge.

Date Added: 11/14/2007


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