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This book is easy to understand and it is packed with true and tested lessons to teach the students. I wish I had bought this book when I first started teaching reading to upper grade students. It is a real gem.
Overall, this is a great series to use. Our district has implemented it as our ONLY Language Arts curriculum. However, it's extremely scripted- which can be good and bad. Good because you can see the train of thought on which to guide your students using Calkins' words; bad because anyone off the street can just read the script and "teach"- If followed strictly, it leaves little room for teacher enhancements, experiences, and modifications. Sometimes, one lesson can go on for pages as you read (to prepare) on and on about every thing she would say to the students and why she would say those things. On the plus side, the books includes pictures of anchor charts, lots of teaching points, mid-lesson interventions, dialogue examples, and students' Post-it notes, which are helpful. Also, the CD's are filled with great videos and documents that teachers can use as guides in their instruction. On the down side, some of the lessons are very abstract and non-concrete, which means that students may get completely lost (and bored) by the end of the lesson. In the school I teach, students lack schema and desire (because they're in survival mode) to make the kinds of connections and leaps that Caulkins often throws at the children and expects them to manage. Lessons can sometimes appear simple, but really end up requiring days to teach in the context of having so much else to teach in such short blocks of times as we teachers are given. Mini-lessons often end up being not-so-mini, and sometimes too complex to teach as explained in the books. Still, the system encourages students to take ownership of their learning, which is always a good thing. So, having used her books in the real world and seeing the shortcomings and strenghts, I had to give this 3 stars.
I have been using the units of study as a resource for a few years now. It is a great resource and these units/lessons can be used along with other lessons and units that you find valuable. What I liked about these units is that Lucy Calkins states that this curriculum should work itself out of a job. I don't believe that the intent of the curriculum is to be a script you follow, but rather it shows us what an engaging and interactive writing workshop looks like. I find that I don't need to follow the units as closely as I did in the beginning. I do bring in other lessons and I also like to use more mentor texts than the curriculum seems to suggest. This curriculum isn't perfect (I haven't seen one that is), but it gives the teacher a real sense of what could be happening in his or her workshop.
With the new Common Core implementation in my district, we tossed writing aside and went for math and reading. I was at a loss as to how to teach writing so that reading would be impacted and vice versa. This book and author gave great step by step advice and lessons on how to kickstart writing in your classroom. I put it use immediately after the book arrived and I'm alread seeing a difference in my students' compositions. We study mentor texts, and get a lot of practice at understanding author's purpose and themes, which is always a weak area. I ordered the entire Units of Study from Heinemann to complete further units with my students. I'm looking forward to using this for years to come!