Work Smarter: How To Wrap Up A Unit of Study

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This week my colleagues and I are writing posts that we hope will make your life a little easier. We’re sharing some ways to work smarter, not harder.

After a unit of study, there’s a lot to do before you can say, “That’s a wrap.” Here’s a potential end-of-the unit to-do list:

  1. Have a celebration or publishing party, of course!
  2. Display kids’ published pieces somewhere meaningful.
  3. Clean out student writing folders so they can start fresh for the next unit (but wait! See below before you do this!)
  4. Prepare paper choices for the new unit.
  5. Administer a post-unit on-demand writing assessment.
  6. Score those post-unit on-demands!
  7. Administer a pre-unit on-demand writing assessment.
  8. Score those!

Whew! That’s a lot. It will vary, of course, from grade to grade and from school to school. Plus, I probably forgot a few things.

Let’s break this into manageable pieces, so you can work smarter, not harder at the end of a unit of study.

PUBLISHING AND CELEBRATING:

  1. When young kids publish their work, remember that the work they do is not the same as adults who publish. Rather than you taking home a giant stack of their independent writing and fixing it up for them, it’s probably better to teach your kids to do their own editing and publishing as best they can. It’s not really their own work anymore if you mark it all up for them, is it? See this older post for more ideas on publishing with kids.
  2. Start small with your writing celebrations. If you invite families and create an over-the-top experience early in the year, your students will grow to expect this for all your end-of-the-unit celebrations. The point of a writing celebration is to reflect on and celebrate the work kids have done in a meaningful way. Doing something simple, but meaningful, is wise at the start of the year. See this post  for ideas on this.

CLEANING OUT THE WRITING FOLDERS & SENDING WRITING HOME:

  1. It’s a smart idea to start fresh for the next unit. But consider this time-saving and very smart idea I’m stealing from some incredibly smart teachers I know. Don’t just clean out the old folder. Give kids a nice new folder for the next unit.
  2. Save the old folder with samples of writing in it in a safe place. A file cabinet or storage container like this works perfectly. Usually, you can save just a few examples of writing and other artifacts from each unit to create a yearlong collection of writing, and send the rest home.
  3. BUT WAIT! Make sure to peek ahead at future units–across the grades, an occasional unit will call on you to give kids their old writing to sort into piles, or to reread for various reasons. Kindergarten teachers, for example, you will launch Writing for Readers by asking kids to sort through all their writing from Launching–so don’t send it all home right away!
  4. It’s also wise to craft a letter to parents to help them understand what they are looking at. It’s probably not a bad idea to send some straight-up spelling or phonics work along with the independent writing, just to make it clear that yes of course we teach spelling too!
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A fresh new folder for each unit, ready to go.

PREPARING PAPER CHOICES FOR THE NEXT UNIT (K-2):

  1. Tip #1: Do not wait until the morning that you actually need the paper. For obvious reasons.
  2. Tip #2: Make a TON of the paper. Don’t just make a few measly days’ worth. Make the booklets how you want them, and run off enough for the unit. Use your building’s high volume copier if such a thing exists. Put it this way: if you have 25 kids, and they each use 2-3 booklets a week, that’s about 60 booklets a week x 4 weeks, so you need at LEAST 240 booklets. If you have any left over at the end of the unit, then you can use them in the next unit. There is nothing more annoying than running out of paper, plus it takes less time overall if you just do it all at once. Sometimes one very kind teacher will offer to do it for the entire team, saving everybody the extra trips.
  3. Tip #3: Don’t forget that idea above about giving kids a fresh new folder to start the next unit!
  4. Tip #4: If you want to get REALLY smart. Put a photocopy of last year’s published piece in the new folder, so that when kids open up their folder on the first day of the new unit, they have a tangible reminder of all that they learned last year.

ON-DEMAND ASSESSMENTS AT THE END OF ONE UNIT, AND THE START OF ANOTHER:

Okay, so you’ve committed to giving a second narrative on-demand at the end of your narrative unit, but information writing is coming and you really want to give an informational on-demand before you dive into it. What do you do? Give two on-demands back-to-back? Hold up. There might be a smarter way…

  1. First of all, try to plan to do the post-assessment for the unit you’ve just finished on a Friday, before a weekend. Then you’ll have all weekend to read those pieces.
  2. Also, plan to leave a few days in between your units. The following Mon, Tues, Weds of writing workshop can be an “open cycle” where your kids finally have a chance to write ANYTHING they want. In the meantime, this also gives you a few more days to finish scoring the post-assessments.
  3. If you have a few days in between units, then you can give your pre-assessment on-demand anytime during those few days. Remember to think about how many days you want to give yourself to score those. I like giving it on a Thursday or Friday, at the end of the open-cycle. Then I’ll have a few days to score over the weekend before the new unit begins.

ONE POSSIBLE SCENARIO:

THURSDAY: Small Moments Unit Publishing Party

FRIDAY: Give Narrative On-Demand (Post-Assessment)

SATURDAY & SUNDAY: Score

MONDAY, TUESDAY, WEDNESDAY, THURSDAY: Open Cycle/Independent Writing: Kids get to write anything they want!

FRIDAY: Give Informational Writing On-Demand (Pre-Assessment)

SATURDAY & SUNDAY: Score (Bonus if it happens to be a long weekend!)

MONDAY: Launch Informational Writing Unit

Now that’s a wrap!

P.S. For even more ideas on ways to work smarter, not harder, don’t forget to join us Monday at 8:30pm EST for our Twitter chat!