Saturday, December 28, 2013

Oh, Winter Break. Are you here for me? Or the kids?


Just like all of my IG friends, I, too, have been spending my "break" relaxing in my jammies all day, eating cookie dough, and all that other good stuff that comes with having 8 days of no responsibilities.


I have ALSO been reading! dun*dun*dun!

Units of Study in Opinion, Information, and Narrative Writing Elementary Series Bundle Grades K-5 with Trade Book Packs

This year, my district rolled out the Lucy Calkins' Writing Workshop for grades K-2.  Grades 3-5 will have the roll out next year.  Over the summer, however, I purchased the Grade 3 Units of Study.  So I have a little bit of a head start for next year, and my students will come to me ready for the Units of Study Grade 3!  :)

As you can read in my About Me, I have only really been teaching for a few months.  This past September marked my first legit school year. *yay!*  Nonetheless, when I started back in March, I was very intimidated to teach writing.  I had student taught 5th grade where the school had essays done once a month to comprise a student portfolio, and three students from each class were chosen to be "Writing Wall Portfolios" displayed in the hallway.  I was having a hard time adjusting myself from a 5th grade mentality to a 3rd grade mentality.

Then, one day, I just decided I would teach writing.  I had to teach it to invest in helping these students develop their knowledge of the world around them + it was in my schedule for a 43-minute block of time = TEACH WRITING! I picked up some of my undergrad textbooks, one being A Classroom Teacher's Guide to Struggling Writers.

I haphazardly threw together a writer's workshop for the last 3 months I had with The Students of Homeroom 9, and we were off!  They adjusted well to the workshop and thrived from where they had been before.  I will admit though, if Lucy had walked into my classroom I would've walked out the classroom with my head hanging low. :(

At the end of June, I approached my Literacy Supervisor and asked her what I should be looking at to improve my teaching.  She recommended Lucy Calkins Units of Study.  I finally caved and purchased the Units of Study for Grade 3 kind of late in the summer which meant I didn't have the proper time to sit down and read what exactly I was getting myself into.  When September came, like 3 days after my package arrived, I figured I was just gonna dive right into the Unit that was aligned with our curriculum.  I. was. lost!  I did a few of the sessions and then gave up.  A few weeks later, our year was already progressing into our districts Unit 2 curriculum alignment.  (Our district follows the NJ DOE Model Curriculum where we cover a specific standard at a specific time in the school year.) I knew I had to get back on track with writing because our unit was focusing on numerous writing standards.  If I wanted my students to grow as readers, I HAD to get them to write.  I tell them ALL. THE. TIME. "Good readers make good writers; good writers make good readers."

I can't preach something we don't practice.

Since then, I was faithful trying very, very hard in transitioning my students to a writing curriculum as well as lifting the level of writing.  I. DEMAND. A. LOT.  and yes, I demand A LOT out of my 3rd graders. To make that happen - to effectively reach all of my 27 / 28 (27 is my homeroom, 28 is my afternoon class) students, I HAD TO GET MY FEET UNDERNEATH ME!  I can't keep "wingin' it."
Ultimately, this post is about this book ... A Guide to the Common Core Writing Workshop (the second book - the greenish one).  My book looks a little different because my book: a) came with the Grade 3 Units of Study pack; and b) is part of the CCSS alignment pack. :)

I would HIGHLY recommend the Units of Study bundles for your grade level.  They are .. rigorous, but worth it.  I think the reason I became so discouraged with the way I was utilizing the units of study earlier in the year is because I had no idea where Lucy and her colleagues had come from to put this together and where each unit intended on the students going! It's like trying to juggle with one ball - it doesn't make sense.   Outside of the fact that the students I am working with have no background in the Grade 2 Units of Study let alone an actual writing workshop environment!  And, it is intimidating for teachers to teach writing when they ... aren't really sure how.  I wasn't about to give into the "skill sheets/worksheets" because - to me - that's not how students are going to learn to write.  They're going to learn from mentor texts and studying what other authors do because, in turn, that's what we're making students to be - turning them inside out .. from readers to authors.

I think the best thing I read so far from the Guide was a quote from the novelist Margaret Atwood.  She says, "The fact is the blank pages inspire me with terror.  What will I put on them?  Will it be good enough?  Will I have to throw it out?  The trick is to sit at the desk anyway, every day" (Donald Murray, Shoptalk: Learning to Write with Writers, 1990, 72).  That's how I feel as a teacher teaching a handful - and then some! - students to write.

"I can walk into a classroom, look over children's writing, and know immediately whether children are taught to write because strong, clear instruction dramatically and visibly affects student writing.  When teachers explicitly teach the qualities, habits, and strategies of effective writing, that writing becomes better - and the improvement is evident within days and weeks, not just months."
~ Lucy Calkins (A Guide to the Common Core Writing Workshop, 22)


MsAPlusTeacher said...

I love my Lucy Units of Study books! I couldn't do my workshop without them! They have so much information :) ... I'm glad your using your break to relax and do some reading! I have to power through some grading over break - ugh. I'd rather be doing some reading for sure!

Enjoy the rest of break,
My Shoe String Life

Kate :) said...

We also use Lucy's Units of Study...and I often have mixed feelings about it. I often think "where are they going with this?" as I try to teach the lessons. I'll be interested to keep reading your thoughts! Unfortunately writing is my least favorite subject to maybe I just need to change my attitude...haha! Found your blog through Farley's link-up!

Kate :)
Visit McDee's Busy Bees Blog

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