I want to share a quick but powerful story that recently happened to me when I went to do work in the Danbury School District. The reason I want to share this story is that it reminded me how of how powerful it is when teachers do their own writing. There are many ways that working on your own writing will help you become a better Writing Workshop teacher, but this particular story showed me how doing your own writing can help you better plan and understand the Units of Study that you teach.
The story begins with Lorena, a teacher from Danbury, emailing me. I was going into her classroom the following week to work with her team on Writing Workshop. She wanted to update me on where she was in her writing curriculum and the questions that both she and her colleagues had about their Writing Units of Study.
Her second grade team was just about to start a Book Review Unit of Study. Just an aside, this is a wonderful, engaging and authentic Writing Unit of Study that closely correlates with the Common Core Standards. The Danbury School District provides their teachers with a general (and wonderful) outline of each Unit of Study in both writing and reading. The beauty of what they provide is that it gives teachers (especially new ones) a starting point and it also help to bring some consistency across their many schools in the district. There is lots of flexibility in this general outline so that teachers can add, as well as spend more or less time on concepts based upon what their students show them they need or want. Lorena let me know that the second grade team needed help in deciphering what the district was suggesting that they teach in their Book Review Unit.
I began my planning for this work by pulling out the district curriculum. After reading it, I had a surface understanding of what the teaching points meant, but I didn’t feel as though I truly owned them. I could have read and reread those teaching points, but I knew the only way I would truly understand the teaching points was by writing a quick book review myself.
First, I thought of an authentic reason I needed to write one. I decided to write a book review of the book, Shortcut by Donald Crews and I wanted to write it to encourage my nephew to read it. Once I had chosen the book and my audience, I looked at a few book reviews (I found them online) and I read over the teaching points in the district curriculum again. In both the book reviews I found on-line and in the district curriculum, I noticed craft techniques and teaching points such as:
- Different ways to start
- The author’s unique opinion as well as evidence that supported that opinion
- What the book was about (perhaps a big idea or a social issue embedded in the book)
- A summary that was angled towards that big idea or social issue
- How the character changed throughout the book
- Different ways to end
(There were many more ideas. These are just a few of them.)
After that, I spent about twenty minutes writing my book review keeping in mind both the teaching points and the craft techniques I had noticed in the other book reviews. After writing, I looked back over the teaching points that the district had provided. I now felt like I owned these ideas because I literally had messed around with them in my own writing. The Book Review Unit of Study now felt seamless to me and I yearned to take over Lorena’s classroom for the next month so I could teach the entire unit.
When I visited Lorena’s classroom the following week, I used that book review I wrote in my teaching. Of course, the teachers wanted a copy and I was happy to give it to them but I also had a funny feeling while giving it to them.
I felt funny because I wanted them to experience what I did. When I actually wrote my own book review, I had a better understanding of not only the district curriculum, but also book reviews in general. I was able to decipher what the district was asking by writing myself (as well as looking at other book reviews) They didn’t just need my book review; they needed to write one themselves!
Later than day, I spoke to the assistant principal and we brainstormed ways to get teachers writing as part of unit planning meetings. We both agreed that reading and rereading the teaching points isn’t nearly as powerful as jumping in and writing it yourself.
I’m really excited by this idea of using writing as a method for planning Writing Units of Study. I know I will do more of it in the future.
I would love to know your thoughts! Do you write yourself? Does it help you as a writing teacher? Do you think that your own writing could assist you in planning Units of Study? If so, how? What issues do you see with this?
Until next time….