It was mid-September, and the Arkansas Association of Teacher Educators would soon be coming to the Ozarks campus for their fall conference.?Janie Chappell thought to herself, "We need some bulletin boards!"
Making the bulletin boards would be a quick, simple project for Dr. McManus’ "Developing Content Readers" class - or so Chappell thought. But when the students in the class - Laura Duffey, Tadera Garland, Katrina Mariswamy, Kelsey Mefford, Danessa Stewart, and Alison Villines - started working on the bulletin boards, they realized this was an opportunity to turn that simple project into something much more comprehensive.
While creating their "Readers’ Workshop for Dummies" bulletin board, the students in Dr. McManus’ class came up with the idea for their "Implementing a Reading Workshop" book.
"Alison came up with the idea that we make our bulletin board look like a ‘For Dummies’ book cover," Duffey said. "We decided that was a good idea and created a Readers’ Workshop for Dummies bulletin board." But Duffey said as they tried to decide exactly what to put on the bulletin board, they discovered that they had so much information that it simply wouldn’t all fit. "That’s why we decided to create our book," she said.
Their book, called "Implementing a Reading Workshop," is actually more like a how-to manual, with close to 100 pages. It contains lessons and strategies for teaching reading in pre-school through 4th grade and covers topics such as types of readers’ workshops and assessment methods, and includes sample handouts, as well as lists of suggested books in different genre for the various age groups.
McManus said that when the students realized just how much information they actually had, they asked if they could create this book as their final project for the "Developing Content Readers" class. He agreed. "I led them a little bit," he said, "but they developed the book almost entirely on their own. They chose what to include in the book and how to divide up the work - it really was a student-led activity. When they got done, they felt really good about it."
Each student developed a chapter for the book, drawing on what they had learned in the reading program they’ve studied as part of their education coursework. Mariswamy wrote the introduction; Duffey wrote a chapter on Readers’ Workshop Methods; Villines and Stewart wrote a chaper on Teacher-Led Activities; Mefford wrote a chapter on Sharing; and Garland wrote the final chapter, which covered Assessment Methods.
Garland said the project taught them all a great deal about how much work goes into researching a broad topic like readers’ workshops. "I also learned the importance of collaboration and how it can help when creating materials like our book for the classroom," she said.
McManus was impressed by the students’ work and asked them to share their results with fellow professionals at the Arkansas Reading Association Conference. As an affiliate of the International Reading Association, the Arkansas Reading Association is a professional organization of individuals, institutions, and councils dedicated to promoting reading and developing literacy. So on November 17, the students traveled to Little Rock with Dr. McManus and Ms. Chappell to present their work in a breakout session at the conference.
During the session, each student presented information about the section of the book she had worked on. The breakout session was attended by approximately 50 professional educators and according to Chappell the students’ work was very well received. After the presentation, the students opened the floor for questions and had the chance to talk with other teachers and exchange ideas. Chappell said the teachers who attended the session were very enthusiastic about the students’ work. She said, "One teacher came up to them afterwards and said ‘This is the best thing I’ve seen all day!’"
The students were very excited and encouraged by the reception they received at the conference. "The part of this project I enjoyed the most came after the presentation when my classmates and I had the opportunity to talk with other teachers," Stewart said. "We discussed methods and techniques they have found that work best when they do Readers’ Workshops in their classroom. I felt like I had learned a lot after hearing their ideas and personal experiences."
Villines agreed. "This project has provided me with invaluable experience," she said. "Aside from learning the ins and outs of a readers’ workshop, we were able to meet other professionals in the educational field and learn from their experiences."
For Mariswamy, who is earning a minor in education, the entire project has been very rewarding. "I’ve only had two education courses so I struggled some because I didn’t have as much knowledge about reading or education courses as the others did. But it was a great project and I enjoyed working with the rest of them. The conference was a good experience as I was able to present to other individuals that had an interest in teaching and improving readers."
McManus said he plans to have seven copies of the students’ book professionally bound. One copy will be placed in the Media Center and Curriculum Library in the education department, and each student will receive a copy of her own. "The project actually turned out really well," he said, "and I hope it is even more meaningful to the students because they can say ‘this is something I’m going to use.’ "
Kelsey Mefford, Katrina Mariswamy, Tadera Garland, Danessa Stewart, Laura Duffey, and Alison Villines presented a breakout session over their book "Implementing a Reading Workshop" at the ARA conference.