Building Conscious Competence: Reading Our Students, Sharing Our Practice

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When I first began teaching middle school students in the early 1990s, it took at least three years and multiple readings of Nancie Atwell's (1987) In the Middle for me to finally muster the courage to change my classroom culture to one of a reading and writing workshop. Looking back on it now, I can see that it was not just fear that held me back, but also a lack of vision and collegiality. That is, I did not have access or opportunity or time to watch writing workshops conducted by other teachers, largely because I did not know anyone, other than Atwell and Linda Rief (1992), who were leading and organizing classrooms in this way. Once I took the leap, though, there was certainly tweaking and revising and reframing to do, but there was no turning back - because creating a classroom culture where reading and writing and talking about reading and writing allowed me to listen to and learn from my students. It is this listening to and learning from students that changed my conversations with my colleagues from one in which we had talked about what students could not do to a conversation about what students could do. Moreover, a reading and writing workshop provided my students and me with opportunities to talk about the choices we made when we read and wrote. We had to articulate our logic and reasoning, and articulating the thinking behind my pedagogical choices was something that my conversations with colleagues sorely lacked.

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