Q & A: New Writing Program

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1 Q & A: New Writing Program Why are we purchasing a writing program? Currently (2006-7) there are over twenty different writing programs being used in NC12 elementary schools. The amount of time devoted to writing varies from daily instruction to weekly journal writing. Because there is no common writing framework, students have dramatically different experiences and expectations in writing from class to class, grade to grade, and school to school. For some time, teachers across the district have requested guidance in the area of writing instruction. With this in mind, a District Writing Committee consisting of teachers, specialists, and administrators reviewed research and examined programs for two years. The one that most closely aligns with research and the committee s philosophy is Lucy Calkins Units of Study for Primary Writing and Units of Study for Teaching Writing. Why are we purchasing a writing program NOW? The writing committee unanimously voted to recommend purchasing Units of Study for the school year. They felt there was an urgent need to jump in and get started with a consistent writing program. Students need those consistent experiences and expectations in writing from class to class and grade to grade. At the same time, the committee wanted to go slowly and provide training before asking teachers to use the units. In addition, the implementation of RTI (Response to Intervention) requires core programs. In order to assess students needs and eventually match those needs with interventions, all students must have explicit instruction in a core program first. Why aren t we just using the writing strand in the reading adoption? Members of the writing committee spent many weeks looking at the research on writing, and several days in the summer looking at that writing strand. Their conclusion was they wanted students to experience a more in-depth look at the writing process, developing their voices as writers as well as the skills and strategies they need.

2 Is this a District mandated program? YES: this is our District s core writing program. Units of Study, however, will be rolled out slowly over the next three years, since teachers are still working on implementation of the reading adoption. This first year most grade levels will be completing two units of study. Generally, a unit has sessions. In the suggested sequence guide, 2 months are allowed for each unit. Lessons can take more than one day and teachers may want to reteach some lessons. The first unit will be taught in October. You CAN begin as soon as school begins, but no later than the middle of October. The second unit is scheduled to begin by the middle of March. Both units of study are scheduled so that they follow District training. For teachers to take advantage of collaborative opportunities, it makes sense that they work on the same units at the same time. Do we have to follow the suggested sequence? YES. The units of study are meant to be taught sequentially. Launching the Writing Workshop is the first unit. However, during months when a unit is not being used, a teacher may focus on a genre of choice. The suggested sequence for those times is just that--suggested. Teachers may teach more units from the adoption. Schools that wish to add more units in the first year should develop a suggested timeline for their grade levels. May we use other programs? YES--there is ample room in the year to use lessons from the reading adoption, teacher developed units or other programs. For example, lessons may focus on poetry, reports, persuasive essays, or imaginative writing. A trait might be a focus--for example, working on organization with the Four Square Method or lessons from Traits of Writing (Culham)*. For fourth grade (a testing year), we have kept February, and the preceding month open for teacher choice. We do recommend, however, that a predictable writing workshop structure be used daily. *A list of resources is available--in the Trainers Notebooks and eventually on the District s Web Site.

3 How much time should we spend on writing? It s tough enough getting all the reading in! Sample daily schedules are available. Teachers must carefully look at their schedules and transition times to find the minutes needed each day for reading, writing, math, and other subjects. In order for students to benefit from writing instruction, it must occur daily. The writing committee is recommending the following dedicated daily time allotment for writing (20-60 minutes, depending on grade level): K: minutes 1: minutes 2: minutes : minutes What if students write in other curriculum areas? Does that count? NO: the current literature on writing recommends that a separate part of each day be devoted to writing instruction. Writing in math or science does not count (in the above mentioned minutes)--unless a structured writing workshop format, including writing instruction, occurs. Best practices always suggest that students should write in the content areas to demonstrate knowledge, clarify thinking, and as a support for learning new material. However, the above recommended minutes is for the writing workshop only. What about the literature that is recommended to be used with the Units of Study? For many of the units, specific literature is recommended--but other stories can serve just as well. In fact, as we go through the process of implementing this adoption, please keep a list of trade books that you find work well with different sessions. We would like to compile a District list for each grade level. The media coordinators are doing a search of libraries to see what schools have--and will recommend books that could be purchased by school libraries in the future. Many of the main selections titles from the TREASURES reading adoption can be substituted for the teacher s read aloud as part of the writing mini lesson.

4 What materials come with the Units of Study? All of the materials are packed together in one small box that will fit on your shelf. Each series comes with a CD which has many blackline resources, different types of paper for primary students, homework, suggestions for challenges, assessment rubrics, student writing... There are also sample video lessons and conferences between a teacher and student. In addition, each school will have a notebook with these blackline masters from the CD for you to look at or copy. Trainers will also have other DVD s (showing sample conferences and lessons) and books to support their work and yours. Will we receive training? Two to four teachers from each school, and literacy coaches, will receive training from a Units of Study professional development specialist in May. In June, some of these trainers will develop a 4 hour training that will presented to all teachers on September 26. There will be further training later in the year as well as some optional grade level meetings to attend (1-6). Next year, grade level meetings will focus on writing and math in addition to reading. What about grammar and spelling? All of the units have sessions that deal with conventions. The primary units have sessions that focus on spelling. A unit focuses on conventions (Writing for Readers: Teaching Skills and Strategies), but it will not be required until the second year. The (3-6) units have sessions or suggestions for conventions. Teachers may still choose grammar or spelling lessons from the reading adoption (separate from the writing workshop).

5 Will this program work with ELL Students? Lucy Calkins states (From Units of Study, 3-5): These units of study have been taught in thousands of New York City classrooms. The writing workshop s success across New York City has been dramatic and that success is especially poignant in schools filled with English Language Learners. It was not a surprise to us to learn that since the writing workshop has been brought to scale across the city, results from the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) show that our ELLs have made especially dramatic progress. Because the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project works primarily in New York City schools, where classrooms brim with English Language Learners, we spend a lot of time thinking about ways in which the writing workshop can be adjusted so that it is especially supportive for our ELLs. (p. 87) Units of Study benefits ELL students through predictable structures, providing reassurance to a child who is just learning English. (p.88) a consistent instructional language. mini lessons starting in a predictable manner. repetition of teaching points, and written charts. student choice of writing topics. the interpersonal nature of the writing workshop: lots of talking and sharing. What else do we need to know? The first year will be the most challenging. Teachers and students may experience feelings of disequilibrium. The power of the program shows up over time as teachers stick with it. Success comes for students who consistently write, conference with their teachers, and share their stories within the Units of Study program. This is another great opportunity for collaboration among teachers. Teachers can talk about writing sessions with each other--what is working and what is challenging. Student work can be shared. Students from different grade levels can share with each other. Ideas for literature that supports a session can be traded. The real beneficiaries of a consistent writing program will be the students. If teachers have questions or suggestions regarding the writing program, they should speak to their school s trainers. Those questions/suggestions will be forwarded to Curriculum and Instruction, and then all teachers can be provided with answers or great ideas. We will be asking for regular feedback from each school s trainers and principals.

6 What can we do before September? Units of Study will be available in buildings before the end of school. Teachers may Read the District s Writing Framework and Synopsis of Units of Study. The Framework provides an outline of what a predictable writing workshop looks like, and the Synopsis gives an overview of Lucy Calkins programs. Read Nuts and Bolts of Teaching Writing and the first unit, Launching a Writing Workshop (K-2 teachers). Read A Guide to the Writing Workshop and the first unit, Launching the Writing Workshop (3-6 teachers). Check out the resources on the Units of Study CD. Read other books about the writing workshop to deepen your understanding: The Writing Workshop: Working Through the Hard Parts (And They re All Hard Parts) (Katie Wood Ray) About the Authors: Writing Workshop with Our Youngest Writers (Katie Wood Ray) The Art of Teaching Writing (Lucy Calkins) Writing Essentials (Regie Routman) First Grade Writers ( Stephanie Parsons) Become acquainted with the Inspiration/Kidspiration software programs that have been installed on all lab computers in K-8 schools. The programs can also be installed on computers at home. Be positive: we will work this out together. Teachers who have used Units of Study have been excited about their students work. It will take a lot of patience and hard work--reading a lesson, trying it, reading it again, reteaching, and talking to colleagues.

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