In my school we used to say, tongue-in-cheek, that our over-all approach to writing was “curriculum by folktale.” Our building had been closed for many years and recently reopened, bringing together educators from the thirteen existing schools throughout the district. And everyone brought with them the writing lessons they’d made their own.
The result was a “melting pot” of best practices (and some probably not best practices) that each of us clung to. Whatever we’d done in our previous school, the lessons we gleaned from our former grade level colleagues, the ones we picked up at a conference…the list was endless and disparate. There was really nothing in the way of consistency across and between grade levels – everyone wanted to hold on to what was familiar, and, in fairness, what had worked, in varying degrees, in the past.
But with the advent of high stakes testing, the “melting pot/curriculum by folktale” approach to writing just wasn’t cutting it. Our reading program included a writing component, but it was a rather feeble attempt to address, in a very broad brushstroke, the most general of writing lessons in a ‘one-size fits all’ kind of way.
What we needed was a road map – some kind of guide to follow that included signposts along the way pointing to all the skills our kids needed to master. We knew that we were really talking about was a road map for a cross-country kind of trip, reasonably paced, that would span the entire school year. And that where one grade’s journey ended, the next grade would pick up and carry on. We were sick and tired of the manic pre-test scrambling and cramming in anticipation of THE TEST.
So, it took a lot of effort, but we sat down together and slogged through the process of establishing best practices and basic assured writing experiences at each grade level. We listed the skills necessary for narrative, expository, and opinion writing and broke out what was reasonable and developmentally appropriate for each grade level. Once we had that, we looked at the school year as a whole, at each grade level, and established a scope and sequence for this instruction that scaffolded skills from awareness-building foundational concepts to pencil to paper composition.
As standards and testing changed, our scope and sequence for instruction had to be modified. So, we developed these roadmaps for an integrated genre approach as well as a units of study, genre-specific approach.
What a difference this made in terms of teacher sanity and student growth!
If you’re interested in beginning the process of establishing consistency across and between grade levels through reasonably paced writing instruction, have a look at these ever-evolving scope and sequence documents – and begin the journey!