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Three Ideas for Planning a Multiage Curriculum Calendar for Writing Workshop

There are often three types of multiage classrooms. Some multiage classrooms are created in alignment with an underlying philosophy that there are many benefits for children. Not only do multiage classrooms get to have the consistency of the same teacher for two years instead of one, kids also experience being mentored by the older students, and then get to be the leaders of the younger classmates when their time comes.

In other schools, multiage classrooms are created for more logistical reasons – to lower class sizes, for example. Or to allow for more options in matching students to different teachers.

There are also classrooms that are a combination of the two – originally created for logistical purposes, but then embracing the multiage philosophy.

If you teach in a multiage classroom, you may face the challenge of how to plan a curriculum that can meet all your students’ needs, when so many published resources are organized by single-grades.

In this post, I’ll share three things I’ve learned from my own school district, where our multiage 1st-2nd and 3rd-4th classrooms outnumber the single grade classrooms. We gather in teams each spring to collaboratively plan a curriculum calendar for the following school year. As we do this work, here’s what we think about:

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Most units of study and minilessons are multi-level to begin with.

Even though the published materials we use are labeled “First Grade” or “Second Grade” units of study or lessons, upon closer examination, it’s clear that most of the strategies taught are transferable to any piece of writing, no matter the grade-level. In fact, many of the minilessons could apply to much older students, and even adult writers with minimal adaptation. So, we consider our two sets of published materials as multilevel, and simply have more units to choose from. That is, instead of only having only the “Third Grade” published materials, our 3rd-4th multiage classrooms have more units to choose from.

Often there will be units that are similar from two different sets of grade-level materials. The first grade nonfiction writing might not be so different from the second grade nonfiction writing unit, for example. Second grade might have some additional strategies, student examples that are longer and more detailed, and different mentor texts.

When we open up two similar published resources from the two grade-levels, we can often easily spot which lessons are teaching the same or similar strategies. “Planning across three pages by sketching and then writing the words” is extremely similar to “Touching each picture and saying what will go there.” It’s possible to adapt those lessons to combine them into one.

Once we’ve identified units or lessons that are similar and can be combined, we can proceed with our curriculum planning as usual, organizing our instruction from easiest and most familiar genres, to more challenging and less familiar genres.

There are some exceptions of course. For example, the fourth grade literary essay unit would be quite a stretch, maybe too much of a stretch for most of our third graders. So to teach literary essay to our fourth graders, we have to get creative. That’s where building in a lot of choice and small group options comes in.

Build in a lot of choice for students.

Choice and independence are at the heart of workshop teaching, so a workshop model works really well in a multi-age classroom. If a typical first grade classroom has three options of paper for kids to choose from, a 1st-2nd multiage classroom may have six options, each with an increasing number of lines.

Additionally, in a workshop model students should be choosing to use strategies based on their own decisions about their writing. Not just in multiage classrooms, but in all classrooms. A strategy might be taught in a Monday minilesson, but a student might not need to use the strategy until Thursday. Anchor charts, personal checklists, and many other visual supports are provided to help students remember all the strategies that have been introduced so that they can use them when they need to, by choice, not just on the one day that the minilesson was taught. The need for choice applies to any workshop, but becomes a more obvious necessity in a multiage classroom, where the range of student needs spans two grade-levels rather than one.

A curriculum calendar for a multiage classroom might include units where students start out learning to write something easier like small moments, but later in the unit can have the option to create something more challenging, like realistic fiction or a graphic novel version of their story. Or perhaps the whole class starts out writing personal essays, and then fourth graders are taught literary essay in a smaller group while third graders continue their personal essay work. Planning for units that offer a more challenging option allows you to differentiate for the older more experienced writers, while still offering something for everybody.

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To alternate years, or not to alternate years?

This is always a question that comes up in our multiage classroom curriculum planning – should we teach the same units each year (so our first graders would have the same units again in second grade), or should we switch it up (so they have different units each year).

Once upon a time, we attempted to plan out several years at a time, with two calendars that would switch back and forth from year to year. What we found, however, was that our schools are more unpredictable than we realize. Often classes are reorganized, teachers come and go, kids move schools. New published materials are constantly coming out, we learn new things that we want to try out, pandemics hit–and the reality is that school is in constant state of change.

What we’ve found is that kids generally benefit from the same units two years in a row. We swap out fresh new mentor texts, of course. And because we are always picking and choosing minilessons that meet the specific needs of the students, no two years are ever really the same. Additionally, the older students benefit from revisiting what they learned last year when they were younger, and lifting the level of it now that they are older. While, yes, they wrote personal narratives (small moments) in first grade – the stories they wrote at that time were only a few sentences long. When they return to the same unit in second unit, now they are writing stories with several sentences per page.

We also add in different units as needed. For example, next year, our 3rd-4th multiage team will do the fantasy and folktales unit they didn’t get to do last year. Some teachers are eager to try writing graphic novels for the first time. We’re also going to need to create a new unit to integrate with our new social studies curriculum. As new materials and resources become available, we constantly revise and adapt our plans, year to year.

2021-2022 1st-2nd Multiage Curriculum Calendar Example

Launching Writing Workshop and a Building a Strong Community
*Free Choice Writing 
*Community Building
*Oral Storytelling
*Outdoor Classroom/Nature Writing
*Writing Partners & Learning How to Tell Stories to Each Other
*Pen Pals & Letter Writing
1st Grade Book 1 Small Moments Combined with 2nd Grade Book 1 Lessons from the Masters (Calkins et al)
2nd Grade Book 4 Poetry (Calkins et al)
1st Grade Book 2 Writing Nonfiction Chapter Books (Calkins et al)
Combined with 2nd Grade The How-To Guide for Informational Writing (Calkins et al)
1st Gr Book 3 Writing Reviews Combined with 2nd Gr Book 3 Writing About Reading
1st Grade Book 4 From Scenes to Series
with option to create comic/graphic novel versions

2021-2022 3rd-4th Multiage Curriculum Calendar Example

Launching Writing Workshop and a Building a Strong Community
*Free Choice Writing 
*Community Building
*Oral Storytelling
*Outdoor Classroom/Nature Writing
*Writing Partners & Learning How to Tell Stories to Each Other
*Pen Pals & Letter Writing
3rd Gr Book 1: Crafting True Stories Bend I & II (Lucy Calkins et al)
3rd Grade Book 1: Crafting True Stories Bend III & IV (Lucy Calkins et al)
with option:
Mini-Unit using Read-Alouds, 4th Gr Book 4: Literary Essays (Lucy Calkins et al)
3rd Gr Book 2: Art of Information Writing (Lucy Calkins et al)
Content Area Writing
Social Studies Research Writing TBD
and/or
3rd Gr Book 3: Changing the World (Opinion) (Lucy Calkins et al)
Fairy Tale Writing: 3rd Grade Book 4 (Lucy Calkins et al)
with option:
Second Mini-Unit using Read-Alouds, 4th Gr Book 4: Literary Essays
Fiction Writing
with option:
Graphic Novels/Comic Strips
*Note: We plan to incorporate a lot of mini-literary-essay writing into our whole class read-alouds throughout the school year as well.

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BethMooreSchool View All

Literacy Coach, Consultant, Author, Graduate Course Instructor, and Mom. Passionate about fostering a love of reading and writing in learners of all ages.

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