The Big Three

May 1, 2015 by

My husband works in the automotive industry,  so to us, the ‘Big Three’ refers to Ford, GM, and Chysler.  But during the past couple of years, the “big three” has come to have a different meaning for me.  I’m talking about the three big skill areas of a writer:  structure, development, and conventions.   Understanding that writing skills can be categorized into these three skill areas has  been like lifting a veil off my face regarding writing instruction. For many elementary teachers, the teaching of writing holds a lot of mystery.  I used to feel the same way.  But once I understood how to break writing down into these three categories and then further into a number of subcategories, I gained so much clarity. I often have teachers look at samples of student writing and...

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Breaking Skills into Strategies...

Apr 24, 2015 by

The last several posts have been devoted to unpacking skills and strategies.  I have used Jennifer Serravallo’s definition of strategy: “step-by-step how tos that lead toward skilled performance”.  When I think about strategies, the question that always pops into my mind is, “How can I break this down?”  If a learner is struggling with a skill, it may be that the skill needs to be broken down into manageable steps.  So how do we break skills down? This can be more challenging than it might seem. If you have been reading this series of posts, you may have already watched the baseball video clip.  If not, please take 30 seconds to watch it now:  click here. We have already talked about how the father in the video told Max to “use two hands” while Drew modeled it....

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How Long Does It Take for a Strategy to Give Way to a Skill?...

Apr 21, 2015 by

In my last two posts I wrote about the difference between telling and teaching and the distinction between a skill and a strategy.  I shared a story about how author Jennifer Serravallo learned to draw people by using the strategy of lightly drawing shapes and then adding the details of the person.  This strategy gave way to skilled performance.  We could take any skill we want to learn and break it down into step-by-step how-tos that lead to skilled performance.   Today’s question is:  how long does it take before a learner becomes skilled and no longer needs the strategy? (Remember—strategies are scaffolds that are meant to be removed eventually).  Well, in Serravallo’s story, she said it took months of practice before  she could draw people without the strategy. I wonder how often we have...

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Skills vs. Strategies

Apr 17, 2015 by

If you missed my last post, before reading this one, take a moment to watch the 30-second video clip in that post. Did you notice a difference between the way the father taught Max to catch a baseball and the way Drew taught him?  Did you notice that he did a lot of “telling” and very little “teaching”?  Did you notice how Drew broke the skill of catching the ball down into a step-by-step strategy? As teachers we toss around the words “skills” and “strategies” all the time.  I must say, however, that it was many years into my teaching career before I truly understood the difference between these words.  As teachers, it is our goal to teach our students many skills—reading skills, math skills, communication skills, self-discipline skills, and the list goes on...

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Telling Isn’t Teaching!

Apr 15, 2015 by

I recently had the opportunity to visit my alma mater and speak to a group of undergrad education majors. I was asked to speak for one hour on any topic I chose. Narrowing it down to one topic was the hardest part! I thought about all of the classrooms I visit and asked myself, “What is ONE thing that can dramatically elevate the quality of our teaching?” I finally settled on the topic of teaching strategically rather than just telling or assigning. I introduced the topic by showing the following video clip about a father trying to teach his son how to catch a baseball. Take a moment to watch this 30-second video clip: Baseball Video Clip What do you notice about how the father “teaches” Max? What do you notice about how Drew...

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The CD-ROM Part 2: Organizing Resources...

Apr 9, 2015 by

This post is part of a collection of posts dedicated to supporting teachers who are in the beginning stages of implementing the Calkins Units of Study for Writing. Once you have explored the materials on the CD-ROM (see previous post for step-by-step directions), you might want to make a hard copy of the materials for your upcoming Unit of Study and place them in a small resource binder. I suggest making one binder for each of your four core units. To do this, click on the image of the unit of study. (If you are having trouble navigating to this page, see previous post). (click to enlarge image)   This will open up a list of the sessions with links to each resource. Click on each link to open PDF files of each resource. For...

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