Monday, July 30, 2012

Back to School 2012-2013 Social Studies Workshop

Are you getting ready for the 2012-2013 school year? This year, I am embarking on the journey of trying to implement a social studies workshop into my classroom instruction. This summer, I spent a few days in a workshop provided by my district. One of the big ideas was looking at the workshop model across the curriculum and to consider how this might help us meet our common core standards during other parts of the day while also (quite possibly) deepening our instruction in those content areas.

How do you define a workshop model? In its simplest form, a workshop model includes a minilesson (where the "expert" is offering some advice or tip), work time (where students are working independently, in partners, and often times with the teacher), and a debriefing (where you discuss what was learned--whole group or with a partner, questions that still remain, or you highlight the work that was done during work time that might benefit other students).

At our school, most of us teach social studies for 1/2 of the nine weeks and science for the other 1/2. We also integrate social studies and science topics into our reading and writing instruction throughout the year.

As I thought about implementing a social studies workshop, I had a few aha! moments and rationales I had to formulate. 

1. A workshop model fits perfectly with the other routines/ideas I worked on for social studies this summer--Student Timeline Notebooks and the Social Studies Big Idea Bulletin Board. I can use timeline activities to introduce the time period, as one of my stations, and as something students work on if they finish their "work time" station. The Bulletin Board (and student summary sheet) can be one of the ways I debrief and help students tie everything together.

2. A workshop model can be thought about vertically and horizontally as I plan (vertically meaning the 45 minutes I have for social studies that day--minilesson, worktime, debrief). Horizontally, I can move my social studies workshop week through "introduction (Mon), working in stations (Tues-Thurs), and reflection (Fri)"--doesn't this sound a lot like "minilesson, work time, debrief"?

3. Workshop Model does not have to mean stations AND using stations does not mean I have to do so every day. One thing that might hold a teacher back from using the workshop model is not wanting to give up whole group instruction time completely or that there are many things we can do in social studies in whole group and with partners that take more than  the 5-10 minutes you have for minilesson.

It might help explain what I'm thinking by looking at the planning template I designed for our social studies workshop: 
Although I did not list a debrief on Tues, Wed, and Thurs, I will have a debrief on each of those days. It might simply be "Who's a new person you learned about today?" "What's a new event you learned about today and why was it important?" I plan for my minilessons to take 5-7 min, work time to be 30 min, and the debrief to be 5 min.

4. HOLD UP! Why am I going to put myself through doing all of this work? This was one of the questions I had to find a good answer to before I was completely sold on a Social Studies Workshop. Why should I would put the energy into setting up this structure, teaching students the routines, and breaking social studies down to the point where I might actually be planning more for it? With this question, what you really have to consider is the role of the teacher. What will you (I) be doing while students are in "work time?" How will my expertise as the teacher be utilized? Well, this is an opportunity for me to provide more small group instruction. Consider this an extra literacy block. We might be studying fiction during reading, but in social studies workshop small group time, I can teach students how to read nonfiction, find the main idea, use text features, consider the author's perspective, read historical fiction, analyze primary documents, read for fluency, break words apart, determine the meaning of unknown vocabulary, etc. If I am using some form of stations, my big question is WHY? Why do  I want to have students doing different things if they are all going to end up doing the same things in the end? I as the teacher have to have a purpose for why I am doing this. I think being able to increase my small group literacy instruction is the PERFECT reason for structuring a social studies workshop.

5. Another way I answered the "why" question was to think about how whole group instruction in social studies typically goes. Let's say we are going to read and discuss a section of the social studies book (I don't do this a lot, but sometimes it makes perfect sense). Okay, 8-12 of my readers are ready to discuss at the same time, 3-4 of my readers won't be ready until the end of our social studies block leaving no time to discuss, and a few of my students may not really be able to understand the text. What are the students who are finished doing? "Just hold tight...soon everyone will be finished and we'll talk about it. You can look at other parts of the lesson or read farther if you want." They may wait to the point where we have to discuss what we read the following day. Hmmm. not what I planned and one of the reasons why we won't get through all of my plans. (I just want to add a side-note here that of course I am scaffolding my readers and trying to help them with the text during this time).

So, here's the conviction that I came to. I have students who CAN LEARN MORE. I have students who need things BROKEN DOWN MORE. Given 12 events related to the Revolutionary War, I will have students who can learn about 20, I have students who can successfully learn about the 12, and I have some who may only be able to complete 3. It's not fair to hold the students who can learn more back for the sake of moving everyone along at the same pace through my whole group instruction. This is what we do when we consider ourselves the main source of information (I'm guilty of this for sure). A workshop model with independent work time where students can work at their own pace is a perfect solution to this---differentiation at its best. And, since everyone is doing "different things," I can really modify that task for my kids who need it and no one will notice.

Lastly, how do we fill in the holes for students who are moving at a slower pace? Mini-lesson and debrief times are opportunities to pull everything together. Students will hear about different events from one another and will still meet the overall goal of having a working understanding of the time period. The small group/guided reading time for these students will also pull the time period together and allow me to build more background knowledge for them. When reading, they will be able to connect to what they have learned in the stations, minilesosns, and debriefs to the text. Friday, share day, will also provide them the opportunity to learn from what other students have learned.

I hope I have your social studies wheels spinning. What do you think about the workshop model in social studies? (Maybe it sounds so simple, but it was definitely a structural shift in thinking for me).

Most importantly, I don't think it is going to ADD to my planning too much at all. I actually think it is going to simplify my planning, especially with the gorgeous planning template I made that helps me remember the components I need to plan for.

In my next post, I'll walk you through my planning process.


  1. Thank you for the great blog. I am putting social studies workshop into place this coming school year and am ver excited.

  2. How is this going? Are you still using the workshop model in social studies? I will eventually read deeper into your blog but just stumbled upon this post tonight as I am wanting to move toward a workshop model in social studies next year.



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