I purchased the original Units of Study for Teaching Writing, Grades 3 – 5 when they were published in 2006. In the early days, those books were like a Bible to me. I used them to help me plan the scope and sequence of many of the units of study I taught. When I moved to Rhode Island, my colleagues and I often deviated from the units of study books. We’d create additional minilessons and omit ones we didn’t need. Furthermore, we created our own units of study using other resources and our own knowledge. If you’ve created multiple units of study with colleagues, then you know it takes a lot of time! Therefore, I’m delighted Lucy Calkins and her colleagues from the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project are releasing new units of study, for grades K-5, in mid-May! The new units of study are aligned to the Common Core State Standards, which means they’ll help you meet your grade level’s expectations.
According to the Units of Study website, the grade-specific samplers will:
- help you teach opinion, information, and narrative writing with increasing complexity and sophistication
- unpack the Common Core writing standards as you guide students to attain and exceed those expectations
- foster high-level thinking, including regular chances to synthesize, analyze, and critique
- develop and refine strategies for writing across the curriculum
- support greater independence and fluency through intensive writing opportunities
- include strategic performance assessments to help monitor mastery and differentiate instruction
- provide a ladder of exemplar texts that model writing progression across the K–8 continuum.
The folks at Heinemann sent me hard copies of the K-5 units of study samplers, which I began perusing on Sunday. Here’s what I’ve noticed and liked about the new units of study based on what I’ve gleaned from the samplers:
- Each of the four units of study books for each grade level are aligned to the CCSS. If you’ve been teaching using the original Units of Study for Teaching Writing, then these are a great way to ratchet up your instruction. (I think one can continue to use the original units too! Most likely you’ve already adapted them to meet the CCSS for your grade level.)
- Each minilesson tells you which standards you will be meeting when teaching the minilesson. Note: many lessons go beyond the writing standards. For instance, Session 2 in the Fourth Grade Sampler (i.e., “Gathering Writing by Studying Characters”) meets writing, reading literature, speaking & listening, and language standards.
- Like Units of Study for Teaching Writing, Grades 3 – 5 the Units of Study in Opinion, Information, and Narrative Writing include coaching commentary for each part of the minilesson, conferring and small-group work suggestions, mid-workshop teaching points, teaching points and suggestions for end-of-workshop shares, homework, and ideas for anchor charts.
- Each grade level’s set contains Assessment Ladders, which include benchmark student texts, writing checklists, learning progressions, and rubrics. My former colleagues and I spent hours creating checklists and rubrics for students. Now they’re all right here!
- The conferring scenarios are useful to guide writing conferences. They help you look for things writers are struggling with so you will know how to help them. For instance, there are scenarios that begin with “If the writer elaborates by adding fact upon fact…,” “If the writer chooses ideas about which she has little expertise and/or that are difficult to research…,” and “If the writer is ready to experiment with alternative organizational structures…” I believe these scenarios are written for each unit of study.
- I adore the concept of the If… Then… Curriculum Assessment-Based Instruction Books! Each grade level’s If… Then… books provide alternative and additional units of study. They also provide ways to differentiate instruction for more sophisticated writers as well as struggling writers. Additionally, they provide coaching scenarios for each part of the writing process (structure/cohesion, elaboration, language development, idea generation, etc.).
- Each of the alternate units are short: about 10 pages long. (They don’t include coaching commentary like the rest of the units.) I had the opportunity to view “Poetry Anthologies: Writing, Thinking, and Seeing More,” which is one of the fourth grade If… Then… units. (It reads like one of the TCRWP curricular calendars, which the Project typically hands out at summer institutes. ) It was phenomenal. The poetry unit includes an introduction, a summary of the bends in the road in the unit, a plan to gather mentor texts, and thoughts about choosing when and how students will publish their poetry. Then, each of the bends in the road are laid out, which will help you create your teaching points.
Since I consult with teachers, I’m trying to decide which grade level to buy. Therefore, I’ve been focusing my attention on the upper grade samplers. I have to say, I’m quite impressed with the breadth of units in the third, fourth, and fifth grade units. Some of the books in each grade’s units of study are revamped (e.g., Third grade now has a revised unit of its own on crafting true stories. Fourth grade has its own realistic fiction and literary essay units. And fifth grade has a narrative craft unit and one on memoir.) But there are new units for each grade level too! For instance, if I buy the third grade unit, I’ll have a book on persuasive speeches, petitions, and editorials and another on fairy tales. The fourth grade book would provide me with new units on historical writing and persuasive essays. The fifth grade books would give me brand new units for research-based argument essays and research reports. As you can imagine, deciding which grade level to buy is going to be tough!