Monday, December 30, 2013

Learning from Lucy - Part One of Two

Our school was fortunate enough to be able to send our entire group of third and fourth grade writing teachers as well as our literacy coach to hear Lucy Calkins last month, here in Jacksonville, Florida.  She presented about the new Writing Units of Study and Implementing Rigorous, Coherent Writing Curriculum. 
Our photo with LUCY!!! 
     After much thought and gathering of notes from the teachers that attended I thought the best way to share what each of us walked away with by giving you the lens of the learner.... by grouping the third grade teacher take-aways, fourth grade teacher take-aways and mine (literacy coach).  I simply asked everyone to share the things that stuck out in their mind the most and what resonated most strongly with them. We had discussions in meetings about what we learned, but they did not read each other's notes.  I like that their "voice" comes through in what they shared.   Here are the teachers' thoughts:

From Jessica Shaffer:
I love Lucy !
Things I am excited about doing in my class…
Flash Draft-thought this was a great idea so they have a few options and can pick their strongest.
Have students try different leads each day and think if this is where my story goes how will it be?
Story tell their ideas-love this especially for my struggling kids-helps them get started
Mid-workshop-talk with partner-loved this idea because they get to share and they get a short break from their writing.
Bootcamp on Essay structure-I like ice cream because…
On Demand writing prompts
Write goal on every page-add stars/fireworks around goals!

From Carrie McLeod:
What an AMAZING opportunity it was to meet and hear Lucy live in person. Though I learned a million things to improve our classroom writing instruction, most are genre specific. Below I will list a few management things, learned from LC, that we want to implement across our day immediately:
1. No waiting! Our new goal is start our lessons right away and hold high standards of all learners being on the carpet ready and willing to learn ON TIME. This will include transitions within and outside of our classroom as well.
2. We want to address the wasted time at the start of our day. We are requesting that the pledge/song come on at 9:00 sharp so we can start our fluency song immediately afterward and then jump straight into Reading in the morning.
3. We always have mid-workshop teaching points, but have never thought about including a mid-workshop break to share with the learner next to you. We know peer learning is one of the most powerful, so this makes sense!
4. Since our Reading assessments are extremely lengthy, we love that Lucy gave us "permission" to just let the kids write "fast & furious" without a full lesson beforehand. The kids can now complete their assessments and immediately jump into their writing.
From Laurie Justo:
*When it comes to writing conferences, her tips were "Name what is WORKING for them as a writer and encourage it to move forward with momentum.  Then, name their next steps." This is so simple, especially when I want to fix 20 things, I will think of what she said!  Also, I saw the one of the demo lesson teachers read aloud a student's writing when conferring, so they could hear it too.  I so often, read it fast in my head to save time, but I loved watching the child listen to his teacher read his work aloud.

*She talked about how our student's writing is the best assessment of our teaching.  So true!

*I loved her idea of 'On Demand' writing before and after a genre.  Then you can really see the growth of their writing.  I have tried it before a genre but never after.  She said that it is easy for kids to add each mini lesson idea as you teach it day by day, but the true test is whether they can use what they learned and write a whole piece on their own (On Demand!).

*When she talked about time management, this really hit home for me since I feel like that is the theme of our year.  I love how she said 'if you are going to do it, do it well and in its entirety." -or something like that.  She said if you don't have time to write everyday, then take a month off and teach a genre when you can give it your all.  I know we know alot about implementing things with fidelity and consistency, but it is always a good reminder.  She mentioned how districts are so good at throwing a million little things at us that they want us to accomplish. We need to say 'if you would like for me to do that, then what would you like for me NOT to do anymore'.  This way, we can do fewer things, but do those few things in depth.

*One page of writing per day is what she recommended for building writing fluency.  She mentioned how writers need to write more VOLUME!  Writing is everywhere and a part of everything...blogging, texting, everything on the internet!

From Lindsay Hoffmann:
I left the TDE inspired and overwhelmed.  There were many reassurances that what we have done and are doing in our classroom is what our writers need, but there were also many new ideas that can be implemented to strengthen the structure and writing in our classroom.  I am eager to implement the on-demand writing assessments prior to each unit.  In the past, we had completed on-demand prompts for the county, but I really like the idea of a sample in each of the different units.  I like that it is a snapshot of a student's current skills and how Lucy said, their writing should be better than that sample everyday after.  It holds students accountable for pushing themselves as writers.  I'm also interested in the "flash drafting".  We are so used to brainstorming multiple ideas, but not actually drafting them.  Moving through several pieces will keep the work fresh and the kids inspired.  I can't wait to start our next unit!

From Jaclyn Earnest:
My biggest a-has from Friday were that we should do an on demand piece at the beginning of the unit and then again at the end of the unit to compare the two pieces of work. Also, the amount flash drafting that students should be doing in the beginning of every unit. I love both of these ideas and it did not occur to me before to try it this way. I also enjoyed watching the videos of her and her colleagues conferencing with students during the workshop. In regards to conferencing, I took away that it is not something that should happen right away. The students should all first be settled and you check in with students then start pulling to conference based on what you see. I like the way SHE read the student's piece and emphasized the parts that were on track and strategically noted the parts that needed improvement.

From Gerri Smith:
Highlights- Narrative Writing:  Seed ideas:  a person who matters, make it one time, use small moments and write it long.
                   Opinion Writing:   Think out the outline, Pick a topic, give three reason (use parts, kinds and times) to show the three reasons.
To get students to elaborate more use one of these Points:  in other words
                                                                                              that is  
                                                                                              as I say this I'm realizing
                                                                                              so all in all I'm trying to say
                                                                                              for example
                                                                                              this shows
                                                                                              another example is
                                                                                              I use to think but now realizes
                                                                                              from this day forward I'm going to
                                                                                              the surprising thing about this
Last thought is conferencing:  When kids are left trying to think of something to write pull a small group with those students.

From Cheryl Chascin:
·         Students need to know the genre they are writing.  What am I being asked to write?
·         Students need to look at the work of others in that genre.  What does this look like?  What do I know about writing this well?
·         Students need to be aware of their audience/reader.
·         The relationship between the teacher and student is one of the most important things.  The student is aware that their teacher believes they are capable of producing dramatically good work.
·         When conferencing, notice what the student is doing well, then give them a crystal clear goal as a next step, providing individualized instruction, if needed, to reach that goal.

From Jenny Nash:
You can judge a school by how many elephants are in the room.
           We’re blessed to be working at one of the best elementary schools in the nation.  But, we’re not perfect.  And for every issue we’re talking about in our classrooms, in partnerships and behind closed doors, there’s an elephant walking the halls.  Let’s make sure our writing instruction doesn’t wear a trunk and a tail, shall we?
           Let’s talk writing fluency: our writers are falling behind.  Common Core State Standards expect a level of writing fluency that the majority of our writers are not meeting.  Lucy Calkins explicitly defined writing fluency as the result of how much you write.   This means our mini-lessons need to stay mini, so our writers can hold a pen or pencil in their hand and write strong and long for thirty minutes or more every single day, reliably.  Never again should any student utter the words, “Are we going to write today?”  As teachers, we need to anticipate stamina and fluency struggles, and be prepared with strategies – mid-workshop teaching points or shares are just a few – to help our young writers stretch and push themselves and write more.
           This is a lofty goal, and it brings to mind a certain four-letter word:  TIME.  I’ve been struggling with time for years.  We have a long-standing love-hate relationship, time and I.  To this, Calkins scoffed slightly and said, “Time is life.”  We’re never going to get enough, are we?  Resource two, three, or four days a week – makes no matter.  There will never be “enough” time.  So, we need to choose, carefully and wisely, how we spend it.  Stop and reflect.  Where is your time going?  How can I run my classroom more efficiently?  How can I wrestle these ticking hands to the ground and pin them to the sticking places that I choose?  Is it in the transitions?  Am I talking too much?  Do I allow my students to interrupt my mini-lessons?  Do I need to reorganize materials routines?  It might be as simple as taking the time to talk openly with your students about these things, enlisting their help in making the classroom run more efficiently.
           “Time on task” is a basic principle of best teaching practices, but it’s more than just that.  It’s essential to a young writer.  Without time to wield their pencils and weave their own words, writers will not improve.  Not in fluency and not in craft.  Like riding a bike, playing a musical instrument, or reading a book, writing is a skill that requires doing it over and over again to “get good”.
           If that’s all writers needed, our jobs sure would be easy.  Wouldn’t they?  But, of course, that’s not all.  Another big idea Mrs. Calkins instilled in those of us in the audience was feedback.  Feedback takes many forms.  First and foremost, writing feedback comes in the form of writing conferences.  It’s easy for us to get so wrapped up in planning fantastic mini-lessons, reinventing active engagement strategies, and finding fantabulous writing tips and techniques, that we lose sight of perhaps the most powerful tool we have – writing conferences.  Calkins’s basic conferring structure has not changed since her earlier work – compliment and teach.  Begin by noticing how the writer has changed for the better and point this out to them explicitly and with great fanfare.  Celebrating even the tiniest successes with specificity and enthusiasm is essential.  Then, quickly and strategically teach them in a way that leaves them with a crystal clear goal for their writing.  Your concise instruction should be a “how-to” for their next step.
           But feedback also comes in other forms.  One of the biggest new opportunities I see in the new Units of Study kits is the assessment process.  In Writing Pathways, Calkins and her team outline an on-demand writing assessment process that will measure students’ writing by comparing their products to sets of exemplar texts, yielding a sort of developmental level for the writer.  Using on-demand prompt assessments as bookends to each unit of study, we can share with each student and their family a writers’ growth over the course of each unit and the year as a whole.  Calkins explained that adding just this one new piece to the schools with which she works has made profound impacts on both student performance and motivation.
           But feedback is only one of two major factors that affect student achievement.  The other is relationships.  Students learn best from someone they perceive as someone to be someone who truly cares about them AND has faith that they will make immense gains.  On a daily basis, we need to instill our faith in our young writers in them.  We need them to feel safe enough in our gentle, admiring hands for them to pour their heart out onto their pages.  I’ve long noticed that teaching writing workshop teaches me more about my students than any other subject.  We must make it a priority to create an environment in which our students wouldn’t think twice about writing stories about wetting their beds, having bad dreams, cutting off all their bangs, telling a lie, or their very special blanket that they still can’t sleep without, even now that they’re such a “big kid”.  Writers need to know their teachers fully expect them to meet every single standard – exceed them in fact!  Writers should all be taught to believe that they are amazing writers and whole-heartedly loved, through and through.  Calkins referenced Avi when she said, “If you’re going to teach me to write, you first need to love me.”
           Throughout the day, Calkins reminded us that writing is as essential to a child’s education as math or reading.  It should be a part of the Students’ Bill of Rights.  We can protect their right to write by carving out half an hour or more each and every day for “their turn” - the work period - to write, providing frequent, high quality feedback through our conferences and writing assessments, and building strong relationships with every single writer in our care.  There was so much more learning to the day – unit bends, writing cycles, finding a teaching focus, using mentor texts, point of view, text organization, and more – but I’m working hardest on these three goals first.  It is these three goals that I’m carrying with me in my back pocket, every step I take, every lesson I teach, and every time I sit down next to a big-eyed, young writer, and say, “How’s your writing going today?”

1 comment:

dayle timmons said...

Thank you to each teacher who took the time to reflect and share with us your take-aways. Lucy Calkins has had a profound influence on the writing in our building and her words continue to inspire us every day.