After reading a great book, Self-Directed Writers, this summer during 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:
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- Begin unit, adjusting as needed.
- Reflect and Revise.
- 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!