In March, my best friend and I decided to check out the Teachers College Reunion, a twice-annual event hosted by the Reading and Writing Project at TC. We’re lucky to live pretty close by plus...Jason Reynolds was giving the keynote address, and that was something I didn’t want to miss. And he was incredible, just the most amazing storyteller. I felt really, really lucky to be there.
I went to a few other sessions. One was about diverse books, getting into the weeds of how to really be intentional about how we curate our classroom libraries. Another was with Lucy Calkins herself, fearless leader of the TCRWP. While I’d done my Masters at TC, I was in a very specific special ed program, and never crossed paths with Lucy or her program, beyond waiting while the elevator doors opened on the gorgeous TCRWP mural on their floor of the building. Her workshop that morning was about finding new energy in writers workshop in the spring, and it was a really inspiring hour in which she talked about really listening to our kids to hear what’s most important to them, and celebrating BIG when we publish pieces. My big take-away, in terms of classroom practice, was Flash Drafts, where students draft their whole piece in one shot. The idea is to spend a lot of time in thoughtful preparation, then write, write, write with joyful intensity, and then have energy and motivation left over to revise and edit once the words are on the page. This is so the opposite of how drafting usually goes in my classroom, and I couldn’t wait to try it.
This is the outline to the writing fiction unit I adapted and designed this year. Here's the post that explains it and includes photos, this is just the nuts and bolts.
One of the ways I'm lucky to live in my little self-contained world (meaning my class is self-contained special ed, combining at least two grade levels every year) is that I have a lot of freedom with curriculum, and my administrators have been pretty open to me doing what works for my kids. One thing this looks like is adapting our reading and writing programs. We've been following a workshop model for just a few years now (and I LOVE it), and use a boxed curriculum (SchoolWide Writing Fundamentals) to guide our teaching. Overall, I like it a lot, and it includes some excellent mentor texts. (I have a lot more thoughts and feelings about the curriculum, but I want to get down to the point of this post now!)
That being said, when I pulled out the 3rd grade level kit for fiction writing, I was underwhelmed. Also, it just didn't seem to match where we were as a writing community. While it was about writing fiction, most of the gathering work was about drawing on your personal experiences, and my instinct was that it would lead to a lot of personal narrative pieces...which we'd already done. My writers were ready to try something new. Also, the unit as written was an author study of Patricia Pollaco, and her books are lovely classics...that don't reflect my students very well, and felt a little dated to me.
So I decided to venture forth on my own, and make something that would energize my writers.
Writing about practicing literacy and freedom with my small humans.