Calkins Writing Conference

Sunday, February 9, 2014

     I have said before, and I will say it again, I am a bit of a celebrity stalker.  I do not restrict myself to literacy celebrities.  This blog has made no attempt to hide my current love for Christopher Lehman. But, I have also tried to stalk media celebrities.  I have talked to Vince Vaughn (and kind of sorta danced with him).   I also have a long history of stalking Tim McGraw at concerts, and have spoken to him and held his hand of sorts.  SO.... It might look like I stalked Lucy Calkins to get the picture above.  In fact, Lucy Calkins came up to US.  But, if she stopped and talked to me, I might as well have Jane and Felicia take a picture of it, right?  I mean, knowing my history?  The staff pictures were requested by our Admins, so I don't take credit for those.  :)

     My celebrity stalking aside...

     We went to The New Units of Study in Opinion, Information, and Narrative Writing, presented by Lucy Calkins, on Friday.  The writing core leaders and literacy coaches from each building went so that we can better support our staff as we continue our transition to Writing Workshop across the district.  I will not include every note I took, but the ones I found significant about setting up Writing Workshop.  Check with your writing core leader and literacy coach, though, as this is more of a summary than a comprehensive list.

    She started off talking about how Warren Buffett has gotten so successful as an investor.  He said that he attributes his success to his ability to say "No."  He has said NO a lot, but one "Yes" can get you far.  What is one priority for your district to say yes to?  She thinks the "yes" should be to writing.

    On a side note, this is exactly the same message that Christopher Lehman and Dr. Mary Howard have also used to either finish or start their presentations.  There are so many changes in education that it is impossible to do them all well on our own.  They might all think the thing we say "Yes" to is different, but they agree that we have to choose what we want to do well in.  That doesn't mean that we can't make more than one change, but it requires us to work with each other and collaborate a lot more than teachers have in the past.  The time of the "Lone Ranger" teacher is gone.

Knowledge is like air.  It is everywhere.  Do something with it.

     That might be more of a paraphrase than a direct quote, but her sentiment here has also been stated by others.  The children of today can google anything.  They can get facts everywhere.  It is what you do with those facts that matters.  That is the main shift with the Common Core standards.  She feels, as many do, that writing is the answer.  Show what you know through writing, and share it with others.

     She also said that teaching writing is accountable teaching.  The progress is evident and visible at a glance.  It is easy to see progress, or lack of progress, without looking very hard.  Writing is taught.  Kids need instruction to write well.  Volume can develop over time, but good writing needs to be taught.

    Volume doesn't just happen.  It develops.  Typically, in 40 minutes:

  • 3rd graders produce 1 page a day
  • 4th graders produce 1.5 pages a day
  • 5th graders produce 2 pages a day
     What happens if your fifth graders don't do that?  Well, they probably won't if they haven't had writing workshop before.  They also won't if your writing workshop is only 2 or 3 times a day for 20 minutes.  It takes time.  

"Writers grow like oak trees in the fullness of time."
     She said that there are some simple necessities that we need to do.
  1. Get writing.  For an hour block of day, as least 4 days a week.
  2. Instruction shows.  Kids don't just stumble on writing.
  3. Teach skills and qualities of writing in a logical sequence.
  4. Engagement is everything.
  5. Writing needs to be for readers.  There is no writing if there is no reader.  When you write, someone hears you!
Writing is a school wide commitment, and our most precious resource is kids' time.

     She spent a good chunk of time talking about about how important schedules and routines are.  You can't do writing workshop in scraps of times.  It would be better to skip it for a whole month and merge it with social studies or science than to teach it in scraps of time.  Partner routines needs to be taught.  Mini lessons need routines.  Transitions need to be quick.  Time is very important, and those structures and norms are taught by you.

     She also suggested that small groups need to happen before conferring can happen. That might be a whole blog post at another time.  But, you want to be able to choose who you work with, so the kids need to be able to write alone before you can pull groups or confer.  They need to build independence first, so that you are the "coach."  Train them to work together and teach each other.  Once again, this is all about setting routines right from the start.  

"We can't act like it's business as usual when we teach something and no one does it."

     She said that it should be a crisis if the mini lesson yesterday was about paragraphing, and today no one is paragraphing.  If they can do it, but they are not, then make it a crisis.  If they can't do it because they CAN'T, then get them there.  But if they can, make a big deal about it.  Make the mini lessons matter.

     She talked specifically about the three types of writing, but I will cover that another time. 

     One other interesting analogy that she made was that of her bends to LEGO blocks.  She said that each unit has three bends, and those bends are like LEGO bricks.  They can be connected anywhere.  So, my suggestion to Hiawatha to skip Bend 2 of the informational reading unit and possibly add it to the complex text unit later in the year wasn't crazy!!!  If it doesn't fit with your students where it is, you can attach it to another unit and build it there.

(Completely off track here, but go see the LEGO Movie.  It was amazing.)

Q and A with Lucy Calkins

We already covered that I spoke to Lucy Calkins.  I did use my words wisely.  I went there with questions, and questions I asked!

Q:  Are your units a professional development program, intended for teachers to use them and create their own units at the same time?

A:  Yes, but in the first year of implementation, follow the units.  When teachers start adding things the first year, things get a bit messed up.

My thoughts:
I agree.  Our kids have never used workshop.  We have never used workshop.  We are new to the common core.  Creating our own lessons do require knowledge of many things that are new to us, and we should allow ourselves to use her professional development to grow.  But, what if the units are too hard?  See my next question...

Q:  If the children in our classrooms, as whole, are more than 50% not reading at grade level, should we use the previous grade's checklists, or the previous grade's units, to fill in the gaps?

A: I have no problem using the previous grade's units.  If they aren't there yet, then you can use the grade before.

My thoughts:
This does require reading both your grade level units, and the one before.  Be thoughtful about it, and look at the writing your kids are producing.  Perhaps you need to "Boot Camp" with a previous grade's bend, or use their entire unit.  Or, perhaps you can use a more guided writing model with the grade level version before releasing responsibility to your grade.  This is where collaboration with your coworkers is KEY.  Talk to your Literacy Coach and principal, too.  They are here to help.

Q: In 4th and 5th grade, it says that the writing units should be taught AFTER the social studies units are taught.  Do you have units available for social studies?

A:  We (the TCRWP) do have units for social studies, and the quality of the social studies units taught vary.  But, it is very important that some kind of unit is taught before they write about it in Writing Workshop.

My thoughts:
If the kids don't know anything about the topic, aligning the reading and writing units to the exact same timeline won't work.  They need to know something to write about it.  Front load the unit if you weren't able to teach the whole thing first, or use a more guided writing format to teach before the kids can choose their own topics about a subject they know nothing about.  This applies more to the intermediate grades, because their units tend to be completely new to the kids.  If the kids don't even know what the Revolutionary War is, they can't pick a piece of it to write about.  Habitat and Animal units usually come with some background knowledge, but history units do not.  Unit planning and essential questions are something to investigate, IMO.

Lucy knows that your kids are not where they need to be.

     She said that the units are written to the grade level above's standards, because they kids in middle school can not possibly do what they are supposed to if we do not accelerate their growth in the elementary schools.  She seemed very aware that this is new to our kids, and to us.  Just do your best, but give your best, too.  Things have changed, and we need to change as well in the interest of our kids.

     Collaboration is key.  Work with your team.  Reach out if you struggle.  We need to work together. She said that teachers are often like toddlers in a sandbox playing.  They are both talking, but not to each other.  Let's share the shovel, in the best interest of our kids (and our sanity).  :)

1 comment:

  1. "Things have changed, and we need to change as well in the interest of our kids" - yes!