Sunday, October 24, 2010

Units of Study for Teaching Reading Workshop

Lucy Calkin's Units of Study for Teaching Reading Grades 3-5 is my latest read, and simply put, I'm enthralled. Readers' Workshop has been a cornerstone of our work at CCE since 2001, but like all passionate educational professionals, we are continually reflecting on our craft and honing our lessons, discovering new ways to teach students with greater depth and understanding.

Lucy's new units offer a quality resource to help us scaffold new teachers' instruction so they deliver thoughtful quality mini-lessons from the start, at the same time allowing master teachers to reflect on their own lessons, uncover new precious gems, and polish their own Readers' Workshops. I've only just begun reading and already I'm captivated. The books can't get into the hands of our intermediate teachers fast enough.

A Guide to the Reading Workshop...Chapter One

Almost immediately Lucy shares, "The average college graduate in this country reads one book a year. The longer kids stay in school, the less they like to read." How utterly sad that they don't have a love affair with books, that they aren't experiencing the unfolding of a character's motives, beliefs, and choices page by page. That they don't let a tear drip down their cheek and soak into the print on the page because they can't bear the struggle that some have had to endure. That they aren't so engrossed in the story that before they realize it half the night has slipped away.

And, how sad that despite the money, time, and energy they put into getting a college education, they didn't transfer that into being a life long learner and avid reader. I can't count the number of professional books I've read, and the reflection and new learning that has come from each one. Simply put, I can't imagine a life without books. In addition, I'm left wondering, how many teachers are a part of this average? Who among us doesn't read veraciously? Lucy says, "Shirley Brice Heath has gone so far as to suggest that the single most important condition for literacy learning is that a person needs mentors who are joyfully literate people, who demonstrate what it means to live joyfully literate lives." For the sake of every student in our care, I hope each one of my colleagues considers themselves joyfully literate, and I hope they spread, like wildfire, that passion into the lives of our students.

In chapter one, Lucy also points out that, "These are important times in the teaching of reading, There's been a gigantic crack in the system. Judgment is no longer pending. The verdict is in. Not one of those core reading programs, mandated under No Child Left Behind, has been shown to reliably work." This message was supported and written about by Richard Allington, too, in What Really Matters in Response to Intervention. Our faculty did a book study last year, and our conversation kept coming back to the same thing--Why do states require districts to sink millions of dollars into pre-packaged basal textbook series, ones that for forty years have been proven not to work, when instead they could spend the money to put authentic children's literature and quality leveled readers into the hands of our learners?

In our building, there has been no return on investment in the realm of pre-packaged reading series, in fact, most of the book's covers have never been cracked. We know what really matters--Good teachers using relevant data to prescribe and deliver quality instruction with authentic literature through the Workshop Model. We have the results to back up our teaching philosophies and practices.

At Chets, our dollars are spent almost entirely, year in and year out, on purchasing authentic children's literature, quality leveled books, and professional texts for teachers. With CCE dollars, we get a great return on our investment. This research supports what we've always known, it is the teacher that makes the difference, not a basal textbook series meant to be teacher proof. Lucy writes, "Access to good teachers is more important to the likelihood that students will do well than anything else. It is more important than a student's background, than small class size, and than the fact that a school as a whole is a good one. A mountain of research confirms what all of us already know: the single most important resource a school can provide to its students is an effective teacher." Not a parent or educator I know would spar with her statement.

A Community of Learners and Leaders is etched in the glass as you walk in our door, a culture of collegiality and excellence has been built brick by brick and cemented with rigorous academic mortar. Within our walls, you will find colleagues who work together as a cohesive team toward a common vision and mission and who find it a moral and ethical obligation to grow and develop as professionals in our craft. Our community, saturated with effective teachers, is a place to proper, a place a thrive. We promote joyful learning. Our learners have the opportunity to select books based on their interest, and have ample time during workshops to read independently. Our youngsters get to hear daily read alouds and thoughtfully respond to books. Our students receive explicit instruction in reading strategies and skills, and get high quality differentiated instruction tailored to meet their individual needs. We are implementing the foundational pieces within Readers' Workshop that Lucy has written about. But, by no means do we think we have all the answers. Constantly, we are in search of quality mini-lessons to bring into the fabric of our workshop.

I'm sure Lucy would be impressed to know that we live by her words and we greatly appreciate her willingness to share her expertise with us. Stay tuned for our progress as we implement her newest work, Units of Study for Teaching Reading.


Mrs. Patricia Wallace said...

It excites me and inspires me to read such a passionate and understanding post. I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with you as a colleague, coach, and mentor. Thank you.

Dee Dee Tamburrino said...

Girlfriend, I wish you had been my reading teacher as a kid! I've never heard such passion gushing over the art of teaching reading. If I ever decided to give up the conductor's baton and try something different, reading would definitely be my content of choice.

Libby Kelly said...

Enthralled is the perfect word for this reading series. I have marked up my copies to no end and can't imagine my classroom without Lucy over my shoulder. I teach in Jacksonville as well and would love to see how your school implements these lessons. Is that something we could work out?

Suzanne said...

@Libby We host visitors frequently and would love to have you visit. Email me at and we'll make a plan. Thanks. Suzanne