Thursday, March 9, 2017

How-To...the kind of writing I'm doing today. 9/31 #SOL17

So, I have been writing many, many If...Then...Units for ELA.  My current unit is a real doozie, testing all I know about writing and teaching writing, managing students and managing time, and pretty much all my skills.  It is a "Writing Like a Scientist" unit, hybridizing science and writing.  Tricky, yes?

Anyway, as I am writing in my lesson plans about writing How-To books, I got to thinking about how I get ready to write a unit.  So, if you are curious, this is how I do it.  This is a slice of my life.

First, you need time and space.

Good internet connections are a bonus, but not completely necessary.  The other literacy coaches and I have been writing all of our units in Google docs so we can collaborate easily without having to meet to write.  It is working quite nicely.  We are learning and learning to love it.

The space where I do most of my unit writing is my desk at school.  It is stacked and stacked with TBR articles, mentor texts, library books, and various other resources.  Oh, hey, there's my calendar too!  I have to make some room when it is time to write.

I require many drinks while working.  Luckily, I have the bladder of a veteran teacher, so I can down quite a few ounces in a session of unit writing.  Today, it's coffee (gone), water (gone), and tea (almost gone).

Next, you need all your resources and writing materials at the ready.  I have the writing materials with me at all times, pens and post-its, sometimes highlighters.  The resources for a unit seem to follow a bell curve with the peak stack height hitting somewhere in the middle of the unit.  Today, I have my If...Then...Curriculum book, mentor texts, and the fabulous new Writing Strategies Book by Jennifer Sarravello.  It's wonderful, and I am in high hopes of finding many helpful strategies and prompts to help in this unit.  Heaven knows I'll need them!

After you have yourself situated, it is good to get right down to the writing.

Previously, my colleagues and I had collaborated to agree on teaching points.  They are the most important part of the unit.  They are the learning that will happen.  In my experience, deciding the teaching points is the most time consuming part of unit writing, as well.  I digress.

When I am writing a unit, I am essentially writing lesson plans.  I like to create my mentor pieces, at least sketch them out how I think they might go.  Having an idea of the units flow from inquiry to celebration, helps me understand what expectations I might have for the kids at different checkpoints within the unit.  Mentor texts are tabbed up and mapped out for lessons.  I also like to make mini anchor charts, take a photo of them and stick those in the unit to remind me of the resources I want the kids to have available.

Here a couple of the mini charts.  I make them just to remind me of my thinking later, when I am teaching.

Ok, maybe this lesson writing is the most time consuming part.  It doesn't matter though because every minute I spend writing units, the more comfortable I feel teaching the units.  It helps me understand my curriculum and the standards.  It helps me dream about what these kids are capable of...anything!

Of course, I couldn't write one word, not a meaningful one anyway, without the most important thing...I channel my inner Lucy.  (I've met her once.  I did not think to get a picture.  I am not happy about that.)

Finally, when the lessons are written, and the resources are readied, and the charts are planned, I read it all through, revising some, but mostly editing.  I like to format the lessons like the UOS.  Sometimes, I add some small group ideas or a special conferring resource.  

And then, I take a deep breath and WAIT!  I forgot about the snacks!  Snacks are essential to unit writing.  I like to choose something that comes in tiny bits, like M&Ms or Skittles.  That way I can reward myself little bits at a time.  If I tried this idea with full size candy bars, I wouldn't be able to get out of my chair!  Here are the snacks available today.  (In case you noticed, I was trying to eat my healthy little tomatoes that you can see in the resources pic.  I chose cinnamon grahams instead.)

Ok, now you might feel more prepared to try writing a unit yourself.  Or maybe just try a how-to book.

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