Saturday, May 17, 2014

anecdotal, not scripted!

I keep hearing from people that Lucy Calkins Reading and Writing Workshop curriculum is scripted. To that I say, ""

I was teaching some grad students last week with my former principal. I was presenting on literacy and classroom management. Part of the management I talked about was giving feedback. I was explaining how I suggest "SIPping" kids: giving them feedback that is specific, informative, and positive. I then told the story of Katie, my best friend, and a boy in her first-year, 8th grade classroom.

Said boy, let's call him Kevin, was really into gangs and really not into school. Didn't engage much and probably had poor attendance.

One day in class students were working on some kind of group work and Kevin was sitting with his group. He was leaned way back, not really engaging. Katie let the groups get to work. She kept an eye on Kevin, and eventually, he sat up in his chair and leaned in to the other kids in his group. She went by him, very nonchalantly, and whispered to him, "Hey thanks for leaning in to hear better with your group. I can tell you're ready to begin working!" Then she slipped away.

Fast forward another 5-10 minutes, and he picked up his pencil. There he was, kinda just tapping it and not paying much attention, but Katie made note of this again, and made her way over there. Very softly, to Kevin only, she whispered, "Oh, great, you're ready to start contributing to to your group and taking notes! Keep it up!"

Around and around it went like this, with Kevin, and his behavior was transformed that day.

I share this example with you, because it helps illuminate the point I was making about feedback: SIP your students and you will reinforce the behaviors you want in your class. Had I not told the story, you may not have really noticed just how powerful providing feedback to students in this way could be. It was my story, my anecdote, that anchored the learning of SIP for you.

And so the same is for Lucy Calkins.

In her very first book, "Building a Reading Life" of the 3-5 grade curriculum, in her very first session outline, she writes,

"In this minilesson, you do not make reading into something small. Instead, you say, "My goal is for each of you to do nothing less than build a life in which reading matters." You say to children, "It is always, in life, my life, by me." You say, "Go to it." Then you give readers books, time, company - the three things readers need most - and you pull your chair alongside them to learn how you can help."

Lucy continues on the next page:

Tell children reading can be good or not so good, and we can make it good from now on.

"Readers," I said. "Could I have your eyes and your attention, please? I touched my eyes and then scanned the group as if collecting the children's attention. "I'll wait." I let the silence gather. "What I want to say is incredibly important, so I need your eyes and your ears.

"Readers, notice that we have gathered as a community in a special place - our library; we're surrounded by books. I want to talk with you about reading,  and about our lives. This will be a year when we all, everyone one of us, can make reading the best that it can be. We'll work on building our reading lives into exactly what we need them to be.

"I don't know each of you yet. I don't know the stories of you, Kobe, and you, Emma, as readers, or the rest of you. But I know that for me, there have been times in my life when reading as been the worst, the pits - when reading has made me feel frustrated and bored. There have also been times in my life when reading has been the best thing in the world. This year, we're going to work together to make our classroom a place where our reading is the best that it can be. I'm not sure what we'll need to do in order to do that - we'll have to decide how our time will go, how our library will go, how our conversations will go. I need your input, so you'll need to study how reading has gone for you, and how it could be better."

See, the thing is, Lucy could have just told you to make the connection with students about how sometimes reading is good, and sometimes it is bad. But, just like in my example about the feedback, she wanted to illuminate what she meant, and that's why she went on speaking about the times when it has been good and bad for her and about how, as a class, they are going to do Reading Workshop so that reading matters to each participant in the class. Her anecdotes illuminate what she means by her connection.

Her anecdotes. When it's your first year teaching with the workshop model (especially after coming off of teaching with a basal), let's just say it's not the easiest transition. Reading Workshop is messy - because in addition to looking to the curriculum to inform instruction, teachers have to look to the students.

When it's your first year using this method, you may not have your own anecdotes, because you've never taught in this way. That's why Calkins provides them for you in her curriculum. You use her anecdotes for now....but soon enough, you'll have your own! Then your workshop with authentically be yours, with all of your own stories of past readers and writers used to inform your instruction.

You'll be able to go to your file of essays that you saved to show the best and the worst of essay writing, and ask students to decide which is better and why. You'll tell the story of Andy, who it took you a year and a half to find 'that one book' that was the one to hook him on reading. As you teach summarizing, you'll show Heidi's notebook, that was basically Twilight rewritten, to explain to kids that when we summarize, we tell only the most important parts.

But until you have Andy and Heidi, and until you've saved the work of your former writers, you'll use the examples that Calkins provides.

Anecdotal, not scripted. If you just reframe your thinking, you might reframe how you perceive her curriculum, which is way different than a basal reader, with 10 questions at the end of a story, and a Teacher's Edition to tell you what to do in what order.

Before I go, my colleagues who inspired this blog post asked me, "Well, Michelle, what's the downfall of Calkins' curriculum? You know, it's always good to know both sides, right?"

I couldn't think of one. Do you have one? What is the downfall of Workshop and Lucy Calkins? I know there are a few of you out there who know some!

And, if you do love Calkins as much as I do, please share what you love best about her!

Happy Saturday!


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