Units of Study

I was a fraud

I was an English teacher that hated teaching writing! I couldn’t get my students to love it, or to even really care about what they were writing. But after joining the GMWP, I came up with a plan.

I am a reading teacher in my heart and soul. This was why I got my reading certification, because I wanted to bring my love for reading to my middle school students. Two years ago I was told that we would be implementing the Lucy Calkins Units of Study in our ELA classrooms. At first glance, I thought, “Yes, this looks good. The students will learn a lot.” But then I tried it.

The Lucy Calkins Units of Study is a framework for teaching writing based on three main units, Narrative, Informative and Persuasive. A typical class follows the workshop model consisting of an opening, a mini-lesson, work time, and debriefing. During the work time, the teacher confers with individual students or small groups about their writing.

The first year, I decided to implement only one unit. I chose Writing About Reading because it seemed like something I was already doing, so I thought it would be easiest to do. Students are expected to read self selected books and novels, and write about them, and it went pretty well. Some students wrote a lot about what they were reading, but I struggled to get anything out of kids who didn’t like to read and I spent a lot of time trying to help them. I struggled with doing the Workshop Model and really understanding what to confer about with my students. I finally ended up having them write about a read aloud I was doing in class called, Mick Harte Was Here, by Barbara Park.

The next year I was required to do all three units of study. Our first trimester focused on writing realistic fiction, the second trimester was writing about reading, and third trimester had us working on persuasion. One problem I encountered with the program was that I had over 80 students that I was teaching everyday. Grading 80–100 papers at a time was next to impossible. I was also finding that many of the papers did not have most of what the rubric was requiring. I knew there had to be a way to use the conferring time to deal with these issues.

The Question: How can I use feedback to elicit better writing from my students? More specifically my low and/or reluctant writing students. Could this feedback also help me grade as the writing unit progresses?

The Plan

For the first trimester, I would be focusing on writing realistic fiction. I would start with a pre-writing attitude survey as well as a pre-writing assessment. I would have daily writing prompts that would lend themselves to realistic fiction story ideas, and during conferring time, I would use a log/goal setting sheet that they would keep in their folders. I would also keep track of certain aspects of the rubric and note whether or not the student has it down. Finally, at the end of the trimester, the students will turn in their completed story, and then fill out a post writing attitude survey. In the end, my hope is that my students are not only better writers, but enjoy writing a little bit more.

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