Albert Einstein once said, “Intellectual growth should commence at birth and should cease only at death.” In no profession is this commitment to lifelong learning more important and more apparent than in teaching. Teachers know we are never finished learning. We spend our time not in the classroom studying, observing, discussing, and collaborating in order to become the best teachers we can be.
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.
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).”
If you are a middle school teacher who has chosen to teach writing using a workshop model, you know that it is possible for students to choose writing topics that fuel their passions and to write to high standards simultaneously. You know that giving students freedom to cycle through a process of writing does not mean they will be unproductive, quite the contrary. You know that it is possible to prepare students for standardized assessments while also teaching them to live a writerly life.
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.