Several years ago I had the chance to study with Carl Anderson for a week at a TCRWP Summer Institute on the topic: Enduring Goals that Last Across the Year: Link Units of Study into Learning Pathways to Support Revision, Independence and Vigor.
After writing yesterday about the dangers of missing the writers in the writing curriculum, I revisited notes that I had written while listening to Carl. You know that something powerful is being said when it is timeless and true . . . even several years later.
He spoke to how we were in the best and worst of times in the teaching of writing. It is the best in that there is so much curriculum material out there, but it is also the worst because it is easy to forget that these materials were not written with OUR kids in mind. This begs the question: How can we draw on the best of both worlds . . . How can we make use of the materials that we have at our fingertips, while at the same time, design units of study that will meet the needs of our students?
Through our work that week, Carl helped us to realize that our goal should be to teach students central ideas and understandings about writing not just about the genres we teach.
Carl spoke to the importance of goal setting with kids in our class. He shared how important it is to have conversations with students about curriculum, and discuss with them how our writing units can support their goals.
His beautiful description of units as chapters in an ongoing narrative that helps students grow as writers across the year reminded us that we needed to look past a single conference, a single workshop and think about a student's learning pathway.
He spoke to how the key to curriculum design is to decide (based on assessment) what are the lines of growth for writers in your classroom, and then choose to work on just a couple of these goals inside of a unit. As we think about each writer, it is important to work with them on a particular goal across several units to help them "develop" as writers. The decision belongs to us - the teacher - What are the most important things to teach the writer(s) in front of me? Carl spoke about Tom Newkirk's work and how Tom shared that the two biggest problems writers struggle with (no matter what their age) are focus and elaboration.
However, the idea that he kept coming back to, similar to the familiar mantra: teach the writer not the writing or we teach children not curriculum was that we teach writers not units. What are some of the biggest issues that the writers in front of you are facing at the moment? How are your teaching plans responding to those needs?