Paper Problem Series Post 3: Make a Plan

Turning a Giant Overwhelming Plan Into a Smaller Manageable Plan


After confessing the reason I would leave teaching, I wanted to tackle the whole paper problem head on. I often will get an idea in my head and have that "brain-on-fire" type of feeling when it comes to teaching. It is one of the reasons why I teach. However, taking on too huge of a problem without a step-by-step plan is going to lead to burnout.  I feel like the whole "paper problem" is too much to chew on before I am back practicing in real life in the classroom. I want to think about implementing some key changes that I took away from my readings over summer break to change not only my methods, but perhaps the way I do business. From my post where I identified the main problems that exist in my systems and mindset, I have concluded to focus on these three main areas for going back to school:

1.) Using mentors for the teaching of writing. 

2.) Restructuring the writing workshop. Students will write more in class, participate in stations, collaborate with each other and me, etc.

3.) Streamline processes that I have in place so that I am taking less paper home that does not need to go home. (I.E. paper that does not require extra feedback)

Here are the main books I used this summer for reflection:

  • How to Teach Students to Critically Think About Text by Jill Jackson

  • The Unstoppable Writing Teacher by M. Colleen Cruz

  • Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain by Zaretta Hammond

  • In the Best Interest of Students by Kelly Gallagher

  • The Writing Strategies Book by Jennifer Serravallo (I want to get The Reading Strategies Book before back to school as well)

  • Writing With Mentors by Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O'Dell

  • Joy Write by Ralph Fletcher

These texts covered a variety of areas of teaching, but the main theme you feel in each of these texts is the love for the student that each author has in their classrooms. Joy Write by Ralph Fletcher was particularly a game changer as I finished the 2016-2017 school year. 

The Big Picture

In order to get these three goals accomplished, I started with an outline for a unit that I do every six weeks. We have six weeks in a marking period in our district at the middle school level. I went week by week and outlined what I wanted to do for each week and get accomplished. We fall into routine of reading some sort of a text and using writing as a way to respond to that text. I want to change this with mentors, but I also want to make sure I am balancing my pacing guide's expectations. 

I love keeping the six traits work consistent in all of my writing workshops because it is a common language that does not have genre as a boundary. I plan to put these on the Writing Workshop bulletin board in the front of my room and be able to switch out goals for each of my preps. Jennifer Serravallo didn't just happen to do the coincidental thing where many of her writing strategies fall into the world of six traits. Using her text this summer helped me realize how to scaffold different writing instruction for different preps and for different students at any level of writing. 

Each of these weeks has coinciding workshop/stations schedules built in to them. I have a pattern that I want to work into my workshop rotation. It looks like this:

Week 1: Introducing material, no stations/no workshops

Week 2: Reading Strategies (novel, short stories, etc) Reading Stations/Reading Workshop Conferences

Week 3: Reading Strategies (novel, short stories, etc) Reading Stations (more independent)

Week 4: Writing (Generating Ideas, Developing, Drafting) Writing Stations/Writing Workshop Conferences

Week 5: Writing (Developing, Drafting, Revising) Writing Stations (more independent)

Week 6: Writing (Revising/Editing, Publishing, Sharing) Teacher Summative Conferences

With this plan, I am balancing when I am involved in conferencing, creating more time for students to also be independent with stations, and also giving them time to meet with me for finale writing conferences to grade portfolios

Plan for Reading

The above picture shows how I want to break down a mentor text for the purpose of a shorter piece of text, but also for a longer piece of text like a novel. My curriculum is heavy novel-based which forms a love-hate relationship with the teaching of a novel to an entire class. However, looking at these three main areas from Kelly Gallagher's In the Best Interest of Students, I have broken my reading goals down into three parts that I feel are more concise that what I have used in the past:

1. What does the text say? This focuses on summary skills, comprehension of the text, and things like plot elements. Does the student understand where the climax is? Does the student understand the theme? Can they summarize the text to find the main idea, supporting details, and focus on brevity? 

2. How do you connect to the text? This helps students to practice inferencing skills. How does the text relate to you? How does the text relate to another text you have read? How does the text relate to the society we are in and the world we are a part of?

3. What does the text do? This focuses on helping students to read like writers. What is the author doing that you can mimic? This will enter into the equation when I work with mentor texts in the writing workshop. Can students focus on the writer's craft in terms of punctation, sentence structure, use of dialogue, organization, word choice, etc? I can imagine focusing on a few strategies per novel and then using them in our writing project that takes place after we read the text. 

Plan for Writing and Writing Workshops

I strongly dislike daily breakdowns that are not in the moment because inevitably a class meeting or a fire drill or something will take place to throw off the whole unicorn-like daily breakdown plan. However, the above picture demonstrates what I want to do and review in terms of a writing unit and writing workshop. The writing workshop will balance process and craft. In terms of craft,  M. Colleen Cruz provides a really great grammar breakdown in The Unstoppable Writing Teacher that seems manageable to even the biggest grammar-phobes. This is pictured above in my notes.  In Writing With Mentors, Rebekah O'Dell and Allison Marchetti show how to work this into the structure of a writing workshop with mentors. In terms of process, I really want to take the ideas from Writing With Mentors and change the way I do business in terms of showing examples through mentors. I want to focus on the writing workshop in and of itself and see how that will look based on the week, the content, and the pace of the overall unit. 

In the week-to-week breakdown above, I mentioned different types of stations. Shoutout to the Literacy Station Inspiration blog that got me thinking about all the ways to get kids up and moving each week no matter what. I got to thinking about my classroom routines and how this could potentially work with the goals of 1.) Getting more feedback in-person and face-to-face with my students and 2.) Working on collaboration skills to build community in the classroom. Here is the daily breakdown so far:

Monday: Hand out AOW, Reading or Writing Direct Instruction Lesson, Review of Stations

Tuesday: Stations

Wednesday: Stations

Thursday: Library Day/Teacher Conferences

Friday: Friday Creative Free Write, Review AOW/Discuss and Check-off In Class, Binder Maintenance

There is work to do in planning how the stations will look each week and also how I integrate myself into these stations particularly in weeks 2, 4, and 6. I did this on purpose because I need to balance out planning. I think this plan will allow me to make the changes I need and still give plentiful feedback to students in writing and reading. My next steps will be to focus on setting up stations, getting organized for reading and writing conferences, and working out a timeline for the first unit: Personal Narrative This I Believe Essays. 

Writing Mindset Reflection: What is your Writing Workshop routine? How do you balance reading and writing in your pacing guide?