As a staff developer at this time of the school year, the schools I work with often ask me to help them make a plan for next year’s reading and writing workshops. We often spend our last meeting together doing “June Planning,” meaning looking back at the current year, reflecting on what went well, our own strengths and next steps as teachers, and thinking ahead to next year. We often look across samples of student work, portfolios of writing and reading work, comparing September to June. Often we gather up binders and boxes full of lessons plans, read alouds, charts and other material to organize it and sort through it in preparation for next year. We go on a tour of the school building with an eye toward supportive learning environments. We sift through classroom libraries and make wish lists for books to order. We read articles and books together in study groups, thinking ahead to what we might work on next year. We dig into our Units of Study books and resources, we share ideas, and we prepare ourselves as best we can for summer and the upcoming school year. But of all the things we do together at this time of year, there is one thing that I, personally, feel is the most important.
Setting publishing dates for next year’s writing workshop.
If we do nothing else, we do this one thing. We pull out next year’s school calendar and set realistic, attainable timeframes for each unit of study. We discuss what went well with our pacing this year, and we aim to improve upon what went well, and avoid making the same mistakes twice. Of course, when I say, “publishing,” I’m talking about a type of publishing that is a bit different than the adult world of publishing: see this post to find out what I mean.
Here are a few bits of advice for planning publishing dates for next year:
1. Aim for six to eight units of study in writing per year, with each unit between four to six weeks long. There once was a time when many of my schools aimed for ten units a year–this was too much. On the other hand, there are also schools I have worked with who stayed in the unit of study Small Moments: Personal Narrative from September to December, then All About Books: Nonfiction Writing from January to March–that was way too long for each unit and didn’t leave enough time to teach enough across the whole year. (Admit it–you’ve been there!) With six to eight units, you’re able to teach a variety of genre to tap into many student interests, strengths, and areas of need. You’re able to swing back around to a challenging genre more than once in the school year. Maybe you’ll do one information writing unit in the fall, and then another slightly different information unit in the spring. Maybe you’ll do more than one opinion writing unit. Maybe you’ll include poetry as a unit.
2. Be sure to plan to teach at least one solid unit for each of the major strands of the Common Core State Standards for Writing (Opinion, Information, and Narrative writing). You probably want to have at least one, if not two, opinion writing units (that includes essay, persuasive, or argument), one or two information writing units, and one or two narrative units. When deciding which types of writing need to be taught across two (or more) units, think about what your kids need the most support in. Do your kids struggle with essay writing (many do)…then plan for more than one essay unit. Perhaps you want to do one early in the year, and one later, or maybe you want those units back-to-back. If your kids tend to be really strong in a particular type of writing, say narrative, then you probably only need one unit of that type of writing–maybe you’ll only do personal narrative ,or realistic fiction, or adaptations to fairy tales–but probably not all three if your kids already have a handle on narrative.
3. Plan for your writing assessments. Many of my schools do an on-demand writing assessment prior to teaching a unit so that they can see what kids already know and then plan accordingly. An on-demand is a simple assessment–you essentially ask kids to do a sample of writing on their own, without conferring or partner work, so that you can observe your kids at work and see what they know how to do independently. (Detailed information about on-demand assessments, including rubrics, checklists, and benchmarks for student progress aligned with CCSS can be found in the Units of Study for Opinion, Information, and Narrative Writing by Lucy Calkins and Colleagues, published by Heinemann). It’s nice to do these assessments before a weekend so that you have time to read them and adapt your unit plans accordingly before starting your teaching. You may also want to do a post-assessment to check student progress. In any case, put these dates on the calendar in a way that makes sense.
4. Plan ideas for writing celebrations! I’ve written about the importance of publishing parties, or writing celebrations, before. It’s so important to have a plan for how you’ll provide an audience for your kids’ writing. When you sit down with next year’s school calendar to set dates for each unit, you might as well start thinking ahead about how you’ll celebrate the end of each unit. Each celebration can be simple, something small, but meaningful for the kids. Try to mark the end of each unit in a thoughtful way that sets kids up with a sense of purpose and motivation to do their best work. See this post from fall of 2013 for ideas for publishing parties.
For examples of publishing dates from some real schools I work with, see here:
Every school is different, so you’ll see that these calendars reflect those differences. For example, one of these schools has “College Essay” on their calendar, because of the IB curriculum that their school participates in. The other school departmentalizes, so it’s crucial for them to coordinate with their science/social studies counter parts so that they can plan read alouds and other work that will support students across the curriculum. Neither of these schools plan to spend a lot of time on test prep, so you won’t see it as a unit of study on these calendars–but many of my schools do plan to spend a few weeks teaching test taking as it’s very own genre of reading and writing. When coming together to decide on a calendar together, it’s important to keep an open mind and be willing to make compromises. Remember, that for every type of writing and every project we add in to the school year, we probably also have to let something go.