Week Two with Lucy Calkins’s Units of Study

Last week, I dove into the pool’s deep end with a reading and writing workshop.

It is HARD work! I’m using teaching points from Lucy Calkins’s Units of Study for middle school reading: A Deep Study of Character for sixth and seventh-grade reading classes and Dystopian Book Clubs for eighth grade/English I. I confess that I am not following the “script” precisely as outlined in the units of study, though. So, instead, I pick my teaching points. I also add some of my favorite activities that mesh with Calkins’s units.

So far, I like the results. I see students engaged in their work. I am seeing more collaboration among students, especially the older ones. But on the other hand, I have to teach “discourse” to my sixth graders.

Today, I broke away from the traditional workshop model of mini-lesson, reading time, and discussion. Today, I did a mini demonstration lesson to create a sociogram to illustrate character relationships using one of the novels we had already read. Since I began the workshop in the middle of novels in all three classes, students have been working on the same books. However, not all students are at the same place in their reading (for various reasons, including not doing the at-home reading). After the mini-lesson/demonstration, students worked individually on their sociograms while talking with their table partners.

My head is spinning, though. The more I use this model in the reading/English I class, the more I like it. I am more focused in my lessons. The students are engaged (I still have one or two “outliers”); the responsibility for learning is shifting to the students. I do need to find a balance, though; Students still need to develop the discipline to prepare and read outside of the classroom. There are activities that I like to use that do not necessarily fit into the workshop model. And I have only 48 minutes for the classes. So I seem to be sacrificing some elements, especially the all-important discussions and small group instruction. (I need roller skates to get around the room!)

The big question is, why did I try this model at the end of the school year. I have NINE WEEKS of school left! (Where did the first twenty-seven weeks go?)

We just finished our five-year accreditation evaluation (and passed with no exceptions to be corrected). One of the evaluators notes the lack of collaborative learning opportunities even though the state standards include collaboration as one of the elements of learning. The workshop model allows students to collaborate, revise their thinking, and learn from each other. (There is more than one teacher in the classroom!)

As I have been reading Calkins’s A Guide to the Reading Workshop, I am struck by something she wrote:  schools need to have common teaching strategies across grade levels so that there is less time spent teaching the protocols of the workshop model and more time on reading and learning. This idea makes sense. If I am to guide teachers in using this model, I need to be familiar enough to help them implement it. And the only way I can do that is to use it myself.

I am sure that by next fall, I will better understand how to use the model to be more effective as a teacher. But, for now, I will be a learner alongside my students.

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