Preparation Protocol: The “Why” Behind the “What” Part 2


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.

In yesterday’s post I shared one tip for orienting ourselves to a Unit of Study prior to teaching it.  I mentioned that it is difficult/near impossible to read an entire unit before teaching it. But we can’t just start teaching without preparing!  So what exactly do we need to read before jumping into a new unit? Yesterday I strongly encouraged you to read the unit Overview (a part of the unit I know teachers usually skip).  See yesterday’s post for why these few pages are so important.

Today I would like to focus on another part that we tend to skip or gloss over: the Preludes.


Session Prelude

The Preludes are the introductions to each session.  This is the other place where you will discover the “why behind the what”.  Just like the Welcome to the Unit gives the rationale for the entire unit, the preludes give the rationale for each session.  I suggest reading the Preludes and Teaching Points for the whole first bend (usually 5-7 sessions) before you start the unit. This gives a great sense of how the whole first part of the unit will unfold.  As you near the end of Bend 1, do the same with Bend 2.

In addition to learning the rationale, you will also discover all sorts of valuable tips hidden in the Preludes.  For example, you will receive heads-up advice such as: “There are two common ways for writers to become derailed at this point.  The first is…” You will also be given insights on what you can realistically expect from your students at this point in the unit: “For now, expect that the books your children write at the start of the unit will probably contain a hodgepodge of facts, in no particular order.” or  “So take a deep breath and know that up until this point, the emphasis has been on diving in and approximating the work of informational writing, so it makes sense that the work is filled with whatever approximations children have produced.”

The tips and advice in the Preludes can save you a lot of headaches. Many questions that you will have about the lesson will be answered in the Prelude.  Most importantly, the Prelude will tell you, of all the lessons you could possibly teach next, why this lesson? Why is this so important? As I suggested in yesterday’s post, writing a few quick annotations in the margin is also helpful.  Does this extra bit of preparation take time? Of course! But I will tell you that you only need to do it once. After that, you will only need to glance back at your highlights and annotations to re-orient yourself to the lesson. I consider it an investment that pays off in multiple ways. 


Highlight and Annotate for Future Reference

To sum up my tips from yesterday’s and today’s posts, as you orient yourself and prepare for a new unit of study:

  • Read the Welcome to the Unit  beginning on p. iv.
  • Read the Preludes and Teaching Points for the first bend of the unit.
  • While reading these, always read through the lens of “why” not just “what.”

By the way, once you discover the “why” behind your unit and each lesson, don’t forget to let your students in on that secret! Remember, they also benefit from and will respond positively to understanding specifically why a skill or a lesson is important!

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