Lastly, there’s the question of how valuable the 30 different books for 30 different kids approach really is. I was trained in Readers Workshop and had to use it in my classroom. It wasn’t effective, or satisfying. It becomes almost impossible to have deep, rich conversations about books. You can’t possibly be familiar with every book every kid is reading, so you’re encouraged to ask questions that are not terribly deep or interesting: Can you describe the setting? Which character are you most like? Are there any questions you wish you could ask the author? It’s a kind of cookie-cutter, paint-by-numbers way to teach literature. If today’s mini-lesson is “Good readers pay attention to what characters say and do” (yes, we actually teach that to 5th graders) it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about War and Peace or Captain Underpants. At one level, that’s true. At another, it’s just plain silly.
You can easily say “not every child participates in those rich, whole-class discussions.” But not every child is engrossed in reading in the reader’s workshop either. A lot of them are just going through the motions.