My school is in our first year adoption of the Lucy Calkins Units of Study for Middle Grades Reading.   Because some units are not published for 8th grade and because we are all bravely piloting the adoption together, all three grades have started with A Deep Study of Character for the first nine weeks.

The first session with a read aloud and guided discussion and practice with noticing character traits was this past Monday.  Though the lesson did not call for students to have a copy of the text, I realized after my first class my kids needed a hard copy of the mentor text.  During my planning that followed 1st period, I made copies of a marked up version so they could see the different sections or parts we would navigate in our read aloud.  In addition, I put together some slides to scaffold our conversations.  At the end of the day, I also typed up all the character traits we brainstormed across four classes and incorporated them into a set of mini-notes (these reviewed our big takeaways and the first part of our anchor chart on character traits) the students received to glue into their literacy notebooks the following day in class.

On Tuesday, students had the class period to practice our strategy for noticing character traits with their own independent reading novel.  I crafted a template to help students capture their character trait, their textual evidence, the page number, and the “what makes you say that” explanation to explain how the passage they selected exemplified the character trait.  Though I had even done some frontloading of this skill the previous week using the “Says, Thinks, Acts” strategy from Gravity Goldberg and felt I had followed all the elements of the Calkins read aloud lesson, I could see by looking at student work in progress many students were struggling with the concept of character traits and explaining how their textual evidence represented the trait.

On Wednesday, I used my phone and ProScanner app to snap some of the better pieces of student work.  I quickly printed and numbered these to create a gallery walk around the room using my always useful neon shop ticket pouches.  As students visited the stations, they used their literacy notebooks to record what the “exemplar” readers did in their work.

Once students visited as many of the 11 stations as they could in about 12-15 minutes, we came together as a group and talked about our noticings of moves the readers made with their work with character traits and how we might apply it to our own work moving forward.  The students then had the rest of the period to resume their character work with their independent reading novels.

On Thursday, students were asked to choose one of the character traits they had identified and a more in-depth reflection on how and where they were seeing that work in their books.  In addition, students made predictions about whether or not they felt the character trait would stay true deeper into the novel and why/why not.  Once students had completed these reflections (roughly a paragraph of 8-12 sentences), we did a speed dating activity to share our reflections.  I incorporated this into my instructional design to:

  1.  Give students an opportunity to engage in academic talk and their work with character traits.
  2.  Give students an opportunity to hear from each other about their books and characters.


In reading their final character trait work and their reflections, I feel these learning structures helped move students forward in their understanding of character traits.  Though I have not yet graded the assessment from this past Friday students took, I am hopeful the assessment will show gains in understanding as well as students were asked to read a short story and apply the character trait skills we practiced all week.  How do you go about “punting” and making adjustments when you see students are struggling with a particular reading or writing skill?