It occurred to me recently as I was urging my dog on for a brisk, calorie-burning walk that she had no desire to burn any calories. Her purpose, utterly opposed to mine, was to meander along in a general forward direction, stopping whenever she felt like it to examine and savor a scent left behind by some creature. As I had this thought, I also realized that if I continued to pull her along, I would spoil a glorious morning by rushing through it. So I let Lucy wander along and sniff, pausing while she was rooting around in a particularly delectable odor. During these breaks in the action, so to speak, I began to think that what she was doing was exactly what I want my students to do: become so thoroughly engaged in the text that they lose sight of everything around them, that they focus on one word, one well-turned phrase, and examine it closely, as if peering through a kaleidoscope; turning it this way and that, looking for shifts in perspective and meaning.
Unfortunately, I often feel the same frustration in the classroom that I felt at the start of our walk. “Come on, we’ve got a lot to do, much to learn, let’s pick up the pace.” I’m embarrassed to think how many times I’ve said such things to my students. However, I’ve learned that this approach is just as counterproductive with students as it is with dogs.
So what to do?
The best solution, I think, is to strike a balance. Reading workshop provides the framework for exactly this kind of balance. Quick-paced mini-lessons to introduce or review strategies and skills that are followed by lots of time to practice. In order for this to work, I have to lay the groundwork and establish routines that provide the flexibility to keep a lively pace when appropriate and slow down when necessary. Without this structure, we would accomplish little. Like Lucy without her leash, we’d be off in a field, running around in circles, getting caught in brambles, or worse.
I want all of my students to approach reading with the same joy Lucy brings to our walks. By being part of a reading workshop, they will have an opportunity to develop the skills and vocabulary they’ll need when they encounter complex texts on their own. They’ll be able to read widely about topics that interest them. Most importantly, they’ll know when to stop and bask in the sunshine of a glorious spring morning.