Next week, my family and I will go on a road-trip to New York City to celebrate the birthday of a close friend. Traveling with young children is not a simple task! We’ve planned the whole trip around nap times, meals, and bedtimes, knowing that if the kids don’t sleep, well… none of us will have a good time!
Planning your reading and workshop is similar in so many ways. You’ll want to schedule things in advance and in a way that makes sense. And of course, much like a road trip to the visit friends, the plans have to be flexible -- you’ll need to be prepared to ditch those plans if something comes up.
In the book If…Then… Assessment-Based Curriculum Lucy Calkins and I wrote, “Planning your yearlong curriculum is like planning a journey for your students. You’ll need to decide on your priorities, as well as things that you hope to squeeze in. You’ll need to consider all that you know about your students to determine what will make sense for your class as a community, and then make plans to differentiate for individuals and groups.”
It is with this in mind, that you might set about creating a roadmap for your year – if you haven’t already.
Step 1: Work Together
In our family, when we plan a trip, we have to come to agreement on the things we'd like to do. In New York next weekend, we've all agreed our first order of business is to see our friends. After that, we each have our own wishes. Brinton wants to take a trip out to L&B Spumoni Gardens to have our favorite pizza ever. I want to take our daughter, Lily, to a Broadway show. Lily wants to go to the Bronx Zoo and Coney Island. We can probably do all these things – as long as we coordinate plans and compromise a little.
Ideally, when you plan your yearlong curriculum, you’ll work together with your colleagues to coordinate plans. Rather than getting together, talking, and then heading back to your own classroom to revert back to each of your old ways, you should make a game-plan that spans all the classrooms on your grade level. Even better, make a plan that spans across grades. Use a shared electronic document, like Google Docs, and come to an agreement on what units make sense to teach, and when.
The plans don’t need to be set in stone – they’ll become a living document, one that you can revise and change from year to year.
Step 2: Use Data to Make Informed Decisions
At this point, the word “data” sends shivers up most of our spines. But data can mean many things. It’s helpful to study samples of student writing from past years, reading levels, kid’s written reflections, and your own anecdotal records and reflections on how reading and writing workshop have gone in the past. Why make the same mistakes twice? A few things to consider
- You’ll want to have an idea of where your students are in terms of reading and writing stamina and volume
- Kids’ experience and exposure to various genres
- Reading levels & writing stages
All this will help you decide which units of study to teach, which ones to add in, skip, or move around.
Step 3: Gather Up Your Units
If you’re reading this post, chances are you are familiar with the series Units of Study for Teaching Reading, as well as the sister series Units of Study for Teaching Writing by Lucy Calkins and Colleagues (full disclosure: I am a coauthor on both of these series).
The four spiral bound units in those series can form a backbone for your yearlong curriculum – but they are not enough for an entire school year. If you’re using the Units of Study, you should plan on teaching about 6-8 units of study per year. The If…Then…. Assessment-Based Teaching books provide 5-6 extra units per grade level that you can choose from to fill out your school year.
You might also look to books by Carl Anderson, Kathy Collins, Smokey Daniels, Mary Ehrenworth, Ralph Fletcher, Irene Fountas, Anne Goudvis, Steph Harvey, Georgia Heard, Chris Lehman, Ellin Keene & Susan Zimmerman, Debbie Miller, Stephanie Parsons, Gay Su Pinnell, Katie Wood Ray, Jen Serravallo, Tony Stead, and others for units of study. You and your colleagues might also have some units of study you’ve written yourselves!
Step 4: Select Your Units and Plan a Calendar
When deciding on which units, and what order, you will want to consider two major factors:
- What can your kids already do as readers and writers? What do you want them to be able to do by the end of the year?
- How comfortable are YOU with teaching the units of study? How much experience do you have with the units?
For example, here is a sample curriculum calendar that I might recommend for a grade level where everybody is brand new to teaching reading and writing workshop:
This plan allows you to rely on the highly supportive spiral bound books in the Units of Study, before moving to the If…Then… Assessment-Based Curriculum, where the units are summarized in a way that leaves more of the planning to the teacher.
Beyond the first year or two, however, it will make more sense to design a yearlong curriculum that matches the needs of your students more closely.
For example, the next example does not simply follow the order of the books. This reflects plans for kindergarten students that have very little literacy experience outside school and will benefit from extra emergent reading and writing unit tucked into the start of the year before moving into foundational skills units and print work.
In another example, this team of teachers knew that the majority of their incoming students ended the previous year below the grade level reading and writing benchmarks. Aniticipating that many of their students would experience summer slide, they decided to adapt their curriculum to include emergent reading, and to add an extra reading time to their daily schedule to provide intervention and more time with books for all students.
Another way to go about your planning is to plan backwards by thinking about your end-of-year goals first, then work your way up to them.
In the following example, teachers knew from previous years that teaching nonfiction as the final unit of study had not worked for them. Their students' reading volume tended to dip during nonfiction units, and the last 6-8 weeks of school had been a challenging time to keep kids engaged in reading and writing. Therefore they decided to end the year with reading fairytales, and writing independent cross-genre projects. They knew their kids would absolutely love these units and would likely read and write with high volume and stamina right to the last day of school. Once they decided on that, they planned the rest of the year to lead up to it.
Living in rural Vermont, I work in many schools where multiage classrooms are the norm. The wonderful thing about the Units of Study series is that although the minilessons in every book may be geared to grade-level standards, they are actually multi-level in many ways, and are often quite transferable to other grades. Even though the box may say “Grade 2” on it, in most cases it is actually quite easy to transfer many of the strategies up or down a level or two! If you teach multiage, you basically have the advantage of having twice as many units to pick from. Personally, I wish every teacher could have access to the grade above and the grade below sets of books, multiage or not!
Another factor you might consider is how to integrate social studies or science in ways that still allow plenty of room for teaching reading and writing. Traditionally, schools have tended to put content up front in the upper grades, and reading and writing skills and strategies wind up being taught incidentally– it’s been a long and winding road to get to the point where reading and writing have their own space in the curriculum as subjects to be taught unto themselves. However, as students move through the grades, and gain years of experiences as skilled readers and writers, it is possible to maintain a reading and writing workshop that truly teaches the skills of strong reading and writing AND integrates content.
Step 5: Set Celebration Dates and Stick to Them
It’s a fantastic idea to share your end-of-unit celebration dates for reading and writing on a shared calendar or a digital document so that you can easily see who else you might combine celebrations with you. Kids thrive off of positive feedback and social experiences, so to make the most of your end-of-unit dates, invite other classes to join you.
It might be tempting, at times, to linger in a unit. You might look at your kids’ work and think, They’re not done yet! or We’re just not ready to move on! or I need more time to prepare for the next unit! I strongly urge you to stick to the plan and move on, and this is why:
All the skills and strategies will be reinforced multiple times across each and every school year in a variety of contexts. In other words, you should be developing a spiraling curriculum. Students are given opportunities time and time again to return to similar work with a new lens, and while reading books at new levels of text complexity, and writing new pieces. If your students haven’t yet mastered something in Unit 1, rest assured, you’ll be revisiting it at multiple points across the year – and across years.
Additionally, committing to an end date for each of your units help you plan your pacing strategically, keeping the big picture of your entire year in mind. The start of each new unit breathes necessary life and energy into your classroom, and contributes to an overarching goal for the year: fostering a love of reading and writing. If a unit stretches on forever (trust me, more than six weeks will feel like forever), not only does that mean less time for studying other genres, text types, skills and strategies, but it also means your students’ engagement will falter. It’s like the difference between a nice, fun, 4-5 hour road trip, or a road trip where the car breaks down and it winds up taking 3 days. Ugh. No one wants that.
Speaking of road trips, I'd better start packing for my own adventures!