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Study Group?



Senior Member
Let's get started...(LONG!!!!!!)

OK, sbigham3--let's just start--the two of us and hopefully the others who said they were interested in a study group will join in. And I hope we're willing to expose (and learn from!) our failures because I'm running into a lot of them this year!

Here's my writing background: (Readers' Digest version!!)
I began my teaching career in the late seventies in Nashville, Tennessee, teaching first grade. At that time I had no clue first graders could actually write so we mostly spent our time copying writing I had done on the board--and not even "good" writing at that. Just things like: "Today is Thursday. It is a sunny day. We have library today..." (I cringe as I admit this but it was the truth--and I was actually considered a good teacher by my supervisors back then!!!) I rarely had them do any writing on their own because frankly I didn't think six year olds could do it! (How we learn and grow as teachers!!)

I had always enjoyed writing on my own, however, and during the early 80's took a writing course and began writing for children's magazines. It was kind of a challenge for me as a teacher as I was growing very weary of those first grade basals. (I'm sure the kids were, too!!)

In 1986 I took a year off to get my masters degree (curriculum) and had to do so much "fake writing" that it turned me off personal writing. I did however begin to get interested in helping children write. One of my class assignments was to go to the International Reading Convention in LA and it was probably the most useful thing I did my whole year of graduate school as it definitely broadened my horizons about what was possible in reading/writing classrooms.

Later when I was teaching in southern California, I stumbled across Lucy Calkins' THE ART OF TEACHING WRITING, LESSONS FROM A CHILD, and other books on the writing process. Based on what I learned, I began a writing workshop in my third grade classroom. We did it pretty much the whole year for seven years and followed the format: Mini-lesson, Independent writing, Sharing. I also did many other types of writing and writing projects. The children seemed to enjoy it and I had fourth grade teachers comment they could always tell which children had come from my room because of their confidence as writers.

At my "peak" back then, I was sharing writing ideas with other teachers--even teaching classes on writing. I went to the University of New Hampshire for its 3 week writing program in 1991 and it really energized me--both as a writer and teacher of writing.

Even though I was having moderate success with my writing workshops there were some things that bothered me. First of all, though for the most part children seemed to enjoy writing workshop, it seemed some children didn't progress enough, didn't apply the skills they knew, there didn't seem enough focus. I seemed to encounter the same problems year after year. I felt struggling children were "falling between the cracks" and making little progress in Writing Workshop. (For some, write what you want seemed to translate into "do very little writing.")

Another roadblock was that I read LIVING BETWEEN THE LINES (also by Lucy Calkins) and it rubbed me the wrong way. I was not ready to give up what was working (or almost working!) and "revise" my workshops. It felt like everything I'd been doing must be "wrong" now that there was this "new way" to do it. I didn't even "get" what the "new way" was supposed to look like. I guess I was just not open to change back then!!

For these (and a variety of other reasons) when I moved up to the Northwest and a new school where I didn't have the reputation as "the writing teacher", I didn't do nearly as much writing with my students. We might do writing workshop--depending on my group--for two or three months of the year, but most of our writing were "projects" and correlated with something we were studying at the time.

Fast forward to last year. I had promised my students we would do writing workshop sometime that year. (Most of my 3-4 class were fourth graders that I had taught the year before and they had shown some remarkable writing talent when we had written during our pioneer unit during their third grade year.) I meant to start early on, but I had a heavy teaching load with some really challenging students. It was easy to procrastinate because there's a lot of initial organization involved, but they kept "bugging" me so I finally promised them (amid cheers!!) that we would start writing workshop after spring vacation.

It was about that time that I discovered Lucy's UNITS OF STUDY here on ProTeacher. Since I trust the teachers on this site, I knew I really wanted to get this. I gulped when I found out how much it cost, but "went for it" (and was much relieved later when my principal told me they would pay for it out of the textbook budget.)

When I got the books, I felt here was the "missing component"--the UOS added the structure I felt the previous books lacked. Lucy was actually doing what she said she would never do: Scripting mini-lessons and in fact the whole day's writing workshop. I was excited, but it's really hard to implement a new program in the midst of a school year. However, I did my best--reading late into the night--and was amazed how much my class progressed in the couple months we followed the program. Strong writers even became stronger. Weak writers has a place to begin. I was determined the following year (that would be this year!!) to begin on day one.

Without lengthening an already too-lenthy entry, due to extenuating circumstances (both in and out of class) we did NOT begin UOS on day one--though we did do some writing every day. I began the end of September and then was stymied by three weeks of testing in October. We are now just ending the FIRST unit and here it is almost Thanksgiving vacation.

We have four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas vacation and I'm rather looking for direction. I think I'm going on to Unit Two next, but one of my biggest problems is my boys (and this year all but three of my students are boys!!) insist they can ONLY write fiction and have nothing true that's worth writing about in their lives. I have a small class--which in many ways is good--but this attitude seems to spread more with less students. It does not help that roughly a third of my class is working significantly below grade level.

I followed the first book pretty "step-by-step", but I'll have to say that this year is about the worst I've had with writing workshop. (I would blame it on the program if I hadn't had such phenomenal success the last few months of last year.) So it's either something I'm doing that's not working--or just a different mix of students.

However, I'm determined I'm not going to give up just because it's hard.
And even though this year feels like a writing failure, there are some things that seem to be working and some children are making good progress. We seem to have the routine fairly down and most children are fairly good about "knee-to-knee" try its during mini-lessons and then coming back to attention when I say writers. They are trying different strategies and getting pretty good on their leads.

I think part of the problem is that most of these children have not had much experience with the writing process and that this 3-5 unit of study is a bit too difficult for them. (Example: This week I taught paragraphing, but truthfully over half of them are still struggling with writing senteces correctly.) Sometimes I teach the lesson and ask them to do something (like the "discovery drafts") and most of them don't have a clue what to do when they get back to their desks.

If I had one area I feel I need to grow on as a teacher it's in conferencing--I really don't know what I'm doing here. When I ask, "What are you trying to do as a writer?" they ALWAYS come up with what their writing topic is--if I rephrase the question a few will spit out language they've been given in mini-lesson (I'm trying to include tiny details--but they can't tell where--mostly because a lot of the time they're not doing it!!!)

OK enough venting--down to the burning question right now:

How can I do conferencing better? What's working for others????


Junior Member
I'm in.............

..............on the 3-5 UoS study group.
My info: 5th year teaching 4th grade. This is my second career...spent 20 years in the banking world. Great career but wanted a change...always wanted to be a teacher. I enjoy my work but find that if I'm not careful, it can become all-consuming.

I enjoy writing and feel that I am good at it but I find it my most challenging subject to teach. This is our first year with UoS and I was initially excited as I felt I needed structure in my writing program. We muddled through book 1...results were ok...nothing to get too excited about.

We are about 1/3 through book 2 but the pressure is on to start preparing for the NYS ELA Assessments (administered in early Jan.)where the writing is all "response to literature" based..not personal narrative.

Areas of concern thus far:

1. Students "entries" - should they have topic sentences, details and wrap-up sentences? Children are not used to writing "unstructured" entries...any advice?

2. Conferences - struggling and I have not made the commitment to conference as I should. On a positive note, through UoS, I spotted my "re-tellers", my "I don't like to give details" writers much more quickly than before.

3. Mentor Texts - our district purchased the mentor texts for Book one for each teacher. We do not have all other listed mentor books in our library. I have stumbled upon some picture books that I have used in other content areas that have worked for UoS...but "stumbled upon" are the key words here...........I would love a list of alternative mentor texts that have worked for others.

4. A Good Point - When the students were figuring out where to make separate pages for their "story", I told them to pretend that their book was going to be published in the school library and that they really were going to read them to their reading buddies. This got them thinking that they needed to write more, be more descriptive etc. We even created a book with a cover and illustrations to go along with each written page!

I could go on and on..........any support will be greatly appreciated!!!<!--lovestruck-->


Junior Member

Hi Ladies,

Thanks for sharing yourselves! I hope we have lots of "friends" join in!

I am a literacy coach in North Carolina. I pull small groups of struggling readers for structured reading lessons. I also go into the 3rd grade classrooms to coach during Writer's Workshop. I am only beginning in the UoS journey. Our district is really pushing for it at K-2 and being the school's reading specialist, I have a very hard time with K-2 following one program and 3-5 doing another. Our school (and many others in the county) recently went through Empowering Writers training and the teachers loved it because it helped them prepare the students for the 4th grade writing test so well. The program is very prescribed.

I am really pushing for UoS at 3-5 and would be so appreciative for the support that I get here. As I go into the classrooms, I have been "using the language" in the books and really trying to help the teachers get into the groove of Writer's Workshop. I feel that if I support the ones who really want to learn, the others will want in on the action. My goal this year is to really read and internalize the books myself so that next year, the 3rd grade team will want to start with it.

Dumb question....which book in the 3-5 Units is for imaginative narratives?



Senior Member
Writing Fiction

That would be the book: Big Dreams, Tall Ambitions
It looks pretty good actually! I know my students will enjoy that in January--though some may be disappointed that it's realistic fiction!!!

CPA Teach: How about the book on Literary Essays during the month of December to help you for those tests. It looks like that's just what it teaches!!

Also, on the mentor text--I've found many in our local public library--and I live in a relatively small town in Washington. We have very few in our school library.

Thanks for responding, Ladies. I'll look forward to the ongoing encouragement as we struggle along together.


Senior Member
I'm in, too!

This is my first year to use UOS with my fourth graders. I am in my fifteenth year.
I have been successful with 6Traits, but our district is moving toward UOS.

I finished the personal memoirs......a struggle.......I ended up using some of my 6Trait wksts to provide more structure on leads and conclusions (especially conclusions).

Will start Essays after Thanksgiving. I cannot imagine how I am going to have my students look at the narratives and see them in an expository way.

Any advice? I am thinking I will just move past the memoirs and start "new" on the BIG IDEA concept.


Junior Member
I am here too...

This is my sixth year teaching 3rd grade. Last year, I read about Writer's Workshop and wanted to get it started this year. I finally persuaded my principal to buy the books this summer and read through the first unit. I started off okay at the beginning of the year...did writer's workshop at least 4 days a week. Then, the extra stuff started (visiting author, second step, assemblies, etc). And I have still not finished the first unit! I feel so lost. My kids were loving the format, but I find my biggest struggle is lack of time. How do I fit in both reader's and writer's workshop? Is any one else finding that to be a problem?

I also struggle with the 6+1 Traits issue. We are a 6+1 Trait school and had that as our "program" up until this summer when some of the teachers wrote a "curriculum" which included required writing. So, all the work I spent this summer with Lucy Calkins was kind of a waste of time since the entire grade level has to complete certain writing pieces throughout the year...NO CHOICE. Admin will collect samples and everything...doesn't that go against what Lucy says? So what do I do with that?

With the lack of time issue and the required writing pieces, I feel like I can't do the UoS like I want to and it is REALLY frustrating!

Sorry for all the venting, but I am hoping to get a few units in this year because I really like them. I am just a little frustrated with my writing program this year and it's driving me nuts.

Any suggestions/empathy/pity/etc. are appreciated! :)

Have a great night!


New Member
Me Too!

Hi everyone!
I hope that I can join in on this discussion with UoS for 3 - 5 grades. I am currently a curriculum coach in NC. I previously taught 5th grade. My school system is trying to implement this program in k - 5 this year. I am struggling because the only training I have is basically through reading the program. When teachers ask me questions, I don't feel like I can help them :(
My main concern/question is this - I know UoS addresses state writing tests. However, many of my teachers are struggling with students not writing to a prompt. Have any of you been successfull with prompt writing when using UoS?


Junior Member
In there with you!

Hi tchramycs! I am in NC too serving as a literacy coach 3-5. Our school went through Empowering Writers training several years ago and the teachers loved it because it helped them "teach to the writing test". Several of us here are trying to "mesh" the EW with Lucy such as picking out mini lessons from both to incorporate in Writer's Workshop. Our K-2 teachers are really embracing Lucy, but our 3-5 teachers are just overwhelmed at this point and "one more thing" might throw them over the edge. I have been trying to go into classrooms and model lessons from the 3-5 Units of Study to get it out there for them.

As far as the prompt is concerned, I just think you have to find a happy medium. Our teachers truly mix it up and incorporate a prompt or two throughout the quarter....especially at 4th grade. It's such a hard call...

I am wondering if any of you have developed Units of Study by incorporating many resources....that's the struggle we're having here.


New Member
I'll try..

to chime in once in a while, but I am new at my school/district (10th year teaching) this year and things are hectic.

Well, I bought UoS with my own money before school started because people on here raved about it. I started Unit 1 the first week of school and didn't complete it until the end of October. I have to say that many kids did get some out of it, but I think if I had taught using my 6 traits materials from the past and my usual lessons they would have done just as well, if not better.

Positives: I do like them writing the entries (that was different for me) and then developing the narrative. I did more conferencing (at first) than I ever had for writing.

Not so positive: I couldn't bear to do unit 2 so I did some work with 4 square organizers. I also feel like the 3-5 is above most of my students, but I had heard the 2nd grade teachers saying they needed to modify the K-2 upwards for their kids. Our school is 3-4 grade so no chance of seeing the K-2 program if someone DID use it.

I am going to look through the essay unit to see if I want to start that after break. I got turned off since it took me sooo long to get through the first unit and some of my kids still didn't get it after 2 pieces. I modeled so much!!!

So that's where I am!!


Senior Member
Looking back, looking forward...

Well, looks like we don't have any UOS "old-timers" here and that it's a fairly new program for most of us. But I think we'll still be able to help each other--and I'm pleased we're sharing our concerns as well as our successes. I think this will be a beneficial group.

Sounds like we're almost all doing the units in a different order. They are actually numbered and I think the skills build on each other. I actually read (or should I say skimmed) through the whole series last summer. I taught book one and parts of book two the last couple months of last year. This year we're just finishing book one. It would be a little easier if we were "all on the same page" so to speak, but I'm still excited about getting feedback.

When I was perusing the series, the essays, literary essays, and memoirs "scared" me a little. I originally had really planned on going straight through the books--doing "pure Lucy by the book" this year tackling even those units that seemed hard. However, my class is struggling so--and it's taking so long--that I'm "revising" my plans. Maybe next year I can hit it all.

I agree with debteach 22 that these books seem "above" most of my 3-4 students. (At least this year's gang!!) I am lucky because this year the 1-2 teacher has also started UOS and is letting me borrow her books. I'm looking at them and realizing my students don't have a foundation to build on--which I think is part of the problem. How can I be teaching them about paragraphing when they're still struggling with putting in periods and capital letters and have had little experience with the kind of writing I'm asking them to do????!! I think the assumption is that students will have a background that mine don't yet have.

So here's where we're going after Thanksgiving break. I'm going to combine the second book in this series (Raising the Quality of Narrative Writing) and the fourth in the K-2 series. (The Craft of Revision) Our goal will be to have two personal narratives ready to publish by Christmas. (One from unit one and a second--maybe with a Christmas theme--or to give as a Christmas present--in the second unit.)

Then (because I promised we could do fiction after Christmas) we'll head into #4 Writing Fiction. My tentative plan--depending on how we're progressing--after that would be #3 Essays next. Then a poetry unit based on K-2 UOS (I glanced at that and it looked great.) I might possibly end up with Memoirs--or perhaps do a unit on Nonfiction with material I got from the Ralph Fletcher seminar.

I'm also going to do a LOT more writing across the curriculum in addition to Writer's Workshop. We did a response piece to Courage of Sarah Noble that turned out quite well for many kids. I may even do an assigned pararaph each week that they turn in and I grade them on. We'll see...

I know I'm going to be a lot more assertive--less of this "You're your own job captain." until they have more focus in their writing, begin to "get it," and actually show they're ready to take responsibility. I'm just not seeing enough progress with some of them--and I wouldn't let them get by with that in any other subject!!! (We'd work at it until we "got it.")

Some of my kids just seem "lost." (And I've been following book one almost exactly!!) I made copies of the "Monitoring My Writing Process" (page 114, first book) for their writing folders. I've been using this language since we began. Yet here's what happens all too often...

I am conferencing with a child helping them understand this form for their second piece, Me: "So have you already gathered entries?" Child: "What's an entry?" Next child: Me: "So you've picked your seed idea and told your story to a friend. Did you try drafting some leads?" Child: "I don't know what a lead is." You get the idea on how the "Monitoring My Writing Process" sheet is going!!!

The best class we've had in the last two weeks is the one where I brought a child that was having major struggles with the whole idea of finding a topic for a personal narrative (insisted he could ONLY write fiction!!) and doing basically nothing during Writing Time.

I called him and invited any others up that felt they could use help with this and we just went through the process right there at the table. Made lists of special people--recorded small moments--chose one to write about. Told story to partners--began developing seed idea. Wrote, conferenced, everything...right there at the table. The ones at the table were on task, the ones on their own were on task...it was a great workshop with a lot of writing enthusiasm.

So I'm going to stretch myself to do more small groups and conferences like that one. BookMuncher once said a goal would be to see each child in small group and conference at least twice a week. So I'm going to make myself accountable to do that and hope we make more progress when we come back after vacation.

Wish me luck!!!!!!


Senior Member
Jumped into Essays! (Long)

Oh, boy. I decided to take on the third book, Essays. I have led four lessons; mostly talking about big ideas and not telling a story; using Lucy's examples; asking student volunteers to walk through the series of questions...that made me think of? tht made me realize? We looked around the room and picked an object and tried to think about it.

During the first two day, responses included: I see a key (large construction paper for character counts idea)which reminds me of a car; which reminds me of our trip to FL; which reminds me how long and boring the trip was; which reminds me how much fun it was once we arrived in FL; which makes me realize the long and boring trip was worth it.

Another response: I see a beanie baby which makes me think of the beanie babies we just collected to send to Iraq with our soldiers; which makes me think how those children will get a present; which makes me think they will have fun.

I did have to stop the students when they started telling a story about what they did in FL or how they received the beanie baby as a present; so this was slow; I also kept telling the class that this was hard--watch us as we struggle--everyone is struggling--be brave--give it a try.

I have about 4 students who are actively trying to stretch themselves, so they have been my models. They have also been adding to each other's comments to help stretch to a big idea.

Yesterday's results (Day 4)--Remember this example is a round-robin type of response from these 4 students and surprisely, one student who doesn't regularly say much!

"I'm thinking of my best friend; which makes me think I like having a friend; which makes me think I can tell this friend my secrets and he will not tell others; which makes me think I have someone to talk to about a problem; which makes me think that it is good to talk things over with someone my age; which makes me realize a friend is someone I can do "kid" things with that I cannot do with my parents; which makes me think having a friend is better than not having a friend; which makes me think that I can argue with a friend and "get over it" quickly; which makes me think my brother is also a friend."

The rest of the students listened; many puzzled faces--but listening!

Then I said, All right, essayists! Select one of your ideas from your list and go for it! I did not look at the results yet.


Full Member
grade 3 struggles

I agree with other posts. My third grade students can't write complete sentences or put periods and caps in the right places. I'm finding UoS for 3-5 way too hard, and I'm wondering if it is developmentally appropriate. Our entire district is using this set of books, k-3 this year and k-5 next year.

My third graders don't seem to remember what they learned in second grade. Most of our third grade teachers are as frustrated as I am.

Any words of advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

(We're about to start the narrative writing/fiction book. I've forgotten the title, but we're having a workshop on Weds.)