The Arc #sol18

The Arc  #sol18

March 13, 2018


IMG_0218I must have been alert when they taught the story arc back in teacher college.  The idea of the arc of a story is strong in me.  Thinking how to organize a narrative or investigate a composed narrative is as easy as riding a bike.  It seems it comes to students early as well.

Sarah Weeks spoke last week at the TCRWP Reunion of the arc and the arrow of the story.  When we think of the arrow of the story, we go straight through to the punch line.  When we think of an arc of a story, the majority of that story is in the mound, in the elaboration.  But in the end, it’s the payoff that makes the story work.
I’ve been thinking a great deal about that payoff lately.  In my writing, but mostly in the way that we plan and execute our instruction. Last week,  I reread The Unstoppable Writing Teacher. There is much to mine there, but today what stuck was the idea of backward design.  Considering our destination and then moving forward step by step.  This works for all of the students in front of us, but is especially powerful for our EL students. This idea is brilliantly described in A Quick Guide to Making Your Teaching Stick . One of Shanna Schwartz’ stickiness principles is:

 Children’s engagement and learning are dependent on a high level of understanding; they are distracted most when their understanding breaks down.  In order for teaching to stick, children need to be taught when they are ready to learn.

In their wonderful new book,  Kids First From Day One,  Christine Hertz and Kristine Mraz quickly outline how to keep a child’s eye view of your day. They remind us to see things from a child’s perspective.  In that perspective, we carefully examine whether our implied goal should be all that implied.

Focusing  on the bigger picture often I would say,  students don’t know why we are talking about what we are talking about.  They don’t see the arc of the story, the straight shot of the arrow, or the dot on the map.  That’s on us.

Do we know where we are going?

In the Calkins Units of Study,  the TCRWP team make an important plan.  They outline every unit in detail at the beginning.  First a quick road map,  then a short overview, then we are ready to head out on the journey.

As teachers, we plan, but where are we going?  See this post for setting the focus lesson table with your GPS.   What are the goals of the unit for each student in front of us?  The goals for this student might be the same.  We aren’t teaching the standards, we are teaching the kids.  However,  the teaching needs a spine, a compass, a north star.  We should know it and we should communicate it to the kiddos, every day.

How we communicate that is the art form, but this is no time for subtlety.

Hey,  kiddos,  we are going to reading all these versions of Little Red Riding Hood, but we are still just thinking about characters, settings, problems/solutions.  What’s the big idea?  What is Red’s problem?  What gets in her way?  How would you describe her?  

Every day the same questions.  We stay true to the arc.  In the beginning,  explain where we are going.  Then we try some things to get there,  explain those too.  We try some more things.  Things get a little tricky,  we back track,  we move forward.  Then,  when we get to the end,  we check and see if we all got there together.  We don’t leave those things behind,  we carry them to our next destination.

I’m not sure the kids know the plan.  So let’s tell them.  Let’s explain how this goes.

Do they know where we are going?  


img_1716 Thanks to all my fellow slicers for their encouragement, their feedback, and their lessons.  I learn so much from you.   You can learn from them too,  here at Two Writing Teachers.  This is day 13 of the 31 Day Slice of Life Story Challenge.




9 thoughts on “The Arc #sol18

  1. Timely reminder for me in your slice, Sue: Keep bringing the arc to the front of our reading mind to appreciate the story forest, rather than getting lost forever among the individual trees.

  2. I agree with Kevin – and I would add – are the kids still on the bus or are we losing them along the way. Sometimes we need to adjust our destination or our path, but yes first we must put in a destination. Where are we going? So much to ponder in this post – love how you intertwined so many resources and connections in your mind. Love the flow of the post.

  3. So much truth here. These lines stick with me: “Focusing on the bigger picture often I would say, students don’t know why we are talking about what we are talking about. They don’t see the arc of the story, the straight shot of the arrow, or the dot on the map. That’s on us.” I find this all the time in high school: the teacher knows the intended outcome, but the students are just following along. And it’s bigger than just one class: so often our struggling students don’t know why they are doing what they are doing. Why does society want them to be here? What are they supposed to get out of it? I can’t fix all of that, but I value your reminder that, at least in my classroom, that’s on me.

  4. A thoughtful and helpful teaching-leanring post. The what, why and how are very important for the kids and adults to know.

  5. Thought provoking post, reminding us of the very important basics that you put so succinctly in your ending. My take away: “Focusing on the bigger picture often I would say, students don’t know why we are talking about what we are talking about. They don’t see the arc of the story, the straight shot of the arrow, or the dot on the map. That’s on us.”

  6. I would agree with the other comments here. The ‘why’ is often not explicitly relayed to the kids. And the part where you mention the looking back- so important. You are so reflective here, and there is so much to be learned from this post. If only everyone reflected to this depth…because kids deserve it. Thanks for this!

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