Monday, July 22, 2013

Update: Getting Ready to Use Lucy Calkins Units of Study

I was excited and delighted when our school purchased the Lucy Calkins Units of study for us - so excited I posted a review on the blog that's been pretty popular, so I know y'all are pretty excited too. :) 

When we purchased the set, I was lucky enough to go to a workshop with Lucy. {Spoiler alert: it was amazing, I highly recommend it.} As a way to share our knowledge, my principal asked those of us who were part of the workshop to share our thoughts on implementing the Lucy Calkins curriculum. We spent a long while digging into the curriculum ourselves and found sooooo much great stuff, I thought I'd share some thoughts here! 

I think it's really important to "root" yourself in WHY you're doing something. This chapter (the whole book is great, but we're going for biggest "bang" for your buck, here) does a really good job of explaining some of the shifts for writing in the Common Core standards, and uses those shifts to really drive home how important writing instruction is in the classroom and throughout the school.

One of the things we discussed as a school team was the idea of protecting your time. Sometimes I feel like I  don't "protect" my writing time in the same way that I protect math, reading and science/social studies time. What I mean by that is that when there are interruptions, I'm far more likely to bump writing and make sure I get to the other subjects. We talked about making our school rule something along the lines of - "I will commit to direct instruction in writing just as often as I have direct instruction in math and reading." Boom. Move writing on up that list. 

I'm telling you, this series is a wealth of knowledge. One of the things that I love are the rubrics, exemplars and continuums. Having a common "bar of excellence" is so important for norming across classrooms and even across grade levels. I recommend "tabbing" {I used post-its, but I'm sure you can come up with something cuter} each of these resources for each of the different types of writing {informational, opinion and narrative}, so you'll have it to refer to late. I've included a brief description of each below. 

The learning progression explains how kids should progress from K to sixth grade {imagine that} in each of the rubric areas {overall, lead, transitions, ending, organization, elaboration, craft, spelling and punctuation}. Super helpful for identifying where kids are and what they need to learn next.

Each type of writing has an on-demand prompt that you can use for pre- or post- assessment. They are general enough to be used as many times as needed - and you don't have to think them up! {HALLELUJAH}

There's also a student checklist for each type, with the standards for that grade level. I love that ALL grade levels are included in this book, because I know I'll have kids above and below grade level. I plan on laminating these for my kids to keep as a reference. That way when it's time to conference with me for the final time, I'll have them self-check and tell me if their checklist lines up with what I think about that writing piece, and I'll know if they're understanding how to develop each row on their rubric.

PERFECT for using as an exemplar as we write. I know I'll be storing these either on my computer to project, or possible in hard copy to refer to as we write.

Teacher-created exemplars are a really neat idea. Basically they took the same topic/prompt for each of the three type of writing, and wrote exemplars for every grade level and annotated how each section of the rubric was shown in that piece of writing. So, there's a persuasive piece about football at recess written as the "perfect" K, 1, 2 ... through 6th grade sample. That way we know what to look for in every piece. LOVE IT.

The CD is awesome. It has so many resources - they're all in the book, but they're conveniently in one place where I can print from my computer and/or project without having to lug the book around and scan it.

You also HAVE to have the CD to access the online resource, which I think is interesting.

Resources are organized by type OR by unit of study.

Now it's time to dig in to the real "meat" - the units of study. It'd be crazy to think you could read each one, but a quick perusal will be helpful. I think one of the most important sections is located right inside the front cover of each book. It's a description of each of the three "bends" for each unit as well as a list of what each part of the lesson will focus on.

Okay, okay. I know. It will feel silly. But seriously - if you don't actually TEACH it, how will you know what works and what doesn't?  It's also important to know that the Lucy Calkins books aren't necessarily in a scripted format. They're more narrative, so if you don't try it out, you won't know what feels right and what feels forced. So I straight up sat down in my living room and "taught" my puppy a lesson, just to see how well prepared I was, based on my initial read. It went ... okay. :) I'll get better! 


SO! There you have it - five steps to implementing the Units of Study in your class. Leave me a note about how you're using this awesome resource! 


  1. I would love to experience a workshop with Lucy. Sigh. Anyway, this is a wonderful post. I've been using her older units of study for several years. I don't have the new units yet. She's amazing all around.
    ❀ Tammy
    Forever in First

  2. I just ordered the new units - can't wait to get them!

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  4. My district just ordered these for us and I'm gonna be honest...I'm completely overwhelmed (I teach 2nd). Any tips would be's hard to retain all 10+ pages for each lesson! UGH! How to you go about teaching each lesson more concisely? :)


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    2. I have used the narrative, persuasive/argument, and informational units. There is a ton of information linked to teaching each genre. I boil it down into mini-lessons that my students need the most as developing writers. I use on demand writing and rubrics to help me do this. I will now also refer to your list. Thank you.

  5. Our school district also purchased this curriculum. We are feeling a bit overwhelmed as well. I am also a literacy teacher for 2nd grade and we are feeling a little bit lost as to how to best implement this new curriculum. I was curious as to how it is going in your second grade. I like Lucy's writing curriculum, but she tends to be very long winded. It has been a struggle although the kids are writing more than they ever have before which is exciting. Are there any other good tips you have found that are helping your teachers not be so overwhelmed?

    1. I also felt this way. This is my second year using the Units of Study in my kindergarten classroom. Here is my advice.
      1. Take your time reading through the books. I took them home every night, read through them carefully, and took notes. I even reread some chapters. There is a lot of excellent information in these resources.
      2. Type up the lessons in your preferred lesson format. I did this and kept them in one document in Microsoft Word. I'm so glad I did this because this year I have them and it's helpful for me to remember what I did and what I would change.
      3. Realize that this is your first time with the Units of Study and you will not be perfect. Do your best and take your time.

      Hope this helps! :)

  6. I'm so glad I stumbled across your site. This information is going to help me greatly this summer because my school district is using the units starting in September.

  7. Thank you so much! This was amazingly helpful, especially in preparing for the new year. I've been trying to learn how long each bend takes, would someone please help me with that? Thank you!

  8. It has been 2 years since you posted these fabulous tips but they are still very relevant. I just got my Units of Study materials this week and was overwhelmed. I finally went on youtube, and saw your overview of materials video - EXCELLENT! and it led me to your blog. Thank you so much for making this easier for me. Now I am excited about starting!

  9. I am so happy that you put up this site. I have worked with the reading and writing program so my brain feels overwhelmed. This is super helpful in getting reading for the next unit, and for planning for the next school year.


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