Saturday, February 22, 2014

Are You Prepared? How to REALLY Understand the Writing Work We Teach

I have been feeling really energized by thinking about how we can prepare our instruction to push our students as learners.  I feel strongly that we, as teachers, must have a very clear understanding of what we are teaching and how to teach it in order to motivate and move our students.  This morning, I am reflecting on this through the lens of Writing Workshop.

Our Writing Units of Study are filled with teaching points, tips, conferring ideas, share ideas, examples and much more.  I think the best way to process how to effectively teach a Unit of Study in Writing Workshop is to do the work (the writing) our students will be doing.  Here are some tips I have to help prepare for teaching a writing unit:
  • As you read through the unit, identify the teaching points and annotate the sides of the page with your thoughts on potential anchor charts, conferring opportunities, your own writing ideas, and so on...
  • After you have read the unit and have the "big picture" in mind, do some writing!  I find it most valuable if you do this writing with others, your colleagues. This way, you can discuss interpretations of teaching points, writing process, areas you and others are getting stuck, and share ideas

  • The writing you do can serve multiple purposes!
    • It will allow you to develop mentor texts for mini lessons, conferences, and small groups
    • It will show you places where writers get stuck...
      • As an example, you may find it difficult to come up with ideas or get started - Don't we always have kids that struggle in the same way? What do you do when you get stuck? What behaviors do you exhibit when you get stuck or struggle?  How can you help your students persevere through this?
        • Do you find yourself talking with the person next to you to or seek out some writing examples to help you get started?  Spy on yourself as you do your writing and find tips and strategies you can use with your kids.
    • It will help you find the most authentic ways of teaching. 
      • When you sit down to write a short story, maybe you first make a timeline of how the story will unfold.  You might sketch out some scenes...You will most likely talk out our story with another person to receive feedback...You might jump in and start writing to get all of your ideas down...
      • You will probably not first create a worksheet and then start writing.  Think, how do I write?  How do real writers write.  I must teach my students, no matter how young, how to really write.
    • Most importantly, it will show and prove to your students that you are a writer and have a writing life, just like them!
As you write using the teaching points and enduring understandings of the unit, you will likely have thoughts and conversations will colleagues about writing skills or strategies that your students will need some extra support in.  This is the perfect opportunity for you to quickly prepare some writing for your conferring toolkit that you will use during 1:1 conferences and during small groups:
  • You can prepare writing and deliberately leave out key elements (such as: elaboration, transitions, or any other writing component you think some of you students may need support in). In my example, I will use elaboration.
  • After you write a piece and have left out the key writing element (elaboration), make copies of that writing and put it in your conferring toolkit (See the picture below).  The reason you will make copies is because when you confer with students, you can model how you go back and reflect on not having elaboration in that portion of the writing.  You can show the student(s) right then and there how you elaboration (or add the key element you are teaching them).
  • I label my example writing with a sticky note or tab so I can easily find it in my conferring folder.
In my Writing conferring toolkit, I keep my mentor writing, sample writing with elements "left out", mentor text, conferring ring of strategies, checklists, learning progressions, and writing paper.  For older grades (3rd and above), most of my writing is in my Writing Notebook.  I could keep this in the folder, as well.
As I mentioned above, it is most beneficial to do this writing with others by your side.  However, you are probably thinking... Okay... sounds lovely; but, WHEN!?!  This is a totally fair question.  At my school we have weekly common planning time with grade level teams.  If team members come to the table already having read the Unit of Study, rather than just talking about the teaching points, time can be spent doing the work the Unit of Study calls for - write

Participating in this work will be incredibly valuable for your teaching and even more so for your students learning and growth as writers.  You will have a greater understanding of what the unit is calling your kids to do and the struggles they may face.  You will come into the unit armed and ready to teach and push them to become stronger writers!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

How Is Learning Accessible to Everyone in Your Classroom?

In my district, we have been doing quite a bit of work around UDL (Universal Design for Learning).   I continue to connect the work we do in Reading and Writing Workshop to the principles of UDL: making sure learning is accessible to all... by considering:
  • How we present content or information
  • Differentiating the way students show what they have learned - offering choice
  • Stimulate motivation and interest for the learning - helping students value their learning and work
Here is how I have connected these pillars of UDL to Workshop.  I certainly have not covered every possibility- which is why I hope you comment on this post with your ideas!

Right away in the mini lesson, teachers can add value to the skill being taught by sharing a very short experience or story with the class that shows them encountering a reading or writing dilemma that needed problem solving.  Doing this adds authenticity to what you will teach the students and will also remind them that you are a reader/writer, too.  For example, in second grade Reading Workshop, the kids are working on strengthening foundational reading skills.  If the teaching point for the day is focusing on what to do when you come to a tricky word or how to infer the meaning of tricky/unknown words, the connection could sound something like this, "Readers, last night before bed, I was reading my book.  Everything was going smooth.  Then, I came to a word that made me do a double take! When I read the word ____, it made my voice sound 'like this' (using a confused higher pitched voice) and made me think, huh? If that has ever happened to you- If you have ever in your reading life come to a word that makes you say huh? give me a thumbs up.  Phew- I'm not alone! I had a feeling this was a common dilemma among readers.  So, I immediately knew what I wanted to teach you today.  Readers, lean in. Today, I want to teach you that when you come to a tricky word, you can use strategies to infer what that word means."
I think that the first minute or so of our lessons are really important.  We know we have to 'hook' the learners.  I also feel it is our responsibility to place value in what we are teaching and do so in the most authentic way we can.
Reading and Writing Workshop screams student choice, which is another way that UDL and Workshop go hand in hand.  In workshop, one of our primary goals should be to build student independence and motivation.  During the link portion of my mini lessons, I almost always ask the students to think about their goal as a reader or writer.  I may simply point to some of the anchor charts to jog their memories as to what we have been working on.  The kids know that when I sit next to them during conferences, I will be asking, "What are you working on today as a reader/writer?"  I hope to teach them to know their "trickiness" - what they are finding tricky and want help improving. 
While conferring, I make sure to have a toolkit.  I have a post ( that goes in detail regarding reading and writing toolkits.  It is really helpful to have materials to help make your teaching during a conference more visual and accessible for the student.  You can leave visual reminders for kids on post-its, start a "ring of strategies", or make a mini anchor chart on a larger sticky note with the student (see link to toolkit post).
I have only touched on a few ways Workshop connects with UDL.  I whole-heartedly believe that when Reading and Writing Workshop is implemented the way it is intended, all learners can have access to the skills and strategies that will help them grow as readers and writers.  Please comment and add other ways you find that the Workshop model helps allow learning to be accessible to all!
:) Sarah