Welcome to Read – Write – Connect, Inc.

the Internet home of Leah Mermelstein.

Best Writing consultant 002 copyLeah is an internationally recognized literacy consultant who specializes in K-5 Reading and Writing Workshop. She is the President and CEO of Read-Write-Connect, INC. She is also the author of Reading/​​Writing Connections in the K-2 Classroom, (Allyn & Bacon), Don’t Forget to Share (Heinemann) and the co-author of Launching the Writing Workshop (with Lucy Calkins) (Heinemann).


Selected Works

DVD

Quality Writing Instruction
This brand new DVD will assist teachers with high quality writing instruction.

Non-fiction

Don’t Forget to Share: The Crucial Last Step in the Writing Workshop
This brand new book will show you how to make your share sessions more instructional.

Nonfiction

Reading/Writing Connections in the K-2 Classroom: Find the Clarity and Then Blur the Lines
This book demonstrates how through careful, explicit assessing, planning, and teaching every student can understand and use the reading/writing connection to become stronger readers and writers at the same time.

Units of Study for Primary Writing: A Yearlong Curriculum: Launching the Writing Workshop
This book shows teachers how to launch a joyful and rigorous Writing Workshop in their classrooms.

QUICK LINKS

E-mail the author

Authors Guild

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Leah Mermelstein
536 Grand Street, Ste. 501,
Hoboken, NJ 07030
(917) 503-1947

leahmermelstein@earthlink.net

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Blog Posts are Below:

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Working On Your Own Writing Can Help You Plan Units of Study

I want to share a quick but powerful story that recently happened to me when I went to do work in the Danbury School District.  The reason I want to share this story is that it reminded me how of how powerful it is when teachers do their own writing. There are many ways that working on your own writing will help you become a better Writing Workshop teacher, but this particular story showed me how doing your own writing can help you better plan and understand the Units of Study that you teach.

 

The story begins with Lorena, a teacher from Danbury, emailing me. I was going into her classroom the following week to work with her team on Writing Workshop.  She wanted to update me on where she was in her writing curriculum and the questions that both she and her colleagues had about their Writing Units of Study.

 

Her second grade team was just about to start a Book Review Unit of Study.  Just an aside, this is a wonderful, engaging and authentic Writing Unit of Study that closely correlates with the Common Core Standards.   The Danbury School District provides their teachers with a general (and wonderful) outline of each Unit of Study in both writing and reading.  The beauty of what they provide is that it gives teachers (especially new ones) a starting point and it also help to bring some consistency across their many schools in the district.  There is lots of flexibility in this general outline so that teachers can add, as well as spend more or less time on concepts based upon what their students show them they need or want. Lorena let me know that the second grade team needed help in deciphering what the district was suggesting that they teach in their Book Review Unit.

 

I began my planning for this work by pulling out the district curriculum.  After reading it, I had a surface understanding of what the teaching points meant, but I didn’t feel as though I truly owned them.  I could have read and reread those teaching points, but I knew the only way I would truly understand the teaching points was by writing a quick book review myself.

 

First, I thought of an authentic reason I needed to write one. I decided to write a book review of the book, Shortcut by Donald Crews and I wanted to write it to encourage my nephew to read it. Once I had chosen the book and my audience, I looked at a few book reviews (I found them online) and I read over the teaching points in the district curriculum again.   In both the book reviews I found on-line and in the district curriculum, I noticed craft techniques and teaching points such as:

  • Different ways to start
  • The author’s unique opinion as well as evidence that supported that opinion
  • What the book was about (perhaps a big idea or a social issue embedded in the book)
  • A summary that was angled towards that big idea or social issue
  • How the character changed throughout the book
  • Different ways to end

(There were many more ideas. These are just a few of them.)

 

After that, I spent about twenty minutes writing my book review keeping in mind both the teaching points and the craft techniques I had noticed in the other book reviews.  After writing, I looked back over the teaching points that the district had provided.  I now felt like I owned these ideas because I literally had messed around with them in my own writing.  The Book Review Unit of Study now felt seamless to me and I yearned to take over Lorena’s classroom for the next month so I could teach the entire unit.

 

When I visited Lorena’s classroom the following week, I used that book review I wrote in my teaching. Of course, the teachers wanted a copy and I was happy to give it to them but I also had a funny feeling while giving it to them.

 

I felt funny because I wanted them to experience what I did.  When I actually wrote my own book review, I had a better understanding of not only the district curriculum, but also book reviews in general. I was able to decipher what the district was asking by writing myself (as well as looking at other book reviews) They didn’t just need my book review; they needed to write one themselves!

 

Later than day, I spoke to the assistant principal and we brainstormed ways to get teachers writing as part of unit planning meetings.   We both agreed that reading and rereading the teaching points isn’t nearly as powerful as jumping in and writing it yourself.

 

I’m really excited by this idea of using writing as a method for planning Writing Units of Study. I know I will do more of it in the future.

 

I would love to know your thoughts! Do you write yourself? Does it help you as a writing teacher?  Do you think that your own writing could assist you in planning Units of Study? If so, how?  What issues do you see with this?

 

Until next time….

 

Leah

 

 

 

Copyright, 2012

 

 

13 Responses to Working On Your Own Writing Can Help You Plan Units of Study
  1. Maria Muldner
    April 17, 2012 | 6:45 pm

    Dear Leah,

    I love your latest Blog entry on the importance of having teachers write what it is they are asking their students to write. I did this very thing in your session at the Guilderland Summer Institute on Writing a few years back. You asked us to write a personal narrative story mirroring some of the craft techniques we saw in various mentor texts. I found this to be so powerful because it taught me which techniques were easier versus the ones that were more sophisticated as well as really forced me to consider the students for whom I was setting specific goals. As my school’s literacy coach, I think this would be a valuable activity for the teachers to do at a professional development session. Thank you for reminding me!

    Always,
    Maria Muldner
    Queensbury UFSD

  2. Leah Mermelstein
    April 17, 2012 | 7:11 pm

    Thanks so much, Maria. You have the perfect role as a literacy coach to get that kind of planning and writing going in your school. I really believe that it’s more powerful than just reading or listing out different lessons you might do in any given unit. Let me know how it goes once you try it.
    Keep in touch!
    Leah

  3. Lee Orlando
    April 17, 2012 | 7:18 pm

    Oh my gosh! Did your blog entry hit a chord with me! For some time now, I’ve made a point of always doing the writing I will be asking my students to do as a way of fully understanding and experiencing the process. (OK, and for another reason: I love to write! ) I agree wholeheartedy with what you said about how you felt you owned the teaching points because you had “messed around with them.” So true!! By “trying on” a certain writing task I plan to use with my class, I can discover more about potential pitfalls, which may, in turn, become teaching points I hadn’t considered. When my students begin to write, I can confer with them at a deeper and more authentic level, writer-to-writer, because I have done the same work that they are doing.

    • Leah Mermelstein
      April 17, 2012 | 7:27 pm

      Hi Lee,
      Thank you so much for posting. It’s always affirming to hear about teachers who are writing as a way to plan and teach curriculum on a regular basis. There are two things that you said that really stuck out to me: The first one was your ability to confer in a deeper way with your kids because you write in then same genres that you are asking them to write in. I suspect because you understand the genre better conferring feels easier to you. The other was how writing helps you imagine other lessons you can do as well as possible pitfalls. I really feel as though I can support teachers more if I integrate writing into our conversations. It’s hard to know how helpful it will be until you do it, like you have. It was amazing how easy it made planning the Book Review Unit of Study for me. Keep in touch and I hope to see you in Vermont soon. 🙂
      Leah

  4. Renee Dinnerstein
    April 18, 2012 | 12:37 am

    Hello Leah

    I just heard someone on NPR describing how he writes and mails a letter to himself every day. Isn’t that an interesting and intriguing idea?

    xxxRenee

    • Leah Mermelstein
      April 18, 2012 | 12:46 am

      Hi Renee,
      That is a great idea. So often our every day thoughts and reflections go in and out of our busy minds! By writing them down, you can notce and think more about them. I love it. There must be some way to integrate that idea in my work….Hmmmmm Thanks for sharing.
      Leah

  5. Vicki Vinton
    April 19, 2012 | 2:06 pm

    It seems so terribly important to me to keep in touch with ourselves as readers and writers. And I’m full of envy that you work in a school where the administration believed in that enough to actually carve out time for teachers to write and share what they discovered with each other. It makes all the difference between implementing and truly owning a unit, which also means they’ll be in a much better position to make critical decisions along the way if the lessons don’t go off as planned (which almost inevitably happens).

  6. Leah Mermelstein
    April 19, 2012 | 2:18 pm

    Hi Vicki,
    I love what you said about the difference between implementing and owning a unit. It’s so true. If you don’t own the unit, you really are unsure about what to do when things don’t go as planned. And as you said, they never do!!!! Your comments are so helpful because in these busy times, I am always trying to persuade schools of the importance and pay off of giving teachers time to write as part of the planning of a unit. Your words really helped so thanks. It’s one of the reasons that I love blogging. When I put ideas out there and people respond, it helps me to build upon them. See you soon!
    Leah

  7. Regina Smoler
    April 21, 2012 | 9:56 pm

    I have often said to myself, “Can I write what the kids are being asked to write?” This past year, I wrote one essay task where a word bank was given for the topic. I couldn’t believe how much easier it was to write having guide words. I have never done that in my own writing. I teach ELL’s, so during writing now, we first discuss the topic, then organize words around the topic. It has made a difference, especially in vocabulary development.

    Thanks for sharing. This is awesome!

    Regina

  8. Leah Mermelstein
    April 22, 2012 | 10:54 pm

    Hi Regina,
    It’s great to hear from you! What a great question (Can I write what the kids are being asked to write?) By asking that question, I’m sure you learn so many things. Does what I’m asking them to write make sense? What made it easier for me? What made it more challenging for me? I’m sure that by doing your own writing, as well as asking that question, assists you in creating writing curriculum that moves kids forward quickly and joyfully.

    Leah

  9. Amelie
    May 16, 2012 | 12:37 am

    Hi!
    It’s funny to read a post about my school district! I teach in Danbury like Lorena, and benefit as well from the units of study written by our language arts specialists’ team. It’s been a work in progress, and the units are being updated regularly. I am also very adamant to try out what I’m going to ask my students to do in writing (I do this in reading too). The first time around, it gives teachers an idea of where they might go with their unit of study. While students try what I have tried while taking ownership of the unit of study, I observe how they understand directions, how they want to write, and what things they focus on. It gives me a lot of information on how to teach the unit better the year after. I also change my topics and my models year after year, and try different things. It helps me guide my students better to have experienced the unit myself.

  10. Leah Mermelstein
    May 16, 2012 | 4:17 pm

    Dear Amelie,
    Thanks so much for your comments. It’s always good to hear firsthand how trying out what you ask your students to do helps you to know where you will go with the unit. It’s so interesting how both you and the district have the same belief about curriculum: It will always be updated. It will always be changed because the more you do it, the more you learn how to adjust the curriculum to help your kids learn as much as they can! Have I met you before? I don’t recall the name. What grade do you teach? If I haven’t I really hope to meet you during one of my future trips to Danbury!
    Leah

    • Amelie
      May 23, 2012 | 12:30 am

      Leah,
      We have not met, I don’t work at King Street! I teach fourth grade, and our writing curriculum is fantastic. After 5 years, I feel that I am finally reaching something closer to a Writer’s Workshop. Each student is at a different step of the way, and uses writer’s vocabulary (introduction, thesis statement, stance, alliteration, personification, rich vocabulary, etc.). I have yet to explore more of your blog, which is enriching my teaching in every possible way. Thank you for sharing!

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