Somedays I get so caught up in my teaching that I forget something important: I'm not the only teacher in the room. No, I'm not talking about Nicole, my trusted Resource teacher without whom I just wouldn't make it. I'm talking about the other 20 readers and writers in the room who all have thoughts to share and tips to offer. That's why I've found partnerships to be such an essential component of my workshops.
There's absolutely no way I can get around to every reader and writer, even with the best of intentions following a two week cycle. With partners, however, I can be sure that every reader and writer gets some attention each day. By listening in to their talk whether it is during a turn and talk for a read aloud or at the end of an independent writing session, I can quickly gauge where my students are at individually and collectively, and I can adjust my teaching accordingly.
Teachable Moments that Matter
Of course good partnerships don't just happen naturally. Based on what I'm noticing from my partnerships, I can teach lessons such as how to ask for speciﬁc feedback, how to give constructive feedback, and how to keep a conversation going. Over time, my students will learn to do these skills naturally and carry them into their other classes.
Not only do partners beneﬁt from the talk about reading and writing, they also learn how important it is to advocate for themselves and to honor what others do for them. Before I have students think about who they want as a partner, I have them write down what kind of reader and writer they are, and what they are looking for in a partner. Instantly, their thinking changes from, "I want to work with _______," to "I need a partner who will help me with __________." During this lesson, I then have students get up and "interview" possible partners.
Another idea I picked up at a workshop is to have partners thank each other at the end of a partnership cycle. By making a bookmark, writing a note, or ﬁnding a quote or poem as a "thank you", partners honor their time together and the contributions they make to each other. As a result, relationships grow stronger, and whole community becomes closer.
When certain partnerships work, I've found that they'll do anything to keep the partnership together. And if they are thriving as readers and writers, why not? I don't make it easy for them though. I tell them to persuade me (with specific examples) why they should stay as a team. Nine times out of ten, they do.
Holding Each Other Accountable
An added beneﬁt to having partnerships is that I'm not the only one holding my readers and writers accountable. They now have to answer to their partners. This certainly comes to play when you have partnerships read multiple copies of the same book. In Matt's class, he recently booktalked some titles for the character unit, and partners will decide on a title and set a reading calendar. Together, they will work through the text, trying out some of the strategies that Matt will demonstrate in his read aloud.
The Possibility of Triads
When we think of partnerships we often think of twos, but a variation of this is the triad. Erin and Scott T. like triads because there is still a partnership intact when students are absent. I also like triads for my special needs students as they are given an instant model of how other students work together and think as readers and writers.
When I began using partnerships, I didn't have all the answers. I just jumped in and ﬁgured things out as they came. But boy, am I glad I did. The thing is, I'm still grappling with questions like:
- How often should I change partners?
- What should I do if a partnership isn't work?
- Should I make partnerships of students with the same or mixed ability?
Maybe I'll never figure partnerships out totally, but one thing is for sure, partnerships are a powerful addition to my workshops.