This morning, I was playing around with planning a unit of study that couched both reader's workshop and writer's workshop within the context of a specific thinking strategy - specifically Creating Sensory Images. I pulled out our new standards, some of my favorite resources, a planning guide, some old charts and files, my notebook, and then went to work...
In Carl Anderson's book Assessing Writers he asks several great questions to think about when planning a unit of study in writing:
What are our students' needs?
What are our students' interests?
What have the students studied in previous grades?
What units of study do we know well enough to teach?
What curriculum mandates are we required to meet?"
Good questions to think about, eh? I read a bit of Katie Wood Ray's Writer's Workshop: Working Through the Hard Parts and They're All Hard Parts, Shelley Harwayne's Writing Through Childhood, and Don Graves' A Fresh Look at Writing. I always find it helpful to go to the mentors I trust, with whom I've learned, and that I hold in esteem. The mentors from whom I've come to understand writers. The mentors who taught me about the power of being a writer. The mentors who spent years perfecting, revising, and perfecting their craft.
I pulled out the work of my favorite poets... Kristine O'Connell George, Georgia Heard, Ralph Fletcher, Jane Yolen, Donald Graves, Randi Allison, Lee Bennett Hopkins. I pulled out other helpful resources from my bookshelves... A Note Slipped Under the Door by Nick Flynn and Shirley McPhillips, Awakening the Heart by Georgia Heard, Writing Toward Home by Georgia Heard, For the Good of the Earth and Sun by Georgia Heard, Study Driven by Katie Wood Ray, Notebook Connections by Aimee Buckner, Poetry Matters by Ralph Fletcher. I pulled out my own notebooks to look for writing of my own that might be work re-exploring. I pulled out notes on previous attempts of teaching both Sensory Images and poetry. I searched. I pondered. I jotted. I surmised. I wondered. I wrote.
Then I sketched out a preliminary plan - paralleling sensory images and poetry. I think the possibilities are amazing (and endless) when we look carefully at the what and how we teach specific skills and strategies when we investigate them within the auspices of a specific "thinking strategy."
It seems that so often teachers are asking for a pretty packaged curriculum, something they can follow step-by-step. I can't tell you how often I hear teachers say, "Just tell me what to teach!" The problem is, if we say that too loudly and too often and too quickly, it happens... someone tells you exactly what to teach and exactly when to teach it. But I don't think in a "Stepford" manner, so for me the quest of my own inquiry, based on my students' needs and interests, gives me the energy to investigate... to challenge... to experiment... to forge ahead.
If we want every child to be a writer, we don't need a canned curriculum to teach from... we need to use our own writing, resources within our reach, and the depth that great writing teachers offer us. Now, don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with using something as a preliminary guide... but who knows our students better than we do? My friend and colleague, Lori Conrad, once told me that the "scope" of what to teach is what our children are showing us they need (based on what our district/state curriculum and what we see/hear children doing) and the "sequence" is when our students are showing us they need it (or we deem it important within a specific study).
Am I finished, nope. But I have an idea of where I'm headed when I track back on at the end of April. And... once I'm in front of my students, then I'll be able to see where this study leads. But for now, I have some more thinking to do... if you need me, just slip a note under the door.