Friday, August 5, 2011

Getting My Ducks in a Row: Planning TOG

Many (if not all) Tapestry of Grace (TOG) Moms are familiar with The Fog that rolls in shortly after a purchase of one of Tapestry of Grace's year plans. It is a non-meteorological event that all new TOGgers are warned about.  Me included.

This fall marks our third full year with TOG as our main curriculum.  Each year, I get a little bit better at planning for our school year and using TOG.  Not perfect, mind you, just better.

With 12 more years to use it, I think I'll get the hang of it at some point.

So, in my offering to help lift The Fog of TOG, I thought I'd share how I begin to plan a year.

Step 1. I purchase the DE only package (DE = digital edition; a secured PDF product that I download to my computer), and after I've installed it to my computer, I begin the process of printing only the parts I'm going to use for immediate planning:  the threads pages (purple pages), the reading assignment charts (yellow), and the writing assignments (red).  I do this for the whole year plan during the early part of the summer.  These pages help me to understand the topics that are covered in each year plan and the books and resources I'll need to acquire for the year.

[Note:  this part of the preparation is only done once per year plan.  For example, I'm using Year 3 this school year, but I only had to print up the first semester of material, because we used the second semester a few years ago to learn about the Civil War and Reconstruction.]

Step 2. After I've got the reading assignment charts (yellow pages), I begin to look at the resources (books) I'll need to use this year. I will admit that TOG can get pricey with all the books to purchase, especially at the onset.  That's why I acquire books from a variety of sources:  used sites,, our library, and borrowing from friends who are using different year plans.  I usually download a list of TOG books and put them in a spreadsheet so that I can make marks and notes on where I'm getting the resources.  I *heart* my library's list making function, which allows me to make a reading list of books I'll need to borrow for the year.

After I figure out where I'm getting books (purchasing or borrowing from library), I mark on the reading assignment sheets either an "h" for "I have this book" or an "L" for "borrowing from library."  I'll also mark "ILL" if I need to get an inter-library loan book, but I've shied off from doing this over the past couple years because I hadn't been giving myself the leeway necessary to get the book on time.

Oh, another thought when deciding which books to purchase vs. borrow:  If I'm going to need a book for longer than 3 or 4 weeks, I usually purchase the book.  My library system allows you to check out a book for 3 weeks and renew once for a total of  6 weeks.  Some of the arts and crafts books for grammar-aged students are used periodically throughout a whole unit.  Sometimes I'll purchase the book (if I find it really cheap!) other times I'll just check it out periodically from the library and copy a couple activities that I think we'll use for the next few weeks.  I'll do this several times during the year.

Step 2.5. When I'm deciding which books I need, I also have to factor into the equation which levels I'm going to have my students work at:
  • lower grammar (typically k-3rd), 
  • upper grammar (3rd-6th), 
  • dialectic (6th-9th),
  • rhetoric (9th-12th)
As you can see there is some planned overlap which is lovely.  Let me show you how this works:  When Ben was in 5th grade, he read upper grammar history books and dialectic level literature books. I knew he wasn't ready for the themes and threads of the dialectic history books (although he certainly had the reading skills to pull it off) and wanted him to have a solid understanding of the facts and events of the time period.  However, the literature books at the upper grammar level were not at all challenging for him (a few were picture-bookish), so I bumped him up to dialetic books . However, we didn't use the literature worksheets to begin to learn about literary analysis because he was in, uh, 5th grade. See how we flexed between upper grammar and dialect? 

For this year, because Luke has made huge strides in his reading this summer (!!!!) he's now at the point that he can read some of his history and literature books by himself.  So this year instead of bumping him up to the upper grammar-level materials (which are for a proficient reader who's reading at a 5-6th grade level), I'm going to keep him in lower grammar books.  This way, the exercise of reading won't be so challenging that he cannot focus on the content of the information he's learning.  I'll pre-skim all the books for difficult vocabulary and we'll practice breaking those words about syllable by syllable; then he should be good to go!

One of the things I really like about TOG is that you are given a whole years' worth of plans for every grade level, yet you can move your students up and down in each subject as you see fit. 

Step 3. This is when I do my second round of printing.  I print off the SAPs (blue Student Activity Pages) and the Teacher Notes.  If I had only grammar level students, I would probably not print off the Teacher Notes to save on time and money (for ink and paper) and just read them on my computer.  Also, I only print the SAPs for the levels I'm teaching.  I'm not teaching a rhetoric (high school) student, so I don't need to clutter up my mind and school room with unnecessary information.  I usually print off these SAPs unit-by-unit.

Step 4. Honestly, the previous step are easy compared to this step -- The Foggy one.  This is when you really need to focus.  If you have students at many different levels, this is when you take one level at a time and focus on each unit for that student.  Which books will you have the student read himself?  Which will be read-alouds?  Will you use the geography assignment this week?  Will you use the SAPs for literature this week?  How about the Thinking and Accountability questions? What will you do with the vocabulary and people for the week -- have the student write them out or go through them orally with you? Will you do a craft?  Will you have your student take one of TOGs weekly assessments?

You know all those sweet little check-boxes on your year plan?  Well, if you have DE, do NOT be afraid to check-off what you'll want to do; remember, you can always print off another copy later.

In the past, I've also gone through and made weekly lesson plans with Homeschool Tracker Plus.  I've made TOG-only spread sheets as well.  This year, I'll just be putting (pencil) check marks on the items I'm planning on using.  This way, I'll always be referencing all the great information I've printed off and (I think) I'll be more accountable to myself and the curriculum.

Now, each week, I'll pull out my binder, look to see what needs to be read, assign it on my student's log book, pull out the SAPs we'll need for the week and read the teacher notes so I have a clue about what we're learning.  I try to do all this work (maybe 30 min. of concentrated work) on the Friday or Saturday before we need it.  I hate having busy Sunday nights.

I cannot say that my system is flawless, but it works for me and our lifestyle now.  How do other TOGgers plan the basics of your years?   If you've written about it, paste a link in the comments so I can glean some awesome ideas and inspiration from you!



Joelle said...

Thanks for this. I love to read about how others use Tapestry. Last year was our first year and I opened up the curriculum each week to decided on what we were going to do that week. This year I am trying to plan ahead as I mentioned on my planning post. Nice to meet you BTW.

Unknown said...

We are new to TOG and the fog is pretty scary!! We're still working on our planning!