The Wizard of UoS

“A Guide to the Reading Workshop” begins with Lucy’s A Note to My Readers.  I’d like to begin in the same way.  Yes, Lucy, with A Note to Your Readers, enhanced by guiding questions from Kylene and Bob’s Disrupting Thinking.  (If you missed the beginning of my Adventures in UoS, you may want to click here.)

A Note to Your Readers:

The first thing I notice is that this note has the same flavor as Lucy’s trainings, which I guess is a testament to her ability to write with great voice.  I read lines like:

  • “I’m going to ask that you step with me…into this effort to give young people the richest possible education as readers” (p. vi.).
  • “To write this, we have done what teachers throughout the world do all the time.  We’ve taken what we know…and we’ve made a path for children…” (p. vi).
  • The units “are written to capture the quirky, real-life, handmade quality of masterful teaching” (p. vi).

Yes, three quotes from the first page.  In fact, these are three points from the first two paragraphs of the very first page and I haven’t even gotten to pages with numbers yet!

What surprised me?

When I read these words, instead of feeling invited and welcome, I hear:

  • Instruction provided in the units is superior to the instruction that is going on in classrooms across this country and anything you might design.
  • Replacing what teachers do with lessons that are already done “will help you teach with greater efficiency and power” (p. vi).
  • Students will all progress along a predetermined path on their way to life “as joyous, thoughtful readers” (p. vi).
  • Teachers need want a scripted lesson.
  • A script can capture the “quirky, real-life, handmade” moves that go into planning and teaching any given lesson.

I guess it still surprises me to be so shaken by words coming from the great and powerful Wizard of UoS.  I want to listen with awe and feel inspired–she is Lucy Calkins, after all.  Instead, I am surprised at how much her words make me feel like I must be doing things wrong, thinking wrong, teaching wrong.  The feeling I get sends me back to fifth grade when Derick Johnson withheld my share of construction paper for our Valentine’s craft, saying, “There’s nothing special about you.”

I am surprised at how reading her well-crafted note sends me right back to that day in fifth grade and right back to the day I sat in the second row of her training, asked her a question about implementation, and watched as she turned a whole room of teachers to laughter as she answered, “You could, but I wouldn’t.”  The great and powerful UoS had spoken.

What does the author(s) think I already know?

At the heart of it all, I want to believe that Lucy assumes I know that teaching must be intentional. That learning has a goal greater than the standards. And that we have a profound responsibility to do the very best we know how.  And a few more assumptions emerge from the note:

  • These units live within a greater framework, a literacy block that includes more than just the mini-lessons contained in their pages.
  • Planning for instruction and analyzing data to make our instruction more effective for each individual student compete for our time, and we find ourselves robbing Peter to pay Paul.

It’s here we find some common ground.

What changed, challenged, or confirmed my thinking?

We agree that implementing these units will make students better readers.  I have no doubt about that.  It will also, I’m sure, make me a better teacher and coach.  My hope is that it even teaches me how to engage in the process in a way that allows me to create units of study of my own, ones that are better than I’ve ever taught before.

So why am I still sitting here with my arms crossed unable to turn the page?

Maybe because part of what makes me a better teacher is that I engage in and find great joy in the messy, creative process of just that: teaching.  And I see planning and lesson design as an integral part of that process.

Maybe because when I am handed a script (or when I create one as an observational tool), I want it to be so that the planner’s thinking processes are visible, so that our planning processes are on display, not so that we can rest assured that tomorrow’s page is turned before we’ve finished the lesson for today.

The scripted-ness of these lessons and the way Lucy showed a whole room full of highly-skilled educators how to read the script so it would feel more like talking while we teach, makes me feel like I matter less.  Like anyone can do this “teaching” thing as long as they can read the script and look up from their lap before they say the words aloud.

These thoughts challenge me, so again, I return to ways that we agree, ways that help me to ease into this implementation with my arms not-so-tightly crossed.  Ways that this work confirms what I believe about literacy instruction:

  • The Literacy Block.  I see where the Units fit in among lessons in shared reading, read aloud, word work and writing workshop that may help me to be more responsive in my instruction and help me swallow this scripted pill.
  • Lesson Design.  I am already a fan of the predictable structure used in the lessons of the units: Connect, State, Teach with Active Engagement, and Link.  And–BONUS–we’ve already implemented this structure in planning for Writing Workshop.
  • Collaboration.  I think back to the reactions of the colleagues who have a head start on this implementation, whose professional judgments I admire and highly respect, the very ones who stood outside the doors to the workshop and were surprised by my adverse reaction. Colleagues who tell me to trust in the process of implementation.  The ones who swear by the results they were getting in their first year with the units.  The ones who warned me about a few hurdles, obstacles that are nowhere near the height of the ones that I keep putting up.
  • Reflection.  Every time I see the box of units sitting on the floor next to my desk, I’m right back in my classroom a month ago, wondering what more I could have done to help those ten-year-olds grow as readers. Would I have been better if I had had these units then?
  • Persistence.  Above all else, this past year of returning to my own classroom reminds me that teaching is hard. And not hard in the way I thought it was fifteen or even five years ago, but hard in a way that reinvents itself every year and requires our adaptability, expertise, collaboration, and our willingness to come to the table to hash things out.  So here I am, ready to hash things out.

How will this help me to be better?

I realize that I have now twice acknowledged that the Units of Study will undoubtedly make our students better readers and myself  and my colleagues better teachers of readers.  That said, these units will–in the very least–serve as

  • catalyst to conversations that will become the very best literacy instruction we have to offer,
  • anchor experiences to explorations that will take us beyond best practices into the realm of “next” practices, and
  • an invitation to join in a national conversation as part of the TCRWP community.  

Let the waves of disequilibrium wash over me as I accept and extend this invitation. As I turn beyond the page vi.  


As we begin the 2017-2018 school year, I will capture my experiences in implementing TCRWP’s Reading Units of Study.  This is the second in a series of posts that you can follow simply by using the TCRWP category on the screen as your filter.  All guiding questions in this post come from Kylene Beers and Bob Probst’s Disrupting Thinking.



2 Comments Add yours

  1. T. Ray says:

    We should always approach any “I have the answers” with skepticism whether it comes from our own thinking or someone else’s. Sounds like the dichotomy between Lucy’s assuredness and your own thinking/experiences have resulted in a dynamic that creates questions worth exploring. There absolutely is something special about you!


    1. Morgan says:

      Thanks, T. Yes, these are questions definitely worthy of exploration. I’m finding my way.


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