Creating Self-Directed Writers

After reading a great book, Self-Directed Writers, this summer during 51gu6wsTMxL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Illinois Writing Project, I had a lot of food for thought.   For example, a student capable of working independently, isn’t the same as a self-directed student.  Although writers have editors and publishers, they need to be more than just independent to be successful.  As a result of reading this text, I have created and am currently implementing my first “self-directed” unit in writing workshop.  It’s not perfect,  but is a step in creating writers capable of guiding themselves.

We use Lucy Calkins Units of Study plus other units that I have created following a similar structure.  Most units in my third grade writing workshop give students choice of topic within a given genre.  In this unit students were able to choose genre, as well as topic within the genre.

These are the steps I took in planning my first Self-Directed unit:

  1.  Choose time frame.  This includes how long you have to complete the unit and point in the year it will be implemented.  Example:  2-3 weeks, after completing Lucy’s Narrative and Informational Units.
  2. Choose an objective for the unit.  You need to have a focus for your mini-lessons that is not genre specific.  Use all of the data you have  (anecdotal notes, on-demand assessments, etc.) to find weaknesses or missing pieces that continue to show up in student writing.   Example:  Introductions/Leads  and Conclusions/Endings
  3. Set parameters.  Although we want our writers to be self-directed as well as independent, they are still learning and need guidelines.  Example:  a)  Students must name the purpose and audience of their writing.  b)  Students must have a piece published by the given deadline.  Although students can work on multiple pieces over the course of the unit, he/she will choose one to turn in.  c)  The published piece must include an introduction/lead and a conclusion/ending. 
  4. Plan mini-lessons.  There are many resources available to pull units from including the Units of Study.  You can pull from lessons in previous units or even previous grade levels.    I was able to find a lot of great mini-lessons in Craft Lessons and Nonfiction Craft Lessons.
  5. Begin unit, adjusting as needed.
  6. Reflect and Revise.

Other notes:

  •  I took a status of the class in the beginning of the unit.  I was able to use this to get a big picture of what students were working on and create small groups for conferring.
  • I used portions of checklists from the LC Units of Study.  For the unit I planned, I gave students a copy of only the Introduction/Lead and Conclusion/Ending part of the checklists for both Narrative and Informational units.
  • Many students choose to write comics.  These fit in with the narrative checklist, but require additional, new to me, teaching points.  (Conferring with Writers of Comics)
  • No students chose poetry.  I am not sure what I would have done in terms of introduction/conclusion and checklist.  Any ideas are appreciated.

We weren’t able to finish the unit before winter break.  However, I can’t wait to see the finished products and celebrate in 2016!

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