The Future of Reading:
I haven’t been in an elementary school for the first week of school in eight years; I had forgotten what a magical time of year it is to be there! My first week of school for the past eight years has been in an intermediate school-grades four through six. I, of course, love the first week of school no matter where I am located, but there is just something indescribable about the aura younger children walk into to school with. Wide-eyed, ready to love anyone who is kind to them, elementary students radiate what schools should try to be all about-excitement over whatever lies just up ahead….
I advised a friend recently, when she worried about sending her youngest off to school next year-how hard that first day alone would be for her, to ask the principal to be a greeter at the school her oldest attend. Standing in a school hallway that first day (not having to worry about your first lesson or the growing pile of paperwork demanding attention on your desk), directing students the right way to a classroom, assisting a new student nervously trying to negotiate the building, is guaranteed to snap anyone (maybe not the Grinch, pre-Cindy Loo Who) into a happy place. Even if no student needs help, I know that just greeting familiar student faces after a summer away, is a happy thing.
We are trying to continue to grow our writing instruction and ourselves as teachers of writers. I know from personal experience, how nerve-wracking it can be for a teacher to jump with both feet into something new. While I think Lucy Calkins is absolutely brilliant, I believe the Units of Study for Teaching Writing books are a little hard to read and then process what they would look in your classroom. I still use them, recommend them, buy them, but I want to share a couple things I have learned about “using” them over the past years.
Let me tell you how it went for me the first time I tried one of the lessons from Units of Study for Teaching Writing, grades 3-6.
I read the lesson, and re-read the lesson and decided a little note card would help me remember all the key points I wanted to make sure I hit. After all, the first lesson in the book does span more than ten pages.
I did the connection. I told them what I was going to teach them. I demonstrated using my writing on chart paper what I wanted them to do.
I kept demonstrating.
My mini-lesson stretched out to 25 minutes. Realizing that I was out of time, I skipped the active engagement section, and sent them off to write.
For about six minutes.
I congratulated myself mentally on getting through the mini-lesson during those six minutes and got myself ready for the share portion of the lesson. I skipped the conferring part of the lesson.
I called them back to the gathering area and congratulated them on the work they had done as writers. Then I proceed to do a share-
letting every child share one thing (the only way I knew how to do a share) while watching the clock tick by for my read-aloud time.
Had reviewed the lesson and my “cheat sheet” notecard. Realized that I hadn’t done the part of the lesson where I showed the students how an author had done what I was teaching them. Read the picture book aloud to them-highlighting the parts that illustrated my point. Realized that once again, the time was almost gone, sent them back to try it in their writing,
For about six minutes.
I think it took me three days to get through all the parts mentioned in the first lesson. Needless to say, my first unit of study lasted ten weeks instead of the suggested month.
You get the idea.
I didn’t realize that of all the things I was trying to do, the independent writing time and the conferring (that I usually skipped) was the most important part of all those lessons. I could see my students growing as writers in front of my eyes, but didn’t realize how much more they could have done if I had just stopped talking sooner and provided them with more time to work independently while I met with individuals and small groups to teach the writer, just what they needed. You don’t get much more differentiation than that!
I had known for years the power of individual reading conferences to help students grow as readers-I hadn’t realized that the same thing held true for helping students grow as writers.
So, if you are new to Calkins’ Units of Study, learn from my mistakes. No matter how long you think it will take to get through one lesson, discipline yourself to give the students writing time that grows in length as they grow in stamina that first week. Get through the first four mini-lessons in four days (or five if you really can’t bear it) and move on.
You’ll be glad you did…
Umbrella Summer by Lisa Graff August 24, 2009
There’s a reason I don’t read Jodi Picoult. It involves the size of my eyelids the morning after I read one of her books. HUGELY PUFFY! Something happened when I had child number two-I can’t cry over a sad movie, show, or book right before bed without waking the next morning looking like my eyelids have been stung by bees. It’s not pretty.
This morning-puffy, swollen, bee-stung eyelids. Umbrella Summer by Lisa Graff caused me to do some serious de-puffing this morning, but I loved this book! Sad books don’t always make great read-alouds, but I do believe that the conversations you could have make this a good consideration for a read-aloud. I don’t want to say anything else about the sadness, but boy is this a great book! The power of community to help a person heal-what a great message!
The main character Annie, is a girl I can relate to-she worries about everything! Bike safety, dangerous diseases, and more. She worries so much she has given up many of her favorite things to do, like racing on her bike with her best friend. Too dangerous. Now even though I can relate to Annie and her worries, the reason behind our compulsive worrying is not similar. We won’t go into my issues, but Annie feels she needs to do enough worrying to keep herself and her family safe. Through her friendship with an elderly, new, next-door neighbor, the reading of Charlotte’s Web (love books that reference other books!), and a few mishaps along the way, Annie learns that worrying isn’t as necessary or all-consuming as she was letting be.
I’m so happy I loved this book, which sounds like a silly thing to say, but it bothered me that I did not like Bernetta Wallflower when so many other people have liked it. In my opinion it will become a kid’s classic in the same vein as The Bridge to Terabithia.
Mini-Lesson Planning Sheet August 20, 2009
Mini-lesson Planning Sheet
Unit of Study:
What reminders do I
need to give?
What we tend to say:
Yesterday we talked about…….
Today I will teach you……..
What are the steps?
Will I use an anchor
What will my language
Watch me as I …….
Did you see how I …….
How will students
participate & practice?
|Turn and talk to your partner
3, 2, 1, talking is done!
Name the skill/strategy
Invite students to try it.
|Today and every day…….
Who thinks they will try this
Narrative Writing-Launching the Writing Workshop grades 3, 4, 5 August 19, 2009
August & September [Black # = Mini-lesson)
Materials=Units of Study for Teaching Writng grades 3-5; Book1-Launching the Writing Workshop = Launching; Book 2-Raising the Quality of Narrative Writing=Raising
|On-demand Writing Piece (see prompt directions)||1 Mini-Lesson Starting the Writing Workshop-(session I Launching)||2
Mini-Lesson Generating More Writing- (session I or II, Launching)
|3 Mini-Lesson Qualities of Good Writing-focus, detail, and structure (session III, Launching)||4; Mini-Lesson Nurturing/Rehearsing- The Writer’s Job in a Conference (session IV, Launching)
Buidling Stories-Step by Step (session V, Launching)
|8 Mini-Lesson –Choosing a Seed Idea (session VI, Launching)||9; Mini-Lesson-revising-
Studying and Creating Leads (session VII, Raising the Quality of Narrative Writing)
|10; Mini-Lesson Writing Discovery Drafts (session VIII, Launching)||11 ; Mini-Lesson Revising Developing the Heart of the Story (session XV, Launching)|
Revising Endings: Learning from Published Writing (session IX, Launching)
|15 Mini-Lesson Taking Charge of Our Writing-Starting a Second Piece (session X, Launching)||16 Mini-Lesson Timelines and Tools for Planning and Developing Stories (session XI and XII, Launching)||17 Mini-Lesson Yesterday’s Revisons Become Today’s Standard Practice (session IV, Raising)||18 Mini-Lesson Ending Stories (session XII, Raising)|
|21 Mini-Lesson Using Editing Checklists (session XVI, Launching)||
Catching Fire is amazing, which is really such a trite word to describe a book that I was ready to start re-reading the second I finished it the first time. I actually had to drive it over to a friend for safe keeping for a couple days so I can get my work done. I strongly suggest pre-ordering this book and being careful to not read any spoilers! You don’t want to ruin the reading experience.
Suzanne Collins is an amazing author-I didn’t think there was any way I could love Catching Fire as much as I did Hunger Games and be left just as dangling helplessly, waiting, waiting, waiting for more as I was with the first book, but she did it again! I still haven’t stopped raving about Hunger Games to anyone who will listen and now the sequel…Wow!
I’m trying to think of other sequels that I have devoured like this one and there are a few other “series” that come to mind-Harry Potter, Twilight…
Catching Fire (and Hunger Games) is the kind of book that when you aren’t even finished reading, you are already planning in your mind how you can get your hands on more (addiction anyone? At least it’s a relatively harmless one!) Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets involved being in line at midnight to pick up a pre-order at a party and New Moon involved driving forty minutes one way across rural Michigan to find a store with the book. On the other hand, I spent many hours plotting how I could make my way to Chicago to the IRA convention hall the morning after getting back from Teachers College since I was not going to be able to convince my husband I needed to go to New York again for Book Expo-“Why? You want to know why I need to go back to NYC? When I was just there? Well-it’s because I NEED to get my hands on an advanced review copy of Catching Fire. What is that? Well just a Young Adult book that I am dying to read. Am I nuts? Probably, but still, I could probably drive there and back pretty easily and I’d even take the kids with me. What do you think?”
Want to win a copy? Go on over to Reviewer X’s 2nd give-away of this book.