New Grade Level…New LC Units of Study

I am moving to fifth grade after three years in third and I couldn’t be more excited!  However, it does require some extra preparation this summer.  It’s nothing that I haven’t done already:  My district adopted LC Units of Study for Writing the summer before my first year as a classroom teacher and I spent that summer reading the third grade units.

Since I know I’m not the only one needing to prepare for a new grade level, I thought I would share how I approach the Units of Study for a new grade level.

1.  I read each Unit of Study book, taking notes on each session.

Yes, I know Lucy is wordy and goes on and on.  The very first unit I read, I read EVERYTHING, which I would recommend if you have never used Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 10.35.31 PM.pngthem before.  However, after that it isn’t really necessary to read each word on each page.  Within each session, the main points are in bold, it isn’t necessary to read all of the dialogue/text after that unless you don’t understand what is being said.

When I take notes, I try not to put my own thoughts or take out what I know won’t work.  I try my best to keep it as it is.  These notes come in so useful because I can copy, paste, and adjust into my plans during the school year.  This has really been a time saver in the long run.  Plus, I am a big picture person and I am more effective if I know what is coming.

2.  I read in the genre, looking for mentor texts appropriate for the grade level.

The units name some mentor texts, but there are so many more out there.  I read as much as I can, after all I need to be ready to write with the kids!

A few additional thoughts…download

  • During the year, as I am teaching a unit, I read the dialogue that LC includes for each session before I teach it.
  • I put in a lot of my own lessons into the LC units, more each year as I get to know the kids, standards, and units better.
  • I’m finding that the fifth grade writing units, especially the Memoir one I am working through now, is more “fluffy” than the third grade ones.  Anyone else?
  • Don’t be scared of LC or the Units of Study!
  • My dog snores…

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MAGIC

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I was sitting on the floor next to some of my third graders during writing workshop, acting as scribe for one of them.  There were whispers from students, two other teachers conferring with our writers.  Then I heard a voice.  “Ms. Bless, can I share my fairy tale?”

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This is a magical moment coming from a third grade student in the process of drafting.  He wanted to share his work in progress with the class after getting some ideas from them during the mini-lesson about magic.

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The credit for this magical moment goes to Lucy Calkins Units of Study, our fabulous ELL teacher (who taught the mini-lesson), and the amazing third grade writers of 3AB.  Here is how it came to be…

We (my co-teacher and I)  are lucky enough to have our ELL teacher/Bilingual Interventionist push in for writing workshop.  We rotate who teaches the mini-lesson between the three of us.  Friday it was her turn.  The lesson:  Once Upon a Time – Session 17.

After the explicit teaching, she used a student example that already included magic.   Then, she asked for a volunteer who needed help with ideas for adding magic to his/her draft.

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He ended up using a combination of the ideas and shared this fairy tale draft with the class:

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MAGIC!

Fairy Tale Adaptaions in Progress

We are in the first bend of Lucy Calkin’s Once Upon a Time Fairy Tale unit.  Students are rehearsing and drafting their adaptations of either Cinderella or Little Red Riding Hood.  Boy are they creative!

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One student asked for help and this is how our conversation went…

“I’m not sure what to write next,”  she told me.

“Tell me about your adaptation so far.”

“Well, I’m adapting Red Riding Hood.  Red Riding Hood has a sister, Nancy.  And Nancy is dating Bill, but she is secretly in love with Juan.  And then Little Red Riding Hood finds out that Nancy is cheating on Bill with Juan and she slaps Juan. And that’s where I stopped yesterday.”  There were more details in here and I may have mixed up some of the events, but I don’t have her notebook with me to reference.

“O.K….Do you know how it is going to end?”  I ask, trying not to laugh too much.

“Yes.  Bill is going to kill Nancy.”

At this point I feel that it is very important for you to know that this student is one of the sweetest, most empathetic girls in the world.  She doesn’t understand why everyone isn’t nice to everyone else.  She often brings up the cruelty she sees on the news from presidential candidates.  She can not fathom how people can possible be racist.  She is THE LAST student that I would ever expect to write this ending…Ok…here’s how the rest of the conversation went…

Pause.  “Um…Where does that happen?”

“At a bridge.”  She replies, without needing to think.

“Alright..How does that happen?”  I ask, more shocked at each response.

“Bill invites Nancy on a date at the bridge, but then he drowns her.”

At this point you may be thinking that I should have put a stop to this very violent conversation and fairy tale adaptation, but I needed to know where it was going.   

“Why does he kill her?”

“Because he found out that she was cheating on him with Juan. But, he didn’t tell anyone.  He just planned the fake date and murder.”

And then I had a thought, “X…do you watch Telenovelas?”

“Yes.  Yes I do.”  She replied.

 

Creating Writers

I am in day three of a twelve day workshop with the Illinois Writing Project and it is already a fantastic experience.  I have learned so much in just a few days, but I have also realized how far I have come in my writing instruction in two short years.  You know how when you see your kid every day and so you don’t always notice how tall his is until one day the top of his head comes above your chin?  Well, that is how I feel about writing in my classroom.

I think about where I was with my knowledge two summers ago – just learning about workshop.  Two summers ago I was reading through Lucy’s Units of Study for third grade.  I was taking notes, wondering if this would work.  All of my thoughts were hypothetical.  It was going to be my first year as a classroom teacher, after four years as a reading teacher.  It was also my school’s first year implementing workshop and Lucy.

Now, I see how far I have come and how much my students have grown.  I know what aspects of my writing instruction and workshop need to be strengthened.  I know where to look to find resources.  All of a sudden, I realize how much I know and how much of that knowledge has been gained in the last two years.

When asked to write a poem using only prepositional phrases today, I ended up thinking about how writing workshop has been essential in developing my third grade writers.  Writers with skills, willing to write, and confident in their writing.  Writers writing EVERY day.  But just like my son’s height and my writing instruction, they don’t really realize what is happening until the end.  Until that all important publishing.

at the beginning

at war with

with the help of

in collaboration

for better or worse

at a distance

by my watch

in confidence

in the end

to THEIR astonishment

Sunday Afternoon Letters

Dear Mother Nature,

Thank you for your fall temperatures!  I am loving sitting here on the couch, windows open, covered with a blanket.  I have been sleeping so fabulously because of you.  (6:30 last night to 10:30 this morning!) Maybe I’ll even wear boots tomorrow?!

Happy Camper

Dear Lucy Calkins and authors of Units of Study,

I am really enjoying my second year of implementing writing workshop and your Units of Study in our third grade room.  After graduating from college and student teaching I didn’t feel prepared to teach writing, but the more time I spend teaching from your units, the stronger I feel as a writing instructor.  Reading the students’ personal narratives really helps me get to know them.  Thank you so much for your guidance.

A Writing Teacher

Dear Michelle,

I know I have called you a Big Blogging Bully, and I stand by my words, but I mean it in a very positive way.  I may have been hesitant to start blogging, but you pushed me to do it and now I love it.  Becoming a writer has helped me as a writing teacher as well as being just plain enjoyable.

A Very Opinionated Teacher  😛