Friday, March 28, 2008

That Workshop Book by Samantha Bennett

I just discovered this new book about Reading/Writing Workshop. It is AMAZING! I would highly recommend it to anyone who has or wants to implement a solid reading and/or writing workshop.

Samantha Bennett is part of the PEBC out of Denver. She is an instructional coach for teachers in grades K-8. This book is brilliant and timely. Personally, I have been overwhelmed with professional book reading lately. I just can't keep up. So, I have been very careful about adding too many new professional books to my pile. This one is a must-have/must-read/must-keep-going-back-to kind of book. Bennett begins the book by reminding us why workshop works. She takes us back a bit to the groundbreaking work of Graves, Calkins and Atwell. She begins by reminding us that "workshop has been relegated to harsh time constraints, descriptions of activities to do in minilessons, or strict pacing guides that tell teachers how a workshop should unfold over a year...We have a problem with broad implementation with shallow understanding of the potential of what a classroom as a literal workshop means. The superficial orthodoxy around the procedures of workshop has distracted us from the core values of WHY workshop works."

She takes this issue on throughout the book--that the reason workshop works is in ritual, structure, student ownership, choice, etc. After her introductory chapter that reminds us what we seem to have lost in the workshop of today, she takes us into 6 classroom workshop and shows us why they work. There are definite key workshop elements to the workshops but there are also differences in the ways that teachers implement. Because she is a coach, Bennett is able to show us what works, why it works and to point out places for reflection. There are places in each chapter where both Bennett and the classroom teacher reflect and we are able to benefit
from being part of that reflection.

Surprisingly, this is an easy read. She takes us back to important thinking in a way that has a humor that is quite engaging. It is smart. It is important. Not only do you rethink your workshop, but there are also lots of ideas embedded in each classroom "visit". The book is a great combination of reflection, information, and things you can try tomorrow. The key though, is in remembering that workshop is not about one lesson or a daily routine. It is so much more than that when it works well.

I have to say that this is the BEST cover I have ever seen on a professional book. It is creatively done and calls you to read it. On opening the cover, you find that the art teacher at Bennett's school, Ann Loring, did the illustration on the cover and those throughout the book. The book is brilliantly done. The design and touches throughout the book are quite fun and creative for a professional book. You really feel like you know the writer and the teachers well because of it. A fun, engaging design.

Throughout the book, Bennett has created a "Teaching Fairy"--a little character who points things out about the classrooms we visit. Now, if you know me, I hate gimmicky things so I would tend to not like things like this. But in this book, the Teaching Fairy works well. It is nice to think that as teachers in schools these days, there is a little fairy helping us to the hard work we do. Because Bennett and the illustrator (Ann Loring) handle this with humor and fun, it totally works!

I can see this book being critical in staff development. So much to talk and think about. And since the examples span grades 1-8, there is something for teachers at all levels. The first chapter is one that would be good to revisit as a staff or in a workshop-getting back to the stuff of the workshop. I loved reading it on my own (although I found myself calling friends to read lines that I thought were brilliant!) and I am looking forward to talking to others about it soon!


  1. So, I haven't been on the computer for the last 8 days, and then I check in on you guys, and read about this book that sounds fabulous! So much for a slow re-entry back into my teaching life! I can't wait to read it -- thaks so much for the glowing rec -- I know I'll love it!

  2. I just finished TWB and it was fantastic. Thanks for the recommendation!


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