Recently I attended my oldest daughter’s back-to-school orientation in her third grade classroom. It was a typical night of excited cafeteria room chatter, squeaky new sneakers, and the exchange of adorable little kid hugs between reunited playground friends. The loudspeaker chimed in and out, prompting us to move from one location to the next, and parents shuffled around their forms and folders and PTA fundraising packets. Beginnings are beautiful. But they can be messy.
They can be stressful and overwhelming and exhausting.
But not if you have a plan.
A few other observations I made that night at intermediate school orientation had to do with my daughter’s incredible teacher, Mrs. Bowman. Mrs. Bowman is a teacher’s teacher — the kind who, if you’re in education and you’re sitting in her classroom, makes you want to be a better teacher. Besides the fact that she’s so obviously on the side of her students and passionate about their learning, and looking beyond her adorably and thoughtfully arranged and decorated classroom, what I saw was nuts and bolts organization and intention.
There was a book basket “book shopping” center, writer’s workshop table, and student conference space; there were comfy chairs, work-stations, folders, calendars, Class Dojo accounts, iPads, and adorable multi-colored paper-clips mounted to the walls ready for student work. And my personal favorite, a space on her board entitled, “We will do…How to do…How to succeed” for daily agendas, goals, and self reflection.
Mrs. Bowman has a plan. She doesn’t just anticipate her students’ needs, she prepares for them.
It gets me thinking. When we prepare a new writing study, this is what we should do — prepare for our students’ needs. We should think through each step and prepare our lessons and to joyfully and intentionally meet our students where they are in order to help them achieve as much as they can.
One way to do this is through mini-lessons that scaffold to the overarching goal of your writing study.
Here are some guiding questions that may help you plan and prepare for your writing unit and evaluate where some gaps might need filled in or extra practice might be required:
When taking stock of your writing study…
- Did you begin with the end in mind? What is the overarching goal?
- What is the final product? How will you know when a student is successful?
- What are the critical skills students need in order to be successful in the writing study?
- What will students need to know in order to successfully create the final product?
- What will students need to do in order to successfully create the final product?
- What kind of classroom atmosphere would be ideal in order for students to be productive?
- Are there opportunities for collaboration?
- Are there opportunities for modeling?
- Are there opportunities for reflection and self assessment?
- What do you want the students to get out of this experience? What do you hope they take away?
I’ve found that if I invest the time up front in asking and answering these questions myself, I have a deeper understanding of not only what I’m asking students to do, but where and when to schedule mini lessons based the task and overarching goal. For example, if you know that you want your students to have a strong introduction devoid of the classic, “Have you ever” questions, then you might want to spend some time in class analyzing and evaluating what makes an effective introduction, modeling how you might approach introducing a topic, and giving students low-stakes writing opportunities to practice and share. You can include plenty of mentor texts along the the way to guide your discussions and writing.
But of course, the greatest variable is our students — their strengths, weaknesses, and greatest needs. And if we can be intentional in preparing for them, I think we’re one step closer to moving our young writers.
How do you decide which mini-lessons to include in your writing study? What questions do you ask in preparing a writing study?
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