- You have spent all year establishing an environment of trust in which students can feel safe exploring issues and themes in their own lives through writing. Realistic fiction, with its emphasis on students drawing from their own lives, is a unit that supports self-reflection and self-analysis.
- Realistic fiction is a genre for which many, many beautiful mentors are readily available.
- Because students know this genre well, they can spend less time getting to know characteristics of the genre and more time working on their craft.
- There is such joy that comes from doing something with which one feels familiar.
- Realistic fiction supports re-connection with notebook work, where good writing very often begins. And, as Kate and Maggie posted recently on their brilliant blog Indent, spring is the perfect time to remind kids of some of the things that notebooks are actually for–exploration, creation, and building identity.
Once you have assessed your students’ writing according to your goals, you can pick teaching points that will get at exactly what it is you would like students to be able to do before the end of the school year.
You might decide to just concentrate your teaching on unpacking what exactly “show, don’t tell” means, and how to do it. With your students, you might study ways authors show how a character is feeling through her words, actions, and thoughts. Or, you might study ways authors unfold setting details over the course of the action instead of just throwing out places and dates in the beginning.
If you teach reading using a workshop model, you might think about the work your students have done getting to know the characters in their fiction books and plan your teaching to help them create character and story arcs that match the books they are reading. Upper grade students might try their hands at writing stories with multiple characters moving through multiple story arcs, for example.
Alternately, you might decide to angle the unit toward helping your students bring out deeper meaning in their writing. Teach them to consider what their stories will really be about right at the start. One way to do this is to consider what lessons readers might learn from a story. Then, angle the beginning, middle, and end to support these lessons.
Choosing just an area or two of focus for this unit instead of giving equal priority of all parts of a large unit will help you to support depth and transference in these areas.
Assessing and Celebrating
This is a time of year for the assessment to get meta. Ask your students to do plenty of self-reflection using familiar checklists, rubrics, or other tools. Then, assess their reflections. Are they honest? Can they point to multiple places in their work where they tried certain skills? Can they explain what the skills mean or are they only checking boxes? Sending your students to the next grade with the ability to reflect honestly and realistically on their writing is perhaps the most important skill of all.
To celebrate, really think about whether an intimate or a larger gathering feels more appropriate. Because the school year’s end often brings sadness at moving on, you might ask students to leave their mark on your classroom by dedicating their writing to your class library for next year’s class to enjoy.
Of course, there are many writing units that make for wonderful finishes to the year. Perhaps you are following an established curriculum and don’t have much choice in the unit. Regardless, you can consider ways to emphasize the skills, habits, and depth that you most want your students to bring with them next year, and always.
Anna is a staff developer, literacy coach, and writer, based in New York City. She taught internationally in places such as Sydney, Australia; San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and Auckland, New Zealand in addition to New York before becoming a staff developer for the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University (TCRWP). She has been an adjunct instructor in the Literacy Specialist Program at Teachers College, and teaches at TCRWP where she helps participants bring strong literacy instruction into their classrooms. Anna recently co-wrote Bringing History to Life with Lucy Calkins, part of the 2013 series Units of Study in Opinion, Information, and Narrative Writing (Heinemann). She has been a researcher for Lucy Calkins, contributing especially to Pathways to the Common Core (Heinemann, 2012) and Navigating Nonfiction (Heinemann, 2010).