Using the Workshop Model to Foster Independence

This widely used lesson framework is an excellent way to keep remote teaching simple while also encouraging students to be self-sufficient.

Teachers from all over the country agree that preparing for distance education takes more time than preparing for in-person learning sessions. It hasn’t in this case. Based on the workshop model, it is possible to make relatively simple modifications to pedagogy. This will reduce the amount of work required and will assist you in making preparations for distance education.

A workshop model is an instructional method that consists of three parts: an introduction, a mini-lesson (or workshop), and a debrief. This model is frequently used in Lucy Calkins’ Reading and Writing Workshop, which she founded. The goal of the model, which is to assist students in reading and writing independently, is universally recognized.


During the mini-lesson, teachers demonstrate a skill or strategy. A mini-lesson that is concise and effective does not have to include direct instruction to be considered effective. Depending on the lesson, direct instruction may be required. I recommend that you choose mini-lessons that are open-ended in nature. In this section, students will learn flexible strategies and thinking routines that they may apply during individual or group activities as well as independent work or small-group sessions.

During the workshop portion of the course, students can work in small groups or on their own. Small-group learning is essential for distance learning, so we must make space for it. The opportunity for socialization and personalized feedback is provided to students as a result of this practice. Small-group learning also makes it easier for students to engage in learning conversations with one another. Distance learning presents its own set of difficulties. Students will spend countless hours staring at their screens and listening to lectures in large group settings. Students’ self-reliance is developed through independent work, which reduces their time spent passively watching television.

The final section of the workshop model requires students to come back together as a group to reflect or debrief. Furthermore, students may share their work in small groups, as well as their independent work, and they may also share their successes and challenges. Students would occasionally fill out a Google form to tell me what they thought worked and what they thought didn’t work during that day’s lesson. My students needed to be aware of the fact that I was also learning how to teach via the internet. Their feedback would be extremely beneficial in assisting me in improving my teaching.


The author Zaretta Hammond, in her book Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, encourages teachers to instill independence in their students. She believes that a disproportionate number of pedagogies designed to assist marginalized students, particularly students of color, encourage dependent learning, which is detrimental to equity and student independence. It is possible to teach student autonomy through the workshop model, which can be used as an input to educational equality and student liberation.

This will necessitate more than just a shift in instructional methods. Teachers must reposition themselves in their classrooms so that they are seen as teachers rather than lecturers. The author Aimee’s “lift-a-line” strategy from Notebook Knowledge-How: Strategies to the Writer’s Notebook could be used to model a revising strategy in a writing workshop setting. Students identify lines in their writing that allow them to go into greater depth about a subject. Then I demonstrate how I might use these words in my writing by creating lists of words to assist me in recalling the information I’ve just learned.

One day, I read aloud the line “The three pandas danced through the forest” and asked students to fill in the blanks with their own stories. This served as a gentle reminder to them to engage all of their senses. This was the first fifteen minutes of a block that lasted an hour and fifteen minutes. The following 40 minutes were spent collaborating with small groups through the use of Google Hangouts. Last but not least, we concluded with a five-minute discussion of the writing workshop block.

So that they would be held accountable, I requested that students upload photos of their work to Seesaw every day to demonstrate that they had completed a project. As a result, I was able to assess the effectiveness of my small group instruction and prioritize the students I wanted to work with the following day.


In April and May, I pondered whether outdated teaching methods were one of the reasons why distance education was so difficult and unsustainable for many teachers. The in-person facilitation of rote memorization and worksheet-driven pedagogies proved to be challenging. The facilitation of distance learning is even more difficult in these cases. These pedagogical approaches were likely ineffective in the first place. To ensure that every student succeeds, they encourage teachers to hover over their students and micromanage every decision in an attempt to ensure success at all times.

We are all aware that this is not an example of effective teaching. The goal of teaching is to assist students in learning how to learn, to provide them with the tools they need to be self-sufficient, and to humanize learning by putting the students’ humanity first. Ironically, it appears that we should always be able to teach from a reasonably close distance to our students. Whether we are teaching in person or online, we should be close enough to our students to assist them in developing their independence while not being too far away that they require assistance. I believe that the workshop model is an effective way to educate students from a safe distance while also encouraging them to become more self-sufficient. Because it eliminates the need to micromanage 20 students, this model has the potential to make teaching more sustainable.

We can transform our pedagogy by taking advantage of distance learning as an opportunity for creativity and experimentation. To learn more about the workshop model in distance learning, you can check out my book on the subject.

Humanizing Distance Learning.