Creating a Reading Unit Toolkit

My last post (which you can view here) detailed how I first familiarized myself with the Teachers College A Deep Study of Character middle school reading unit by Lucy Calkins and colleagues.  After creating my demonstration notebook, my mind began to drift toward a tool that teachers could use while conducting small groups and conferences.  Since all of the teaching session are so clearly laid out for teachers, I knew they needed minimal scaffolding and would easily be brought to life in the classroom.  Our district focus this year has been small groups and conferring, so  I wanted something that teachers could keep at their fingertips to make the teaching of the unit more clear during this segment of their workshop.

And so my A Deep Study of Character Toolkit was born!

toolkit feature image

I decided to do a separate kit for each bend.  This way the final product would not get too cumbersome.  Remember, I want to be able to walk around with this easily, while students are independently reading.  At the front of the kit I put a copy of the Bend I anchor chart, To Think Deeply About Characters…, as well as the anchor text, “Popularity” by Adam Bagdasarian.

Toolkit Anchor Text

For each session, I included the same three things:

  1. The anchor chart component
    • Provided with the unit.
  2. A strategy chart
    • These are charts that I’ve created based on the work of individual sessions.  Usually, they break the work taught in each minilesson into easy-to-follow steps.
  3. Any materials needed to teach the recommended small groups and/or conferences.

Here are images of the anchor component and strategy chart for session one and the small group and conferring materials for session two.

 

So, now that you have an understanding of what the toolkit entails, here is my process for making it…

Pulling Resources

Toolkit minichart

For some of your materials, you can access the unit’s online resources available through the Heinemann website.  These resources are included with the purchase of your unit book.  This is where I pulled the anchor chart, anchor text, and various other teaching charts included for each session (including mini-versions to hand out to students after a small group or conference- see image at right).

 

Creating Materials

Although some resources are provided in the online resources, I did make quite a few myself.  While the Units of Study are GREAT at providing the necessary resources to teach each individual session (or minilesson), the material for the suggested small group and conferring work is usually not included.  So, this is where I had to do a lot of creating.  Please note, that all of the content for my self-created materials was inspired or born directly from the A Deep Study of Character unit book.

Strategy Charts

To create the individual session strategy charts, I skim the lesson for a “how-to”.  Usually, at some point, it is suggested that you name out the steps you took during your demonstration.  This is your money-shot for finding components of a strategy chart!  Look for words like debrief, summarize, recap and review. Then read the scripted text that follows, and pull out the steps.  Last, let your inner Kate and Maggie Roberts (authors of DIY Literacy and former TC developers) go and get crafty!  This is my favorite part!

As an example, this (from Session 2)…

toolkit-chart-inspo-e1529415662103.jpg

…became this…

toolkit strategy chart

So fun!

Small Group and Conferring Materials

I use a similar process when creating the necessary resources for the suggested small group and conferring work.  I carefully read and think through each Conferring and Small-Group section of the session.  Often, the unit will name out specific small groups you could plan, like this example from Session 6:

 

I use the information in each section to develop and write a small group lesson plan; creating or pulling strategy charts, exemplars and resources as needed.

 

Sometimes, the unit suggests that you do some lean-in comments to support repertoire work.  Think of this as a way to guide students toward the work you are teaching as well as toward more sophisticated thinking.  Often the unit will provide some examples and Session One of the online resources has a print-out as well.  However, to make this resource teacher-friendly I put the suggested comments into an If/Then chart.

For session five I create the following,

toolkit comments if then

This chart includes all of the work done thus far in the unit from session one to four.  With a chart like this, teachers can use the visuals to easily see what type of student work to be on the lookout for, and what to say when they see it.

Logistics

All of the pages are housed in sheet protectors.  Single pages are organized back-to-back.  However, to keep organized I only put one small group lesson including materials in each plastic protector.  So when it is time to teach that lesson, you can easily pull out all the materials and go.

 

To make pages reusable year after year, I stuck Post-its to the outside of the sheet protectors.  This way teachers can jot observations down without having to reprint the page each year.  For example,

Toolkit Sheet Saver Postits

The blue tabs indicate each session of the bend.  I labeled each by number, but then also put one word to remind myself what the content of that session is. (I didn’t have the words at first, and although I’m getting pretty good at naming the content off-hand, I would sometimes be a session off.  With the goal of making this as simple and teacher-friendly as possible–why work harder than necessary?!)

Putting this together was really a rewarding task.  Like doing the demonstration notebook, this work helped to crystallize the concepts taught in the unit.  Time-consuming, yes.  But, well worth it- a labor of love!

What do you think?  Is this something you would find useful in your classroom?  What does your toolkit look like?

Let’s keep the conversation going-

Lindsay

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Learning the Work Through a Demonstration Notebook

It’s no secret that my school district uses the Teachers College Reading and Writing Units of Study, so when the middle school reading units came out I was beyond stoked.  Navigating reading workshop at the middle school level has been difficult.  There are SO MANY resources out there (on the web, Pinterest, Twitter) for lower grades.  It was easy for me to conceptualize how to make the thinking work of lower elementary readers apparent to students, but I struggled with the higher-level analysis required of a middle schooler.  How exactly do we show readers how to synthesize information across a text or how to move beyond simply teaching identification of narrative elements and instead, showing how they interact and influence each other.

As the required thinking work gets harder, making what happens in my mind so naturally as a reader, is harder to break down into a step-by-step strategic manner.  BUT the new Middle School Reading  Units of Study put out by Lucy Calkins and colleagues (including the fabulous Emily Strang-Campbell) do just that!  They break down really complex thinking into simple easy to follow minilessons.  The work is not for the faint of heart… Students and teachers are asked to do a level of work that many may not be accustomed to, but the payoff is well worth it!

A Deep Study of Character

 

Needless to say, I am VERY excited!  So, when the Deep Study of Character unit got delivered to my door, I was so ready to dive right in and start figuring the unit out.

 

I began by scanning the lessons for two things:

  1. What am I teaching?
  2. What are the students doing?

In This Session

I used to do this work by first reading the Teaching Point (to see what I am doing) and then reading the Link (to see what students are to do).  HOWEVER, unlike any of the other grade-level units, the middle school units have a spectacular “In This Session” feature, that clearly states that information at the start of the session.  So smart!

To wrap my head around the work of Bend I, I first created a Demo Reading Notebook using the anchor text “Popularity” by Adam Bagasarian.  This was really helpful.  By pushing myself to do the work expected of students, the teaching of each session became more clear.

Deep Study Notebook Cover

Here are some more pages from my notebook. 🙂

 

There is a page of thinking work for each session of Bend I as well as a homework page.

notebook-spread.jpg

Usually suggested homework is to read (obviously) and do some thinking work.  Students may either return to work started in class or begin something new.  Just for demonstration purposes (for the teachers I work with and for students), I created a new entry type for each day of homework.  I chose a variety of different styles so that an assortment of entries were exemplified.

A couple of new ideas I’ve had about notebooks after this process:

  • When assessing them (because unfortunately yes, we are a slave to grades at times), I would expect to see some evidence of the work taught each minilesson.  It may not be great or mastered, but students should be making an attempt to approximate the thinking work taught.  So, in terms of the Deep Study of Character unit, in Bend I I would expect to see evidence of students naming character traits, tracking traits and revising their initial ideas about characters, identifying likeable and unlikeable sides in characters, weighing and ranking traits based on their dominance or tendency to affect the plot, and analyzing the pressures characters experience.  In addition, I might see students doing one or two pages of “other” work.  Something they thought of on their own or were shown during a small group or conference.
  • REMEMBER notebook pages are often Thinking, Return-to Pages.  A fully completed notebook exemplar is NOT created in one sitting.  It may be developed over the course of a couple days as students progress through their book.  It is constantly being added two as student learn more about their character, revise their ideas, include new evidence, etc.  Imagine an Emotional Timeline- students would begin it at the start of a book with some initial ideas about the character’s state of mind and add to it as they proceed through the events of the novel.
  • With this idea in mind, the logistics of when notebook pages are created was clarified.  I always understood that they had to be done, but the question was WHEN?  If students are expected to spend the majority of their time reading, when do these marvelous notebook entries happen?  However, once I realized that notebook entries are returned to, it became more apparent.  Students should be spending a couple of minutes each day (and night for homework) adding to their notebook entries.

How have you acclimated yourself to this new unit??  Please share!!!!

Let’s keep the conversation going-

Lindsay

And…we’re off!

It’s been a long and slow process to this point.  One where I’ve been dragging my heels every step of the way.  My heart beats quickly and my stomach is all aflutter… But believe it or not, this is a good day—a great day!  For I am embarking on a journey that has been itching at the back of my mind for a few years now.  A challenge that I’ve shied away from.  A task that I deemed more advanced than my ability.

This is the start of my blog!

I am a seven-year classroom teacher veteran, who recently began a new position as a literacy coach.  A self-proclaimed literacy fanatic, who “geeks out” on all things literacy.  Calkins, Allington, Daniels, Harvey, and Keene are some of my idols.  I live and breathe the skills, strategies, and techniques required to get students to engage in, to love, and to learn literacy.

My journey had a humble start.  I began my career as a fourth grade teacher, teaching all subject areas: reading writing, math, science, and social studies.  Things took a turn, during my fourth year, when the district announced that we would departmentalize reading and math at my grade level.

I’ll be honest—I thought I wanted to teach math.

The ease of having a set program, where each next lesson was at my fingertips with the turn of the page, and grading was as simple as perusing a multiple choice exam as I marked right or wrong (misguided I know…) seemed much better than reading 50 essays (written by fourth graders, no less), the many hours spent lesson planning to find the perfectly succinct minilesson and mentor text for reading workshop (my district had recently done away with a basal reading program), and the daunting task of teaching reading, writing, grammar, and vocabulary in a way that would make these young minds love and want to read and write.

But who was I kidding?  I hated math as a student, and although I did enjoy teaching it, it was not my passion.  My books shelves were lined with professional books on how to teach guided reading, use literature circles in the classroom, and help struggling readers.  Every classroom resource I bought aligned to reading or writing instruction and I spent countless dollars at Scholastic to enhance my classroom library.

I was a literacy teacher, through and through.

Being able to focus largely on literacy gave me a great opportunity to hone my craft.  Reading, writing, grammar, and vocabulary became the air I breathed.  And I was hooked.

Over the years I read every professional book on literacy I could fit in, working around the very hectic, busy life of an elementary school teacher (My current to read pile is about 10 books high- you know how it is…).  I applied and worked for each district curriculum initiative that popped up and attended all the professional development opportunities I could.  I began to envision myself one day, down the line as becoming a literacy coach or staff developer.  My love for literacy was that strong and others began to see that strength and passion as well.

“One day” came a lot sooner than expected when a literacy coaching position opened within my district, and I threw my hat into the ring….

…And here I am.

I want to write to share what I’ve seen, heard, and learned from the wonderful people around me: teachers, staff developers, literacy professionals, and the gurus of our field.  I want to create a conversation about literacy learners and thinkers.  I want to support teachers as we work toward state and district demands and I want to provide a supply of current, engaging literacy instructional strategies.

But most of all I want to help foster classrooms where literacy is valued and loved.  Valued not only by the teachers who choose to be there with heart and soul each and every day, but by the students who walk through their doors. My goal as a classroom teacher, which is still my goal today, is to make EVERY student a reader.  A reader who has learned to love books.

Let’s keep the conversation going-

Lindsay