Thursday, January 2, 2014

Writing Workshop: Planning

I took a fantastic week long Writing Workshop course this summer. I wrote a blog entry about it in July. As I started reading the lessons on my own to plan, I realized that I needed to rewrite them in a simpler way so that they would be at-a-glance lesson plans to be used year after year. When I was done teaching the lesson, I was then able to write notes on the lesson about how it went and what I will do differently next year. 

The easiest system for me was a spiral notebook with perforated pages. I wrote the abbreviated lessons then ripped the pages out and placed them in my Writing Workshop binder. I used the same spiral for my reading workshop lessons too, so ripping them out and placing them in their respective binders made sense. I have seen other teachers create a template with the lesson sections and use that for their at-a-glance lessons. I prefer the notebook for many reasons including the fact that I don't have to bother with making copies of the template. Using the notebook is easier for me because I am not locked into the way I designed the template. Different lessons warrant more writing for some things and less for others, etc. No matter what format is used, all the teachers I have worked with in our Writing Workshop P.L.C. (professional learning community) have felt the need to simplify the lessons. Reading the lessons in full is extremely valuable, but the book is not set up for quick glance teaching.

It takes time to read through the lesson and plan how you will attack it so that it fits what you are doing with the kids. This was not an issue with personal narrative, but with the information writing unit, my students are working on the Age of Exploration. The book gives examples and mentor texts related to Westward Expansion. Reading and planning a few lessons ahead at all times has been vital to the success of my lessons. For instance, there is a section about writing with the lens of geography. The book uses a map related to the Oregon Trail. I read the lesson about a week ahead and had time to find a map that was age appropriate and related to the Age of Exploration. I used a map of the Silk Road that showed the routes and the students were amazing in analyzing the map and making connections to what they had already researched. Their questions and ideas motivated me to find more maps of the Silk Road that would continue their analysis. There is a fantastic website devoted to the Silk Road and it had maps of the religions along the road, the geographical features, countries along the road, climate, etc. Students worked voraciously to answer the questions they had from that first map. I followed the original lesson, but made it work for my students.
Another reason to be a few lessons ahead in planning is that you can prepare the charts that go with the lessons. The charts are a took and allow students more independence when they are stuck. They can look at the charts and try something.

Charts are a tool:

My at-a-glance lessons:

 Original map I gave classes to analyze:

Students had questions about weather and climate, so this is one of the additional maps I shared with students:

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

It's Been a While

Happy New Year!

Here I am finally catching up on some blog posts. It is the night before school is supposed to start up again after a lengthy winter break. I put in some time over the vacation to write thank you notes to my students, do some planning, and finally read a book having nothing to do with education. 

I sat here this afternoon all ready to return to school tomorrow, but sad that I didn't make the time to catch up on my blog writing. Then it happened...Winter Storm Hercules! The call, text and email arrived informing us that we will have no school the next two days! I plan to get caught up on what has been happening in room 16 since my last post on August 5th.

At the end of August, I started a blog entry about my classroom set up and then never finished it because I got all wrapped up in school beginning and learning and teaching three new curriculums (new math program, as well as Lucy Calkins' writing workshop and reading workshop). I will start by finishing that post including classroom pictures.

I also want to share our progress in writing workshop including personal narrative and informational writing. This will include at least two blog entries and an additional one just to share pictures of our two celebrations. This is my first year teaching writing strictly from the Lucy Calkins series of books. I am teaching writing to three classes of fifth graders and it allows me to engage in some collaboration with the Social Studies teacher.

Along with Writing Workshop, I want to blog about my Reading Workshop with my homeroom class and my first try at book clubs instead of the guided reading group structure. I will share what worked and what didn't for me in this process and what my next steps will be.

I may also have time to blog about the organizational structures I have put in place in my classroom and how they are going. I have never been a binder kind of person, but I will share what is working for me this year with binders. 

We'll see what else I decide to write about in the next two days. It will be a valuable self reflection for me. I may even make some New Year's resolutions for my teaching. 

It's good to be back!