Literacy Specialist – Many teachers in Rocky View Schools have started to explore the benefits of incorporating the Lucy Calkins Units of Study in Writing and the Units of Study in Reading to elevate, enhance and engage students in their writing. These Units of Study were developed through the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, from the Teachers College at Columbia University. This process approach to literacy instruction introduces carefully scaffolded skills and strategies, through sequenced mini lessons, to support students in developing and sharing their written ideas, and in accessing new information. Through the Gradual Release of Responsibility, skills and strategies are introduced and modeled for students using mentor texts and expert thinking strategies. Teachers can serve as the in-house experts to model how mature readers and writers think. Using these examples, teachers can identify and support students as they begin to transfer effective writing techniques, styles and devices from the pros into their own writing; therefore, enhancing and elevating student writing. While the Units of Study in Reading and Writing focus on building student independence through the gradual release of responsibility, there are many parallel structures that help students to learn important literacy skills. These structures include the cycle of workshop, the four part mini lesson, and the structures for conferring with students.

The Gradual Release of Responsibility plays an important role in the development of literacy skills and behaviours. The structure of “I do, we do, you do” promotes the introduction of new concepts through modelled thinking and learning strategies, then guided practice, with intentional time for independent consolidation and practice of literacy skills. This structure allows for teachers to work with small groups, or individual students, while students work independently, and facilitates differentiation of instruction. The level of student independence required to optimize this model takes time. To build independence and stamina with students, intentional focus can be given to routines and environmental structures, like anchor charts and stamina graphs.

As they move through the cycles of Readers and Writers Workshop, students focus on developing the strategies and skills that will elevate the confidence and independence with which the are able to access and communicate ideas. Elements of choice, whether students are reading or writing, are important for student engagement within the workshop. Sessions are scaffolded in such ways that allow for students to connect their reading and writing to personal experiences and expertise. While there is an obvious difference between the two Workshops in terms of instructional content, (ie. reading-based instruction vs. writing-based instruction), many elements remain consistent. “If you have taught within a writing workshop structure, the reading workshop structure will be very familiar to you… the structure upholds the tenets we all know are necessary to teach children to read (and write)” (Calkins, 2015, p.27). The cycle of workshop begins with a quick mini lesson, consisting of four parts. This is an opportunity for teachers to explicitly introduce and model new writing or reading strategies. The four part mini lesson is only meant to span about 10 minutes, and is broken down into the following components:

  • Connection: Connecting to prior teaching and learning.
  • Teaching: Introduction and modelling of strategies through teaching.
  • Active Engagement: Active consolidation with classmates before independent practice.
  • Link: Connect back to teaching point. This sets students up to leave with a plan for the independent component of workshop.

After the mini lesson, students move to the independent reading or writing stage in their cycle of workshop.

The independent phase of the Cycle of Workshop is important for students to consolidate, practice and build confidence with skills and strategies that are introduced through mini-lessons and small group work. Students need this time in order to grow independence in using and transferring new strategies to support them in accessing and communicating their ideas.

To ensure successful and productive student work during this time, teachers can intentionally introduce and model expectations for independence. By taking time to build routines for sustaining stamina for both reading and writing, teachers ensure that they have time to confer with students, and host small guided sessions with students, to focus on differentiated needs. Class discussions and modelling of behaviors to support independence, and setting and keeping track of goals as a class can support successful stamina building.

While students work independently, there are many flexible opportunities for teachers to support students with their writing. During this time, teachers are able to gather formative assessment data, and provide feedback to students. By conferring with small guided reading and writing groups, targeted strategy groups, and individual groups of students, students and teachers set goals, and identify strategies to elevate student reading and writing.

After students have had an opportunity to read or write independently, and to practice learned strategies, it is important for them to share their growth with others in partnerships and then as a whole class. Together, partners share and show how they have incorporated strategies into their ongoing reading and writing practices to enhance their communication. After partners share with one another, the whole class comes together once more for the Teaching Share, bringing the Cycle of Workshop to a close. Here, the class celebrates together how students are making use of the focus strategies and skills introduced at the beginning of the cycle, or perhaps from a past day’s mini-lesson. In both Readers and Writers Workshop, this is an important component of the cycle, as it will be the connection point, or base of reference, for the next day’s mini-lesson.

The parallel Cycles of Readers and Writers Workshop offer support for teachers to explicitly model and introduce strategies, in a scaffolded fashion, and then to work with students to support their differentiated needs. To ensure that reading and writing instruction occurs as part of a Comprehensive Balanced Literacy diet, the instruction within the Cycles of Workshop is specific and targeted to diversify student learning, and to maximize student literacy growth.

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