Sunday, June 23, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Jen and Kellee host Its Monday! What Are You Reading? on their blog, You can find great reviews and recommendations from the people who link up every week!

We received our new Units of Study about a month ago. Lucy Calkins, along with her team of staff developers created grade specific series in narrative, opinion and informational writing and each grade has four complete units, as well as supplemental books, as well. Each of the spiral-bound books contain about twenty detailed sessions that include a mini-lesson, a mid-workshop teaching point, a share, and an idea for conferences or small group. They are packed with teacher language, rationales, student writing samples, ideas for charts,
and instructional tips and strategies, and checklists for students to build independence.

People have asked me about what is different between these books and the ones Lucy Calkins published in 2010 for teaching the writing workshop. First, the new units of study are grade-specific and provide detailed descriptions of specific units of study. Additionally, the authors pack two to three teaching points in each session; mid-workshop interruptions and end-of-workshop shares are not to review the initial mini-lesson's teaching point. Instead, these are teaching opportunities for different strategies. Another difference is the alignment of the new books to the common core. Each grade has units that specifically address the three types of writing and within those units, there are grade specific checklists that students and teachers can use to help students set goals and build independence.

From Scenes to Series by
 Mary Ehrenworth and Christine Holley
At this point, I have read several of the books, but the first one that I read was From Scenes to Series, the first grade book about realistic fiction by Mary Ehrenworth and Christine Holley. Some of my highlights of this book for me include:

  • the idea that fiction writing is a game of pretend--what a fun concept for first-graders! (or writers of all ages, for that matter...)
  • the references throughout the first bend of the unit to Choice Words by Peter Johnston. If you're looking for a great book to read over the summer, that's one! Christine and Mary embrace the concept that every moment in classrooms can be a significant learning event.
  • the importance of children writing a lot. By session 3, the expectation is that students have written up to four stories!
  • teaching children to read their own writing with a sense of drama.
  • incorporating spelling instruction into writing workshop. Because each session has more than one teaching point, time opens up for spelling strategies and even grammar instruction. In Session 4, the author suggests "role-play being a writer their age who is daring to use sparkling words." p. 32.
  • teaching young writers to use checklists to set goals and develop independence.
  • the line that "the work of reflection is not the work of one lesson or one day, but is an ongoing habit for writers." p. 50
  • studying mentor texts in order to become better writers. While this is not a new concept in workshop instruction, Christine and Mary give many explicit examples of how to do it, using inquiry lessons, as well as direct teaching.
  • the use of dramatic role-play in developing characters and stories. On p 68, they describe creating a pretend interview with a character. What a great way to have students increase their knowledge about the character in their stories!
  • the step-by-step, lesson-by-lesson development of charts. Charts are teaching tools that students should be a part of creating in this unit. They develop with the teaching points.
  • the emphasis throughout the book to teach children that hard work leads to results. "Every time you make comparisons to activities that children work hard at, such as baseball or music, or bike-riding, you explicitly suggest that children want to get better at things, including writing." p. 90
  • the importance of explicitly showing children how to do what you are teaching. I am teaching you...and one way to do it is...
I have not included all of the important points in this book as there are far too many in the 158 pages. Whether you are teaching the exact unit or just looking for inspiration and fresh approaches, you will find it in From Scenes to Series!

Happy reading (and writing),


  1. We've ordered this, too, Melanie, but the way our school works we may not actually get the books until September (sigh!). I love the idea of the pretend interview as a fiction writing strategy. I'll need to incorporate that in our unit, too. I'll be at the August Reading and Writing Institute - perhaps bits and pieces of the Units of Study will be shared there, too!

  2. These books sound so interesting. I'm going to pass these along to the teachers at my school. Thanks for sharing the important highlights!

  3. I really want to get units of study for middle school. I heard a rumor that they were going to do this but I don't think they are published yet. I hope they will publish something soon because it sounds like an amazing resource.

  4. Wow-these sound very good, Melanie. As a resource, I know I would use it, although we don't use specific curriculum as such. Thanks for sharing so much!

  5. I love the Lucy Calkins Units of Study! I hadn't realized there were new ones. Are the reading workshop redone as well?
    Loved this post!

    Happy reading this week :)


  6. I also didn't realize there were new editions. Thanks for sharing so much about them.

  7. My team recently received our copies, and the new edition is excellent. You summed up that unit beautifully. I believe it will ignite many discussions as our team continues to think about writing in August.