Use the Viewer’s Guide in the Virtual Units of Study. It is such a powerful tool get yourself grounded in what is most important.
The Viewer’s Guide can be found in the introduction of the virtual unit.
When you open the Viewer’s Guide, you will get a session by session glance of what the teacher is teaching and what the students are doing.
By reading through what teachers will be teaching and what students will be doing, you will see a clear roadmap of where students are headed as well as patterns for what is most important.
Here’s a road map of what I noticed in the sixth grade personal narrative unit.
Prior to beginning any unit, it’s helpful to use the Viewer’s Guide to create your own roadmap to ground yourself in what’s ahead and to find the patterns that are most important because we can’t teach everything but the kitchen sink and hope it’s going to all stick.
I noticed when creating the roadmap for this unit that what was truly at the heart was craft and elaboration.
It would also be helpful to study student writing from past years or from the online resources for your units.
This unit, as many do, offers examples of student writing. By reading these examples, you might get a better picture of what to expect. It would also help to share these student samples with students. Let them know you are about to begin an exciting unit exploring personal narrative, for example, and share what previous students have written.
Ask them, “What do you notice about personal narrative?” and for each example, “What do you notice this particular student did when writing his/her personal narrative?” Let students make discoveries and have opportunities to discuss them. Then share the road map of the unit with them. This will help them to see what they are doing and why along the way.
You will also need to fold in some additional work based on what you notice students need based on their pre-assessment writing.
Determine the additional work you will be adding in based on what you notice in student writing that will serve as critical areas in conventions that need to be developed. This may become a secondary road map for you and students.
This work is blended in using mentor sentences. We want to develop their skills of paying attention to what writers do, why they do it, and the effect it has on the writing. Read more about that here in “Where Does Grammar Fit Into the Workshop?” We want to use our mentor sentences and what students notice to create anchor charts and use that work to revisit their own writing pieces and revise with this work in mind.
Keep what’s most important front and center. In almost every writing unit I have looked through I’ve noticed that what is at the heart of each unit is being a writer.
Each unit, no matter the type of writing, focuses on writers who set goals and make plans to achieve those goals; studying a great deal of mentor texts to notice craft moves and determining which moves to try out and use within their own writing; reflecting on goals, plans, craft choices, and growth as a writer; and determining new goals and new plans.
The idea is to teach the writer more so than the type of writing. That is not to say that the type of writing is not important, but it is secondary to teaching writers to become independent. Teaching them to set goals, create plans, use resources, and reflect. If you are able to foster that independence, then your writers will be able to succeed in anything they need or want to write.