In the classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Atticus Finch teaches his children, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” Empathy is the ability to understand the feelings, plight, or situation of another. It is recognizing and valuing perspectives that are different from one’s own. It is the basis for relationships and, some would even argue, is vital to survival.
The start of a new calendar year brings a sense of renewal, possibility, and novelty. It is a time for reflection, and certainly, as the number of people who make New Year’s resolutions shows, for goal-setting.
Hopefully, your students (and you!) have returned from the break rested, recharged, and ready to reinvest. This is the perfect time to channel your students to reflect on their reading and writing lives and to make plans for the year ahead.
Students Collaborating in Writing Workshop: Writing Partnerships K-3
Written by Anna Gratz Cockerille
As Lucy Calkins writes in A Guide to the Common Core Writing Workshop, “It’s a great thing in life to find someone who can help you with your writing (p. 48).” Lucy believes this for students, for her colleagues, and certainly, for herself. One only has to read the acknowledgements section in any of Lucy and colleagues' Units of Study books to get a sense of the influence and power of writing partners.
Supporting Convention Work in the Units of Study: Punctuation and Spelling
Written by Anna Gratz Cockerille
One of the bottom-line essentials of writing instruction, detailed in Chapter 3 of A Guide to the Common Core Writing Workshop, part of the Units of Study for Opinion, Information, and Narrative Writing by Lucy Calkins and colleagues, is this:
"Children deserve to be taught explicitly how to write. Instruction matters—and this includes instruction in spelling and conventions as well as in the qualities and strategies of good writing." Further, Lucy explains, “Writing improves in a palpable, dramatic fashion when students are given explicit instruction, lots of time to write, clear goals, and powerful feedback (p.21).”
We mark the sudden passing of our friend, colleague, and mentor, Kathleen Tolan, with great sadness; in remembering Kathleen and the importance of her work, no words speak better than her own, in a passage from one of her most recent books, co-written with Lucy Calkins:
There's nothing like the start of a new school year, or of a new initiative. One of the great joys of teaching is that every year you have the chance to start again, with renewed energy and resolve. You know the excitement of a new class list: Who are these children? What will they be like?
You are nervous and excited not only because you wonder who the children will be; you also wonder who you will be during the year ahead. Teachers, too, assume new roles, and one of the beautiful things about the profession of teaching is that each of us has a chance to remake ourselves each and every year.
Stop and take a moment to imagine ways in which your teaching will be even better than it was last year. Cleaning the classroom closet can wait; the most important thing you can do now is to form a clear picture of the teacher you want to be.
And just as important as nurturing dreams for yourself as a teacher is nurturing the dreams your students have for themselves. Teach toward what matters most. Say to your students, "My goal is for each of you to do nothing less than build a life in which reading [and writing] matters. Go for it!" Then pull your chair alongside them to learn how you can help. (Building a Reading Life, 2015)
Rallying educators and children alike to the urgent call of a rich, literate life—this was always Kathleen's priority and gift. She will be greatly missed, and I hope we can aim to remember her by honoring this vital call to arms. With sadness and appreciation, Abby Heim, Editorial Director.
Teachers, give a thumbs-up if you've ever delivered a minilesson that failed miserably. (This teacher is putting up both thumbs.) It's likely that we all have. Sometimes, we go on too long. Sometimes, we cut one part or another too short. Sometimes, no matter how how clear our demonstration, the students just don’t understand the teaching point. What’s more, not every minilesson will meet the exact needs of every student, every day. There will be days that nearly every student leaves the meeting area charged up and ready to read more purposefully at the end of the minilesson. And, there will be days that the minilesson goes right over most of their heads.
Luckily, even when minilessons don’t go so well, we have the opportunity to reach students via conferences and small groups as they read independently. But even so, though minilessons aren't the sole means of instruction in reading workshop, they are the centerpiece. They are how we prepare students for their best independent reading, how we bolster their energy, and rally them to a common cause. In minilessons, we set the vision for the kind of readers we want them to become.
Whether you are new to reading workshop instruction and you are learning how to deliver minilessons effectively, or you are a seasoned instructor looking to tweak your minilessons to give them even more power, now is a perfect time to study your teaching and set some goals for the latter half of the school year.