Six years ago, I made the hard, but wonderful decision to try and become a single mom by choice. As part of the process, I had to speak to a therapist. I didn’t know what to expect from this meeting, but to my surprise the therapist asked only one question:
“How will you explain your ‘Mommy’ only family to your future child?”
I remember my exact answer.
“This is probably the wrong answer but I really don’t know. There will be no secrets or shame. I know that for sure. But as to when I’ll tell him/her and what words I will use, I simply can’t know that yet. Once I meet my child, I’ll figure out exactly when and how to explain our special family.”
The therapist smiled and said, “Actually, that is the right answer.”
I often think of this story when I’m helping teachers plan writing units of study. In many of the schools I work in, teachers are asked to pre-plan the details of their units. They agonize for hours over how they will explain different concepts to their kids. Just as it was impossible for me to know the details of my conversation with my future child, it’s impossible to truly know the details of your teaching until you are in the midst of the unit.
Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely think that teachers need to plan. It’s imperative to know where you are going and what you want to accomplish but the details –the exact lessons you’ll do and the words you choose to teach those lessons should be planned and thought about in the midst of the unit as you watch kids interact with the material.
Recently for example, I was working with a group of 3rd grade teachers. One of the teachers had conducted a lesson helping her students include a table of contents. After the lesson, we looked at what the kids did. Many of the kids, as you can see below, had in fact included a table of contents but we thought they could use more tailored instruction on how to order the parts in their table of contents. Specifically, we noticed that many of the kids put big overview ideas such as ‘What is a snake?’ in the middle of their table of contents. Because we were looking at real writing samples it was easier to come up with the exact words for this lesson as their writing showed us what was needed next.
I’m so glad that six years ago, I had an overall plan for how I would explain our family to my future child, but I’m also glad that I didn’t overthink the details. Over the past 5 years, the story has come out piece by piece. It hasn’t been very hard as I’ve let Ariana’s personality and needs guide how and when I share.
I would love to hear your thoughts. How can we be intentional in our planning but let our kids guide us with the details? Please let me know in the comments below.
Also, please join us on May 5th for Saturday Study www.saturdaywriting.com. I will be expanding upon this idea of how to plan units of study in ways that are intentional, but also responsive to your students’ needs. We hope to see you there.