Writing Language Objectives for Lucy Calkins, Step One: PANIC!

Writing Language Objectives for Lucy Calkins, Step One: PANIC!
by Susan Zimmerman-Orozco

susanSusan is an elementary ESL teacher in Montgomery County Public Schools and consultant with English Learner Portal. Rebecca Guzman is also an elementary ESL teacher in a local school system and consultant with English Learner Portal.

I started this blog as a way to “think out loud” about the struggle I’ve been having since fall as an ESL teacher supporting the Lucy Calkins writing program in K-Gr 2.  I knew that my best bet was to develop academic language by creating language objectives and scaffolding instruction that explicitly tied student learning to the target writing output.  HOW this is actually getting done is still very much a work in progress. As you read this post, I hope that you will think about your own challenges and successes you have had adapting academic language strategies to the LC writing program, and give me some feedback, suggestions, and recommendations on what has worked – and not worked – for you.

Help me out here.  Last Monday, the Lucy Calkins’ teaching point in our second grade writing lesson, verbatim from the guide, was:

“Today I want to teach you that when writers do something new, they don’t just try it once and give up. Writers are bold too. You can try new things in your writing, even if they’re not perfect.  Then you can see what you think. You can ask yourself, ‘Did it work?’ or ‘Should I try it a new way?’”

So tell me, readers, what’s the Language Objective?

SIOP training had been a “thing” at my school a few years ago, and several team members had been sent to training. However, in subsequent years several of the trained teachers cycled out to new schools and each fall the district served up another round of “critical” achievement goals and performance measures that filled our teachers’ plates to overflowing.  The idea of creating and teaching language objectives faded away into “just another thing I don’t have time for.”

susansgrouoBut as I reminded myself and my team last week, in a diverse school like ours (70% FARMS, 40% Hispanic, 40% AA, 55% ELL) all content objectives truly need to have accompanying language objectives that “articulate for learners the academic language functions and skills they need to master to fully participate in the lesson and meet the grade-level content standards (Echevarria, Short, & Vogt, 2008).” Feeling empowered, I promised my team at our weekly planning meeting that I would provide a language objective for their daily writing content objectives and create scaffolded lesson plans to support them.

Up to now, while I was getting better acquainted with the the Lucy Calkins program, I’d been supporting students classes by following up on earlier lessons that hadn’t  “worked” for my English learners (ELs). Basically I re-packaged and scaffolded the same lesson classroom teachers had written in more visual and engaging ways, throwing in some appropriate academic language points, oral practice, sentence frames, and vocabulary along the way.  

But now that I had hastily offered to deliver daily and meaningful academic language instruction, I realized I might have gone way outside my comfort zone. I panicked: What IS the academic language required for students to “make a bold move” and try things in new ways? And, was I the only person to find Lucy’s teaching points difficult to break down into language objectives?

I sought out trusted colleagues, and was relieved to discover I was not alone. Rebecca Guzman, an experienced classroom, SIOP, bilingual and ESL teacher helped me beckynkidsunderstand the disconnect.

“Her (Lucy Calkins’) thinking is that we are constantly introducing students to a menu of strategies they can apply to create a variety of writing genres; in other words, we are teaching  them how to be writers not how to write. However, our English learners (ELs) need repetition and coaching to create productive written work, rather than a quick  “I teach you-now go practice” approach.“

“Our elementary school ELs frequently come with a lack of background knowledge and writing  experience in their own language, so it’s almost like we are rushing them through all of these strategies but not giving them enough time to practice and get good at one thing before moving on (quality vs. quantity). I worry that if they do not feel successful at something it will stop them from wanting to continue learning how to write much less how to be a writer. “

Knowing that I am not alone in my confusion about whether to address content or language was reassuring.  Guzman writes weekly, not daily, language objectives, and further explained how she and her co-teacher approach the task: “I mostly focus on the actual content lesson activity to figure out what kind of language students will be expected to produce. I start by focusing on a specific language domain. Then I pull a language feature to focus on (i.e. grammar, vocabulary, etc..) followed by the language function (verb: explain, retell etc..) and then pick language supports that match the activity and/or student proficiency levels in the class.”

Her explanation helped me re-frame my question, “What is the language objective that supports “Writers are bold too. You can try new things in your writing, even if they’re not perfect,” to “What are the language objectives that will support the overall objective of Unit One: Lessons from the Masters Improving Narrative Writing.” Often the guide will give us a clue: In Grade 2, Unit 1, Lesson 3,  for example, Stretching Out Small Moments, as Authors Do, it is clear we will need to focus on sequencing words.  

But sometimes it’s not so obvious, as in my case of  asking students to make “bold new moves?” In these cases we should go back to the unit objective: writing narratives, and review our students’ work to identify their academic language needs and, over the course of our unit planning, ensure that we have mini-lessons that will  address all three of the WIDA Features of Academic Language: Linguistic Complexity, Language Forms and Conventions, and Vocabulary Usage across all of our students’ proficiency levels.

Easy peasy, right?  I can’t say yet.  I only just puzzled this out a few days ago.  Stay tuned for my adventures in Lucy Calkins Language Objective Land, but more importantly, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE, let me know what has worked for you. Or what hasn’t.

quotetogetherdosomuchLike most ESL educators, I’ve attended training, read the word of experts – even talked to them, taken online courses, and attended my district’s workshops. But nothing – NOTHING – helps teachers more than the experiences of other teachers. I’m all alone in my school as I struggle to work this out; I hope you will share what you’ve tried, what worked, and other strategies and ideas you have tried. “Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much.”  My students need you, and there is so much left to do….

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Reluctant Writers

A Journey Towards Implementing the Lucy Calkins Writing Project in a Highly Diverse School – Entry #2 by Susan Zimmerman-Orozco

October 14, 2018

Reluctant Writers

“So, Jessica,” I asked my ELL second grader, “Let’s talk about what you’re going to write.  I really liked your last story about the time you had to put your cat in the car and moved her to your new house.”

Three-fifteen in the afternoon, last period of the day, and all around us writing partners were sharing their work, and checking their Tiny Moments notebooks for adjectives and details. I was hunched uncomfortably into my tiny primary-grade-sized chair, vaguely wondering how I was going to be able to stand up later.  Jessica fiddled listlessly with the edges of a woefully empty-looking writer’s booklet, her long brown hair spilling sideways over the purple too-large glasses perched on the edge of her nose in an attempt to avoid my gaze.

IMG_0949I looked at her new story pages.  “Can you read me the first page?”

Jessica stared down at the haphazardly written words on the page and read. “We got a cat. My mom said lets get a cat.”

Another story about a cat, I thought. Hmmmm. “OK, writers sometimes like to make sketches, draw pictures of what they’re writing about. Did you draw pictures on your other pages?”  She turned to the next page, but it was empty.  “OK, so let’s talk about this.” I tried to sound enthusiastic. “Tell  me what happens next so we can draw it.”

Jessica looked at me blankly and replied, “We went to get the cat.”

“OK!,” I responded, feigning excitement, “That’s great!  Tell me about that moment. Were you really happy? Did something interesting happen?”

“No,” she said, dully. “We went to this man’s house and we got the cat.”

“Oh OK, well remember that good writers like to talk about special moments in their stories, like when something interesting happened, or maybe you had a strong feeling about it.”

She glared at me, clearly bemused by my sudden fascination with her cat. I soldiered on, “Remember, in your LAST story it was funny when the cat started running around your car meowing really loudly. Did something like THAT happen?”

“No.”

For most students, taking time to plan what they’re going to write about before they start girl_teachercomposing is an integral step in the writing process. Nonetheless, I could tell that Jessica was getting annoyed with my constant insistence that she have a plan. Nevertheless,  I was determined, ‘So, maybe the interesting part of your story is later? What happened in the end? Were you really happy? Did the cat do something funny?”

“No,” she said, “I don’t  like cats.”

By now Jessica was totally disgusted with my interrogation about a cat she didn’t even like, and I had become a bulldog worrying a bone as I watched our precious conferencing time ticking down to dismissal.

In her supplementary text, Supports for English Language Learners in Units of Study in Opinion, Information, and Narrative Writing, Lucy Calkins and her colleagues reinforce the importance of oral practice for English Language Learners and on giving students multiple opportunities to plan and rehearse their stories out loud before they write. I knew that if I couldn’t get Jessica to talk about and plan out her story,  it might take too much work to revise it later. I didn’t want her to get discouraged about the whole writing process.

However it was 3:30 at the close of a long rainy day -with no outdoor recess.  Only 10 minutes of class remained, and Jessica’s stubborn and seemingly willful refusal to even try to make her story interesting, meaningful, or purposeful had me ready to pull out my hair. I scratched my head, gave her a beseeching look and blurted, “But Jessica, this story isn’t even  interesting. And you don’t even like cats! So why do you want to write about it?”

Startled, she stared at me. “Because I wrote about my cat the last time and you liked it.”

This was what I call a “face palm “ moment. I wanted to sink my head into my hands andsusan_facepalm rock back and forth on my tiny chair in despair. I looked deeply into her little 7-year old’s eyes, which clearly were not seeing what the big deal was all about,  and pleaded with her, “Come on, Jessica, isn’t there ANYTHING interesting in your life you could write about?”

“No,” she insisted.

“Really?” I begged. “You can’t think of ANY ONE THING you have done lately that you liked to do, made you happy, or something happened that was different than any other day?” By now I was nearly shrieking in frustration.

“No,” she shrugged, and continued nonchalantly “Unless like, when we went to Creepy Six Flags (a Halloween-themed event at the local amusement park) and these scary clowns came out and we screamed.”  Her face lit up as she remembered and the words came gushing out. “And when you go on the merry ground all this smoke comes out and then scary monsters chased us around. It was so much fun!”

Now it was my turn to gush! I almost grabbed and hugged her until she burst. “Oh my GOSH, Jessica!  THAT is the best story EVER! And you already told me all these really neat details about what you did, and the scary clowns, and the monsters….and how you felt, and you can write for pages and pages! You are AMAZING!” I practically jumped up and down in my seat, grabbed a pencil and stuck it in her hand. “Start drawing! You have ten minutes!”

Jessica looked at me like I had lost my mind, but she grinned from ear to ear – clearly proud to have come up with such a brilliant narrative – and quickly filled four pages with sketches. With moments to spare before dismissal, I sent her to share her work to the approving “Oohs!” and “Ahhs!” of her classroom teacher. Another successful writer is born!

Yesterday I checked in with Jessica. She eagerly read me her narrative – all about the monsters, the scary clowns and the rides that disappeared into clouds of smoke (or as we decided – fog.)

“You’re becoming such a good writer,” I told her, reinforcing the message of Lesson 8: Revising with Intent, “because good writers include a lot of specific details and feelings like yours that let the readers know why you wanted to write about it, let them know your intent.”


She nodded
 and looked up at me, “Do you remember how happy you got when I told you my story that day?” She smiled shyly. “That made me really happy, too.”

And just like that, Jessica taught me the REAL message of that lesson, of all of the lessons, actually: the importance of connecting with your audience. Because as a teacher, my students ARE my audience. Maybe I don’t always connect with Jessica with written words and pictures, and maybe the daily mini-lessons carefully scaffolded for language and content are less than memorable to her 7-year old’s list of daily priorities. However, by badgering, cajoling, joking, and sticking with her until her creative light bulb lit up, I did manage to show her the one essential thing that all good writers do: I created a small, precise moment of emotion between us that made us both smile inside and say, “Aha! This is why we do this.”

boyswritingI hope you will travel with us as we puzzle out the best way to use Lucy to help our ELLs – and all of our students.  But even more importantly, I hope you will share your own challenges, your successes, and your suggestions and recommendations for using Lucy to show these, our most fragile, learners that not only can they succeed as writers but also excel!

 

 

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logoevensmallerIf you aren’t already part of our mailing list, please sign up HERE to receive freebies, announcements, and just to get to know us!  Looking for new ideas and graduate credits? Visit our Online Professional Development School!  Please visit the ELP website to meet the team and learn more about our services.

A Journey Towards Implementing the Lucy Calkins Writing Project

A Journey Towards Implementing the Lucy Calkins Writing Project in a Highly Diverse School by Susan Zimmerman-Orozco

October 2018

Full disclosure: I LOVE teaching writing.  I used to brag that I could teach a dog to write (actually, I still stand by that boast…) so when our school decided to implement the Lucy Calkins Writing Project last year I was curious.  After thirty years teaching English-language learners, I still get a thrill from showing students how they can express themselves with words.

writingStill, we are an elementary school highly impacted by diversity, poverty and second-language learners. Our WIDA language assessment scores district-wide are low.  Would the Lucy Calkins program, with its rigorous academic foundation and demanding methodology, work with our students?

Frankly, last year  we struggled. It was clear from the start that our population lacks the academic language to fully access the curriculum.  For example, much of Unit One: Lessons from the Masters: Improving Narrative Writing in second grade relies on students’ understanding of the complex language and narrative tone of Owl Moon, a lyrical portrayal of a father and daughter who set off to look for owls and the magic of the moon-lit moment when, at last, they sight the mystical bird and he flies off. Even during repeated readings of the text, our ELLs sat on the rug staring blankly, reluctant to participate or share their writing.

We felt that many of our kids were being left behind as we pushed relentlessly through headsondeskeach unit, trying to cover a lesson a day.  A half-time ESOL teacher, I spent most of my time with students playing catch up. I pulled small groups, tried to revise their ragged pages of haphazard sentences, and badgered my colleagues.  What am I actually supposed to do with Lucy as an ESOL teacher: teach them the writing process a la Lucy Calkins, or teach them how to fix what they’ve already written?

Long story short, we ALL muddled through our first year and this is what I discovered in writingonrugJune…my ESOL kids could write!  Lots and lots of writing! Was it anywhere close to perfect..nah. We are, after all, a work in progress, but I don’t remember ever before seeing so much actual writing from second grade English language learners at the end of the school year. Wow! Then this fall, another epiphany: our new second graders, who already had a year of Lucy Calkins under their belt…they started off the new year actually…writing! Lots and lots of writing!

This is a blog about our continuing journey- mine, my co-teachers, and our school staff – to adapt and improve the way we implement the program.  Given the student load for susansgrouo.JPGESOL teachers in our district, I decided that the best way to address the needs of my ELLs, regardless of their level, was to collaborate and co-teach with their classroom writing teacher.  In this manner, we could hopefully anticipate academic language needs before they have steamrolled into an insurmountable barrier to learning.

I am lucky this year to be working –co-teaching– in writing classrooms at three grade levels – kindergarten, first grade, and second –  with classroom teachers who are as different from one another as each of our students are. I already know that what will work for one classroom will possibly NOT work at all in another.  So, to summarize, it will be FUN!

I hope you will travel with us as we puzzle out the best way to use Lucy to help our ELLs – and all of our students.   But even more importantly, I hope you will share your own challenges, your successes, and your suggestions and recommendations for using Lucy to show these, our most fragile, learners that not only can they succeed as writers but also excel!

Stay tuned!

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If you aren’t already part of our mailing list, please sign up HERE to receive freebies, announcements, and just to get to know us!  Looking for new ideas and graduate credits? Visit our Online Professional Development School!  Please visit the ELP website to meet the team and learn more about our services.