Mandated Reading Program? No Sweat

Reading with a Writer’s EyeSo I’m in New York, and with the crazy schedule and general wacky pace of the city, this is the first opportunity I’ve had to blog about my learning at the National Writing Project’s Annual Meeting. Lots of shiny lights and distractions.

I attended a great session yesterday on getting creative with mandated curriculum. The Californians facilitating the session have state-mandated reading/writing programs, which makes me feel lucky that my district mandates for me—at least at a district level teachers can have some kind of voice if they want. Anyway, they presented a couple of interesting ways to “work smarter” with these reading programs that give short shrift to writing workshop.

The first strategy was to find ways to use the mandated reading as the mentor text for writing workshop, since it’s just impossible to cram in separate reading for both. This makes total sense to me, and sounds like the Lucy Calkins and Katie Wood Ray approach of “reading with writer’s eyes.” Searching the text we are forced to used in reading, finding the ones that represent the highest quality literature, and them examining how we can use that literature to teach strategies for structuring and crafting writing is definitely one great way to manage both readers’ and writers’ workshops without going completely insane or skipping over writers’ workshop altogether, which is a sadly common practice.

The second strategy was pulled from Jeff Anderson’s Mechanically Inclined, a book about teaching conventions that I plan to find ASAP. Anderson talks about using high-quality literature, like some of what we are required to use in reading programs like Making Meaning, and pulling sentences to study how the author structures the sentence and uses conventions to achieve his/her purpose. This was a challenge to my practice of Daily Oral Language in my classroom, making me face the fact that forcing the students to always look for a cadre of mistakes in each sentence might inhibit their ability to use conventions. What if I used that time with really well-crafted sentences and we talked and wrote about what was RIGHT with the sentence? It seems like it is worth trying Anderson’s more positive approach to learning conventions, since the fix-up approach clearly doesn’t reach all of my students, and I can tell whenever I read their writing!

I have a brainstorm from this. When I get back, I’m going to use a collaborative composing program called Google Docs to begin a database of texts that fifth grade uses, and include information on reading/teaching content (themes, comprehension strategies) and writing/teaching content (author’s craft, structure, conventions) and ask my 5th grade colleagues to collaborate and add other texts to the spreadsheet. By having it on the internet, we can make it a living document, always accessible and able to change. The front-end time investment is significant, but the lasting benefits, I think, will be outstanding, providing me with a matrix for all the major ways I can get the most out of the texts I use with my students.

I’m also collaborating with a colleague from RCWP on creating a workshop for schools and districts that will rip off the ideas from this session and expand on them, giving teaching time during workshop to do some of the work I talked about in the last paragraph and then share their ideas and strategies.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lmelville
    Nov 16, 2007 @ 14:08:44

    Hello There!

    Did Scholastic publish the Mechanically Inclined? Is is called something like A New Approach to Teaching Mechanics? I may have that book, I am very interested in this idea…let me know more when you get back.

    Also is the superstar Franki Sibberson there, I have heard that he/she is an awesome speaker. Let me know more!

    Have a great time!



  2. hloney
    Nov 16, 2007 @ 18:28:37

    Hey Lori, I think that’s the subtitle. I don’t know the publisher, though I’m hoping to pick up a copy on the exhibit floor at NCTE tomorrow–I’ll find out. But it sounds like you have the book–outstanding! I’ll check for this Sibberson character and let you know…


  3. Jill Hoort
    Nov 19, 2007 @ 03:15:09

    Let’s get Arlene in on the action and develop a workshop on this. We could contact Toby as she has done something similar at the Petoskey site.


  4. hloney
    Nov 19, 2007 @ 22:48:09

    I love that we can maybe get some support from Toby and give this a whirl. This seems like the kind of thing teachers are really in need of and can use right away.


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