Ryan Scala has been teaching 4th grade (both as a general educator and a co-teacher working alongside a special education teacher in an inclusive setting) for the past nine years in Springs School, a small K-8 school located on the eastern end of Long Island in New York. He has worked as a teacher consultant through the East End Reading and Writing Project and was co-author in a series entitled Writing Fundamentals for Schoolwide Inc. about how to use touchstone texts to lift the level of student writing. He is a frequent participant in Summer Institutes and Saturday Reunions at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, or TCRWP, and aspires to one day work for the Project as a staff developer in NYC schools.
As teachers, each year we start anew. Each year we have opportunities to build worlds inside the walls of our classrooms. Each year we have the chance to break down barriers our students build (or unfortunately are built for them) around their limitless potential by helping them to find their voices and write the next chapter in their life stories. Each year we have opportunities to foster friendships among our students so that they forge lifelong love affairs with authors and words.
Today I would like to invite everyone to use the powers of their imagination to envision the possibilities. As September peeks over the horizon and we step into our classrooms, onto the freshly waxed floors, the story of our year can begin to unfold in front of us. What questions guide our dreaming, thinking, planning at the start of the year?
This summer I had the opportunity to attend a week long study group at the TCRWP Summer Writing Institute with Carl Anderson entitled “Enduring Goals That Last Across the Year: Link Units of Study into Learning Pathways that Support Revision, Independence and Rigor.” The course could have been entitled – Cracking Open What Lucy Calkins Means When She Says “Teach the Writer Not the Writing.” In this guest blog post, I will share one of the pieces of learning, from that group, and will explore how some of the principles learned can help us to imagine the countless possibilities for our students and our teaching. I hope this will help remind all of us of what is REALLY important in teaching our students to write for a lifetime. Additionally, I hope it will mess with our thinking and what we think we know a little bit so that we approach the year, looking at our teaching, learning and students through fresh, new lenses, while at the same time carrying with us all that we are as writers and individuals
The Power of Planning ALONGSIDE Responsive Teaching – Carl spoke about how jealous he is of writing teachers today and how one of the greatest advantages we have as writing workshop teachers is that there are so many books out there today about how to teach writing and literally thousands of pages dedicated to units of study and mini-lesson possibilities. He went on to say (interestingly enough) that one of the greatest disadvantages we have is that there are SO MANY books out there for writing teachers today! There is no possible way that we could teach all of the lessons that are out there for a Personal Narrative Unit and there is no possible way that the lessons out there match the strengths, needs and diversity of all of the students in our class. We risk being a little spoiled as writing teachers with this abundance of curriculum. We must be on guard that we do not lose the spirit of inquiry, creativity, exploration and invention that inspired us to take (what was at one time) such a radical stance toward our teaching in the first place. We must not lose sight of the potpourri of personalities that exist in our classroom and of how important it is to allow their stories, interests, passions and needs to drive our curriculum? Do we leave spaces in our year-long plans so that as we come to know our students better, we can allow them to pursue their own projects-of-interest outside of the genre studies we have laid out of them at the start of the year?
The first time I heard Lucy speak, she reminded us that it is not quantity when it comes to creating curriculum but quality that matters most. Don’t misunderstand me. Quantity matters in building stamina in that kids need to be writing a lot to learn how to write well – like any other skill – practice improves performance. Lucy was speaking to the importance of the ART of teaching writing was in: selection, balance and design. Let us all hold onto these three principles of planning as we step into a new year so our curriculum is built with our students not FOR our students.
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