The Lucy Calkins Project

Education Next Issue Cover

Parsing a self-proclaimed literacy guru

By Barbara Feinberg

26 Comments | Print | PDF |

Summer 2007 / Vol. 7, No. 3

Once upon a time there was a thoughtful educator who raised some interesting questions about how children were traditionally taught to read and write, and proposed some innovative changes. But as she became famous, critical debate largely ceased: her word became law. Over time, some of her methods became dogmatic and extreme, yet her influence continued to grow.

That educator is Lucy McCormick Calkins, the visionary founding director of Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. Begun in 1981, the think tank and teacher training institute has since trained hundreds of thousands of educators across the country. Calkins is one of the original architects of the “workshop” approach to teaching writing to children, which holds that writing is a process, with distinct phases, and that all children, not just those with innate talent, can learn to write well. She is author of some 20 books, including the best-selling The Art of Teaching Writing (250,000 sold). According to the project web site, books by its leaders are “widely regarded as foundational to language arts education throughout the English-speaking world.”

While her influence is geographically broad, Calkins is perhaps nowhere more powerful than in New York City, where the project began as a consulting service to a few elementary schools and grew into a highly profitable venture. According to Andrew Wolf of the New York Sun, Calkins charges $1,200 to send one of her assistants into a school for one day. In 2003 schools chancellor Joel Klein appointed her and the project, through a no-bid three-year $5.4 million contract, to the task of revamping the way literacy skills are taught in more than 100 district schools, including most of those in Brooklyn and Queens, the project’s mission is to retrain—through onsite workshops, leadership seminars, curricular materials, and an intensive summer institute—primary and upper-grade teachers, administrators from principals up through district superintendents, and central department policymakers.

Stories That Matter

Calkins’s approach to literacy grows out of a pedagogical theory that prides itself on being in step with the natural development of both writers and children. Her earliest mentor was the progressive educator Donald Graves, who observed in the 1970s that while American children were taught reading and math, they were only rarely taught how to write beyond grammar and spelling. Graves argued that in being deprived of lessons that would develop the skills and habits that most good writers have, children were relegated to the status of “receivers,” never “senders,” of information. Graves, in turn, was deeply influenced by Pulitzer Prize–winning writer and college journalism professor Donald Murray, perhaps one of the earliest to describe the craft of writing. By observing his own writing process, Murray delineated a method all writers could follow. “Writing might be magical,” he is often quoted as saying, “but it’s not magic. It’s a process, a rational series of decisions and steps that every writer makes and takes, no matter what the length, the deadline, even the genre.”

Graves adapted Murray’s approach to teaching writing to children. The idea was to make them more conscious of what successful adult writers do—draft ideas, revise, edit, and publish. By involving children in this process, he sought to help them become more active in their own education, and not incidentally, more self-aware; he advocated that children write extensively about themselves and their observations.

Calkins popularized and developed many of the positions taken by Graves regarding writing and later applied them to reading. At the heart of her philosophy is the notion that children ought to be given a “voice,” encouraged to discover and refine their own personal writing style, as they compose “stories that matter.” Calkins is a “constructivist,” believing that children should generate their own texts, using material from their own lives. Her belief in self-expression as a key to learning extends to reading: children develop a passion for reading when they are given freedom to choose books that are meaningful to them. Her approach to literacy reviles “direct teaching,” where the teacher stands in front of the room and lectures, preferring instead that children work in small groups and consult each other as much as possible. And she advocates that teachers routinely engage in conferences with each individual child about his writing and reading experiences (see sidebar). She writes of the “art” involved in teaching and conferring, and thereby suggests that while aspects of literacy can be taught, there also exists a degree of creative intuition in the process, on the part of both the child and the teacher.

No Detours, No Surprises

Some of Calkins’s ideas on writing have made exciting contributions to the life of the classroom. In her nearly 600-page 1986 tome, The Art of Teaching Writing, Calkins lays out her rationale and methods for implementing a writers’ workshop in the classroom. She instructs teachers to make room for students to keep a “writer’s notebook,” a place where they can “jot down things they notice and wonder about” and record “bits of life.” Calkins offers up this notion in a relaxed spirit, conjuring a playful atmosphere that encourages creativity. Photographs of lively students and reproductions of students’ writing assignments, done in their own quirky handwriting, add to the friendly and appreciative tone of the book.

In her later work, however, Calkins’s notion of the writer’s notebook is prescriptive, even rigid. She instructs teachers as well as parents to make sure children “never miss a day” of writing in their notebooks, because “if you allow kids to get off the hook once, they’ll try to get off it all the time.” In Raising Lifelong Learners (1998), she describes how she needs to stand over her son while he writes down his thoughts after returning from a play date. The earlier “jotting” and “bits of life” sensibility seems to be gone, as she complains that  her sons, then six and four years old, “often say non-sequiturs,” and how she, and all parents and teachers, should confront “sidetracks,” and prohibit any “detours.”

Project staff instruct children to revise their writing, according to sometimes peculiarly stringent guidelines, and do the same to their drawings. Writing coaches instruct even kindergartners to redo their pictures, making some things bigger, smaller, using less white space, etc. At a project open house in 2004, Calkins said, “I tell kids that after they’ve finished writing [personal narrative] they should go back and lop off the beginning and lop off the ending. Those parts are always weak. The meat is always in the middle.” When an audience member asked if there were exceptions to this, she said emphatically, “No.”

To keep the focus on autobiographical writing, the project trains teachers to deter children from writing fantasy of any kind. A six-year-old child whose classroom was under the project’s tutelage remarked to me, “Once upon a time is against the law in our school.” Not long ago Calkins altered her stance modestly and decided that staff in her program can now teach children how to write “realistic fiction.”

“What’s most important to me,” explained a project staff member during the open house, “are social issues. I teach fiction writing to teach social justice.” She went on to describe her methodology: “I tell students that they must always first start with an issue—gender discrimination, racism, poverty—not a character. Then we create a character around the issue.” She explained that she instructed children to plot the story from start to finish before setting out, telling them to be certain to alternate between “incident, dialogue, incident, dialogue.” While virtually all professional writers of fiction describe the element of surprise and discovery as central to the process, this teacher takes an alternate view: “By the time children begin to write, they know exactly what their characters will do and say. The point is, there should be no surprises when you sit down to write fiction.”

The leader then projected copies of student papers on the wall, where we read several stories about bullying, gender discrimination, etc. The stories were impressively written, although they seemed, after a while, to sound almost uniform; without exception, each protagonist was a victim of some kind. Fictional characters in a project workshop might be described in the same way as literary critic, Sheila Egoff, describes characters in many current teen novels: they are “defined by the terminology of pain.”

It Takes Two to Read a Book

The publication of The Art of Teaching Reading (2001) catapulted Calkins to expert status in reading as well. The book offers ideas about setting up libraries in classrooms and the value of offering students a wide selection of books, adults reading aloud, and many other things that go into Calkins’s idea of helping children live a “richly literate life.”

Beginning in kindergarten, children are to regard books as objects of study. They are asked, for example, to compare two books and try to figure out which characters have a “worse life”; make a “study” of Frog and Toad books; or debate whether Enchantress from the Stars is fiction or fantasy. Children are asked to keep track—on Post-its, or other diagramming material—of the ways characters’ lives resemble their own. Post-its loom particularly large in the Calkins universe. “If I could change the world,” she writes, “children across America would carry books that were furry with slips of paper and jotted writing.” Indeed, project methods require a vast array of accoutrements: charts, matrixes, Venn diagrams, page numbers, graphs, reading marathons, bookmarks, book corners, book bags, book celebrations, jazzed up “book talk,” and great discussions about how to live “readerly lives.”

“Every reader has two lives, one public, the other secret,” noted poet and chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, Dana Gioia. Not so in a project classroom. Calkins maintains—for reasons never explained—that reading is fundamentally a “social activity.” “The books that matter in our lives are the books we have discussed.” Or “It takes two to read a book.” She relays approvingly how a teacher asks kindergartners who are enjoying a book, “But where are your tools, your logs, your Post-its?”

Rarely are children invited to simply sink into a story and experience it emotionally. In fact, when an unguarded emotion occurs while a teacher is reading aloud, it is perceived as a unique, nearly baffling event. Calkins relates approvingly how a teacher, while reading the very moving book The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes to a group of six-year-olds, noticed a boy whose “facial expression showed how Peggy felt as she stood by and watched her classmate Wanda being taunted. ‘Oh my goodness,’ [the teacher] said to the class when she saw what Robert was doing, ‘Let me keep reading and all of you watch the way Robert’s face shows what Peggy was feeling.’ Soon everybody was following Robert, supplying the facial expressions and gestures to match the interpretations of Peggy’s mood.”

Yet Calkins herself, in the middle of The Art of Teaching Reading, describes with some derision two 2nd-grade students using jargon to discuss a book. She hears them say that they are making “text-to-self” connections, and “text-to-text” connections, phrases they’d obviously been taught to use. When she asks them what they are referring to and their response is flimsy, she concludes that all their jargon is much ado about nothing. “If anything,” she muses, “the long metacognitive detour had probably pulled these readers out of ‘the virtual dream’ of the story, and broken the spell of the enchantment.” Apt words, indeed.

Planning the Writer’s Conference
The Calkins tome One to One: The Art of Conferring with Young Writers (2005) is the result of 18 months of poring over transcripts of her own and her protégés’ conferences with very young children, in an attempt to extrapolate their own “best teaching moves.” The goal is then to refine those moves, sort them into categories, and write scripts to accompany them. Calkins has managed to bring the whole unwieldy world of teaching writing into neat, snap-on categories. There are four phases for conducting a conference: the research phase (to last no longer than two minutes), in which the teacher assesses what she or he will teach the young writer; the decision phase, in which the teacher decides what kind of conference (there are four kinds) to implement; a teaching phase; and, finally, a link phase, which involves extracting an oath from the child. “From this day on, for the rest of your life,” the teacher asks the child to pledge, “are you always going to remember to do X when you write?”
Calkins instructs teachers to give two compliments during their conferences with students, one at the beginning and one at the end, and to “briefly record what you have complimented in a box containing the child’s name.” The Conferring CD-ROM comes with a letter from Calkins that advises teachers to “study the compliment section in every conference. What do you see us doing over and over again? Compare the way we tend to give compliments and the way you have done this. By doing this, you will be able to create your own Guide to Giving Powerful Compliments.”
While the idea of meeting one-on-one with a child to discuss his work might suggest spontaneous communication between two people, conferences as described by Calkins have a prepackaged, often manipulative quality. She writes, “One effective strategy for buoying a writer’s identity is to tell the child he or she has written just like a professional writer.” She suggests saying, “You’re trying to do something you’ve seen another author do. That’s so professional of you!” Calkins reports proudly how well a member of her staff intervened when two kindergarteners were squabbling over Magic Markers: “Writers…do not wrestle over markers. Can you imagine Mem Fox or Tomie DiPaola wrestling over markers?”
Another approach brings a similar result. “We try the technique of pretending that the child has been doing exactly what we hoped he or she would do,” Calkins explains. “I help Olivia see that her experience is a story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end,” she writes, describing a “successful” conference she had with a child about a drawing. “I condense her long explanation of her picture into a tighter narrative line that is within her reach of being able to write. But I do this acting as if she’s done all the work herself, and she willingly believes that all I’ve just done is to restate the story she invented. When we assist a writer, it is often helpful if the writer is fooled into thinking she’s done the job herself!”

So Do Her Methods Work?

Calkins is shaping the education of millions of children, yet no independent research backs the efficacy of her programs. Aside from grumblings from the New York City teachers required to work under her system, there has been remarkably little open debate about the basic premises behind Calkins’s approach, or even feedback on how the programs are faring in the classroom.

What controversy exists generally centers around two concerns: First, her programs do not explicitly teach phonics—which she calls “drill and kill.” She favors a “whole language” approach to literacy, which builds on the premise that reading and writing develop naturally in children. Her detractors argue that this lack of direct instruction leaves many children, especially those who already struggle, at a disadvantage.

The other argument, perhaps resonating with a larger audience, is that her methodology lacks real content, has no reference to any knowledge that should be learned. In The Art of Teaching Reading, she explains that she doesn’t want “all reading and writing to be in the service of thematic studies” but instead seeks to “spotlight reading and writing in and of themselves.” Calkins’s insistence that students should focus mostly on writing about their lives rankles the many educators who believe that curriculum should be focused on content-rich material, and that students should read and write about information outside of their own personal lives. Broadening one’s knowledge base strengthens reading comprehension, builds vocabulary, and deepens knowledge of the world, all of which help students understand the text, but also, as E. D. Hirsch writes, “what the text implies but doesn’t say.”

What has not been openly questioned is the assumption that Calkins has retained her ordinal stance, that it is the teacher’s job to midwife a child’s own, often richly imaginative voice, rather than impose her own. Calkins’s program originally gained its popularity, at least in part, because of its mission to help children make their distinct voices heard. She was known as a champion for flexible, creative teaching, uniquely attuned to children. “If we adults listen and watch closely,” she wrote in 1986, “our children will invite us to share their worlds and their ways of living in the world.” And while this impulse continues to inform aspects of her approach, she has tended over time to become increasingly focused on enforcing her own methodology; many of her techniques limit children’s genuine engagement with reading and writing. This insistence on only one way to do things, not surprisingly, has translated into a demand that teachers quiet their own impulses, gifts, and experiences, and speak in one, mandated voice.

Recently, Common Good, a bipartisan organization committed to “restoring common sense to American law” asked New York City public school teachers to keep a diary for 10 days and consider specifically “how bureaucracy impacts everyday teaching.” The results were presented in a town hall–style meeting attended by more than a hundred educators and union representatives. One of the topics was “mandated teaching,” which referred specifically to the required presence of Calkins and Teachers College in city schools. The responses were almost universally negative.

This entry from a teacher’s diary is typical: “Administrators expect all our reading and writing workshops to adhere to an unvarying and strict script.…For example: ‘Writers, today and everyday you should remember to revise your writing by adding personal comments about the facts.’ Sometimes I feel like I’m a robot regurgitating the scripted dialogue that’s expected of us day in and day out.”

A kindergarten teacher reported how she was instructed to ask her students, on the third day of class, “to reflect on how they’d grown as writers.” She explained that the children were still preoccupied with missing their mothers and felt the assignment was “ridiculous.”

The truth is there isn’t one way to teach writing, or a limited number of ways to have conversations with children about their imaginative work and their lives. Calkins would have done well to heed the counsel of Donald Murray, whose prescient caution she quotes in The Art of Teaching Reading: “Watch out lest we suffer hardening of the ideologies. Watch out lest we lose the pioneer spirit which has made this field a great one.”

Barbara Feinberg is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in such publications as the New York Times and the Boston Globe. She is the author of Welcome to Lizard Motel: Protecting the Imaginative Lives of Children, Beacon Press, 2005.

Comment on this article
  • […] in “writer’s workshops” concerned primarily with student engagement and developing a child’s “voice” – tends to be more concerned with teaching a child to have something to say, rather than […]

  • Judy Lightfoot says:

    I drew on Barbara Feinberg’s article for a critique of the adoption by Seattle Public Schools of Calkins’s K-5 curriculum for students from elementary school through grade 10. Younger students need more opportunities to write about the world around them. And after a few grade-school years of Calkins, students are ready for more mature kinds of writing challenges that will help them become college- and career-ready. The article is posted at

  • Casey Watts says:

    I keep coming back to the comment the teacher made about implementing the material the third day of class. This material is meant to be implemented when the children are ready. What kindergarten child will be ready for any kind of core instruction on the third day of class? This time should still be spent developing the classroom community and teaching and implementing classroom procedures, especially for children who are foreign to the concept of “school”.

    That being said, when implemented at the appropriate time and in the appropriate way, children will soar as writers when involved in the Lucy Calkins Project. My 3rd grade students, who have taken part in the Lucy Calkins Project since their first year in our school, are better writers than I ever imagined possible. They are truly blooming authors!

  • A NYC Teacher says:

    I would have taken this seriously if it wasn’t so obviously negative and subjective. When you talk (with evidence and in detail) about claims from both sides, then your writing will hold my attention.

    I hate to state the obvious, but don’t we know by now that there are teachers and administrators who, through their flawed communication and lack of creativity/individuality, will take the curriculum and use it as a script? That is the fault of the individual, NOT the curriculum or Lucy or her staff developers. I have never NOT heard Lucy or her staff say, “This is a guideline. Make it your own.”

    I have watched this curriculum change lives, including my own. And I, unlike the author, have real evidence and data to prove it.

  • Jerilyn says:

    I completely agree with “A NYC Teacher!” As an Instructional Literacy Coach and former Journalist, the negative bias is extremely obvious and Lucy Calkins’ quotes are taken totally out of context in this article. More research needed, Barbara Feinberg!

  • scassutt says:

    I am a kinder teacher with 23 years of experience. This is the first year I’m using Lucy Calkins and so I am certainly no expert…but I’m also not impressed. “Small moments”, “zooming in” etc seem to be very abstract concepts for my students ( a large number of them who are not native English speakers) I’ve always had the children write, use invented spelling, etc. But I am finding these mini lessons rather stilted and disconnected from what the children can actually do. I love (and have used for years) a conferencing model so I’m quite comfortable with that process. I’m hoping that it will improve for me, but for the time being I’m finding LC to be stultifying.

  • Yenori says:

    I’m a ESOL teacher in my fourth year working in the USA. I was extremely flummoxed at the sight of teachers pulling their chairs at the “carpet area” to “teach” a mini lesson -which was not exactly taught, but read to them. They’d read from LC’s booklet about “watermelon, seeds, zooming in, etc” to students in third and fourth grade who only knew that a watermelon is a fruit. Even I struggled as I thought about what was going through the minds of those little ones. I’m concerned not only about the way LC’s methods are taught -so scripted and abstract, but also about these students who struggle with having to adjust to a new culture and having to strain their minds understanding analogies at such early age when they don’t even know the academic words of the English language. Moreover, standardized tests are given in grades third and above. It takes too much time to finish a unit if we really want to give every kid a fair amount of time to develop “their” personal writing skills, “their voices”.

    Students ought to be ready to write all sort of compositions for these tests, not just narratives. They need to be prepared not just for tests but also for upper grades and life. Based on my experiences in VA, students dread writing essays. They rather remain in that imaginary world writing stories. I dare to say that LC’s way should not be the ONLY approach schools should use to teach Writing to their students. There should be a combination of methods to reach everyone’s needs and get the success you expect at the end of the day. I have suggested a change in the way Writing is taught in my co-teacher’s classroom, and in less than two months we have seen so much growth in our students’ compositions that we didn’t see in the previous years at this time of the year. They now enjoy writing essays with a more down-to-earth structured format.

    It would be unfair to say that LC’s ideas are not good at all. I believe we should just use a combination of strategies and approaches to teach Writing and guide our students to be successful writers who really understand what they are doing and enjoy doing it!

  • Former Staff Developer says:

    I used to be a staff developer for Lucy, and it’s true that from the outside looking in, it looks like the work is too abstract. However, the things cited in this article are by someone who clearly does not see the context in which all of this is taught. When it’s implemented badly, when it’s treated as a program with a script, it’s really not good. It takes a great deal of staff development and being a learner yourself to teach this way well. When you do that, the results translate into wonderful classroom environments with a healthy balance of warmth and rigor, complete with high test scores and students identifying themselves as readers and writers, and teachers identifying themselves as learners.

    Look into it.

  • Carey Seeley Dzierzak says:

    Any good teacher knows that you cannot read a script. As educators we have a responsibility to be professionals. We need to make any resource come to life for our students. I have found Lucy Calkins’ work inspiring to myself and my students.

    It is a “thinking teacher’s curriculum.” If you are not ready to dig in and think, it will not work. If you are willing to do the work, you will be pleasantly surprised.

  • Chris Garden says:

    Just a few errors that I can point out from one reading. It is simply untrue that Calkins does not believe in teaching phonics and is a “whole language” advocate. The reading workshop includes a mandatory daily word work (phonics) element and small group phonics work. The writing workshop does not focus upon personal narrative exclusively and hasn’t for years; there are nonfiction and expository components included in every workshop outline that I’ve ever seen. If you want to be a critic of this program at least try to be fair about it.

  • […] As TCRWP has grown as a popular resource for literacy and curriculum development, it has acquired its share of detractors as well.  Lucy Calkins, the founder and revered head of the program, is a known constructivist with a penchant for focusing on  reading and writing processes rather than on issues of content or phonics.  For some, this smacks of the now disreputable “whole-language” approach, which largely eradicated explicit phonics instruction from many language arts curricula in the United States through much of last two decades of the twentieth century.  Though TCRWP is considered by many to be a balanced approach, some hold that the balanced still leans in favor of “whole-language” and lacks a crucial content component.  For a more robust review of Lucy Calkins and detractors of the TCRWP, read this EducationNext article by Barbara Feinberg: The Lucy Calkins Project: Parsing a self-proclaimed literacy guru. […]

  • Louise Nathan says:

    I am a NYC public school teacher, newly in a school that is currently working with TC staff developers. The school I left stopped paying for the TC program, as teachers felt they had curriculum maps in place for literacy, and it seemed that every year the TC developers added some new detail that caused a lot of controversy and confusion.
    This weekend I read 45 pages of the drafts for reading and writing in the kindergarten curriculum, outlining the third chapters of our literacy teaching. Their own writing of how to teach the third units is not clear. The writing jumps around, giving advice on assessment, then discussing how to introduce the unit. It appears that the Project is reacting to the studies from March of 2012, which indicated that the Core Knowledge approach developed by E. D. Hirsch was more successful for some grades. It appears that the TC people are scrambling to catch up and have added new jargon and tasks for teachers to assimilate. They recommend writing class big books in math and social studies, for example. I literally am reading to children went they line up to go to lunch to satisfy the demands placed on me. I have also been told by my administrators that I did not make teaching points clear to students, when I was struggling with making these prescribed teaching points clear for myself. It has just gotten out of control. Kindergarten particularly has become unrecognizable. Calkins also writes about the Core Standards as if they are to be mastered by mid-year, when in fact, they are to be mastered by June. I wish I could retire tomorrow. And I am an expert in teaching math and science!

  • Ruth robey says:

    Id like to attend a one day workshop around the st paul mn area regarding this. Please help me find one. Thx.

  • Paul Dufficy says:

    The key problem with Calkin’s approach is that it has no theoretical understanding of the role language plays in learning. I have just sat through a session with Carl Anderson – an acolyte of Calkins and he listed the five lenses through which he assesses writing. Meaning was number 1 and conventions number five. Grammar was slotted in under conventions. Could someone from the Calkins camp please explain how we can have meaning without reflecting upon the choices we make from the linguistic system. Number 2 was voice. Once again, without a sense of how our language choices fashion our texts we might as well read tea leaves. Any theory of language development that is based around ‘naturalness’ privileges those with access to social capital. The marginalised are ultimately blamed for their marginalisation.
    The other issue is that this approach actually de-skills teachers. Scripts, mantras, sacred texts, the isolation of dissenters…it has all the hallmarks of a cult. Until the workshop approach opens itself to independent research and states clearly it’s linguistic theory, it will remain for me, snake-oil.

  • International Teacher says:

    I am an international school teacher, and our school has been using the Units of Study of Teaching Reading and Writing by Lucy Calkins and her proteges, for about four years now. I think for the reading and writing program approach to work, there needs to be a lot of flexibility, depending on the make up of your class. As an elementary school, we have decided upon the genres of study to teach in reading and writing, per grade level, but we use the mini lessons that are appropriate for our students, and we always modify or add to the program as needed. I love this program because there is a definite direction of where to go within each genre. As children move into fifth grade, after hearing about “seed and watermelon” idea for the past 3 years, this Unit of Study is no longer necessary. My students have grown so much in their reading and writing, because of the direct/explicit modeling and instruction, and small group work, which is the backbone of this program. I have been to Columbia Teacher’s College for the reading institute during the past two summers, and I feel like the leaders of this program, including Lucy Calkins, say that the program is meant to be flexible, not scripted, and should be supplemented as needed. I also had a staff developer say that the Units of Study are really for students on grade level, and that strugglers need other resources (ex: phonics/reading recovery). I think it is a great approach, but I guess in the end, I do not work for public schools, and have more leeway to make the program my own.

  • Sandra Levin, M.A., M.S. says:

    Recently, Ms. Feinberg’s article was quoted in a presentation offered at my school by an educator promoting her school’s writing program. Because I have studied at the TCRWP for fifteen years, and my teaching continues to be enormously influenced by the brilliant work developed at the Project, I could not listen to such disparaging remarks without offering defense for Lucy and her colleagues. The presenter’s rebuttal was simply, “These are the comments Lucy sent to Barbara,” so I decided to find her source and read it for myself. After reading this article I am compelled to write a comment. At the beginning of each summer, I look forward to studying at the TCRWP, so I can spend the rest of my summer planning how to implement the Institutes’ latest research in my language arts curriculum. I am fortunate to teach at a school that values professional development, which provides me with the opportunity to study each summer with Lucy and her colleagues. I have just finished this year’s Writing Institute and will begin the Reading Institute tomorrow. This year’s writing classes included studies with Mary Ehrenworth and Lucy Calkins and have provided me with ample fodder for planning my information-writing units for the 2013-2014 academic year. Since the units are aligned with the CCSS, my students will work towards developing the necessary skills to make them ready for college and career, while engaging actively in a curriculum that fosters individuality and creativity. Each year I witness the marked improvement in my students’ development because of implementing the Project’s units of studies in my
    classroom. No matter the level of my students, they all show growth in their reading and writing skills as well as their critical thinking. Being able to witness the Project’s transformation from year to year is a gift that I wish more educators could partake in. Because Ms. Feinberg is not an educator, I do not think she fully grasps the importance of the Project’s work and how it has influenced and improved teaching worldwide. I always find it interesting that those who speak out against the Project’s methods are those who have not actually studied at the Institutes. I encourage all teachers and administrators to enroll in a summer course of study at the TCRWP. Your students and colleagues will undoubtedly benefit from this time well spent.

  • nhm says:

    NY Public Schools have now dropped the program which sends a strong signal.

  • kmv says:

    I joined a school last year who was in it’s 4th year of implementing the LC Reading & Writing Workshop. The lack of knowledge in phonics is astounding. I cannot read my 3rd graders writing! I’ve never seen anything like it. I am definitely not a fan of LC, for many reasons, this being one of them. Also, I recently had a parent teacher conference with my own son’s teacher (also 3rd grade), and I asked her about her guided reading instruction. Her response, “We don’t do guided reading, we’re doing the Lucy Calkins program. We conference instead.” My heart sank. What 3rd grader doesn’t need guided reading?!

  • ant says:

    To Kim:
    I am not sure, but by reading your response, I think it is the way the school is using the program, not the program itself.

  • Matthew C. says:

    Ms. Caulkin seems to have some good ideas, however, she as many curriculum developers lives in a fantasy world. Taken selectively and flexibly, balanced literacy concepts may prove a valuable supplement to any teacher’s classroom. As a high school science teacher, I often wonder what my students were learning in their elementary years. Now I don’t feel so inadequate, after listening to some curricula that are adopted whoresale.

  • Rhonda Hollingsworth says:

    Lucy Caulkin’s books have impacted my teaching in wonderful ways. I implemented many of her strategies for teaching writing about fifteen years ago. Since then, my students have consistently scored Exemplary on our district and state writing assessments and leave my class loving to write. Allowing and supporting children’s choice in writing and in research has impacted every area of my curriculum.

    Every year I see miracles happen…..students with IEPs or 504 plans scoring considerably higher than anyone could have dared hope….past district averages….past state averages….making mothers cry with joy (literally) and children beam with pride….and Lucy Caulkin’s work deserves much of the credit. Although I have never had the privilege of attending a workshop or class with her, I read and treasure her books.

    I defend her because of the difference she has made in my teaching practice. Thank you, Lucy :)

  • Sheila says:

    I teach 6th grade.
    We are forced to teach Lucy reading and writing.
    My students are bored with Lucy reading as am I.
    Pages and pages of blah blah blah!If talked to kids like she does, no one would read.
    We are analyzing characters to death.
    I think we own stock in post it notes.
    I have taught for 20 years and this by far is the worse thing I have ever had to do.
    If you like great, but where’s the evidence/data to show it really works???
    Teachers should not be forced to teach this.
    I want to leave elementary school and teach science or social studies that’s how much I dislike it.
    I do have a brain and Master’s in Literacy so I know good teaching when I see it.
    Our district has become LUCIFIED!

  • Virginia Mary Rogers says:

    When teachers believe in a program (even a bad one) students levels of achievement will improve. When teachers resent being told what to teach and how to teach, the waters get murky. Our district has become Lucified as well, and we resent it. Good teachers are leaving and poor teachers are pretending that this is the greatest teaching method since sliced bread. Why are teachers not respected as professionals and allowed to teach children in different matters as long as we all meet the outcomes. I have suffered through workshops this year “taught” by teachers whose (almighty) ACT scores are not nearly as high as the scores at my school, and we are the ones being told we must change. It is so confusing and frustrating. Our only consolation these days as teachers are the numbers of kids who thank us and tell us we prepared them well for work and college. Thank God for the wonderfulness of the kids in these turbulent times in education.

  • In my opinion...$ says:

    I understand Louise Nathan’s frustration. I’ve been teaching Reading and Writing Workshop for 5 years now…. I find it interesting that when I first read her “curricular guides” I found them to be very disorganized, with thoughts jumping around, etc. I thought to myself, “Why in the world are we following someone who can’t even organize her own thoughts in writing? And we’re telling teachers to follow her model?” That was just one of many of my frustrations.

    Former Staff Developer for Lucy writes, ” It takes a great deal of staff development and being a learner yourself to teach this way well. ” Yes, it does, doesn’t it? I would like to know LC’s net worth — hmmmm……I would guess she is sure making a LOT of money with all her “drafts” of curriculum! “Oh, here’s how to do it…but this is just a draft…you’ll have to keep buying my books year after year after year ….” In my opinion, Lucy is a marketing genius and that’s really what’s going on.

  • LetThemRead says:

    Whole language, phonics, workshop, direct teaching, guided reading, strategy groups, small groups, conferring, etc. etc. Teachers, YOU are the professional. These are your tools (among many, of course). Stop blaming others. Stop saying that administration is making or forcing you to follow scripts or programs. View yourself as the professional you’ve become; one who knows how to choose the best resources, methods, approaches, etc. for every lesson and every bit of feedback you deliver. Sit down and plan your language arts schedule and curriculum using the education, training, experience and resources that tower within your cabinets. Think progressively. Plan out what you will teach the students who perform well. Plan out what your will teach those who are not. Plan out the “how” as well. My greatest accomplishment was the realization that simplicity is golden. Stop saying “my school doesn’t do guided reading.” That is very unprofessional. YOU decide what method you will use to advance your students. For example, if you teach second grade and have observed that students are not self-monitoring (MSV) as they read, THEY need guided reading direct-teach lessons until they consistently self-monitor. In this sense, guided reading is an intervention, an appropriate one. You wouldn’t use GR for kids who are self-monitoring MSV – start fitting them into strategy groups and teach them how to set and track reading goals (and writing goals). Guided Reading would NOT be an intervention in kinder or first. Does that make sense? Believe in your education and training ….and in your colleagues’ education and training. Make decision for your students’ sake, together. By the way, invest your time and efforts into PLANNING and DECISION MAKING with your colleagues. Stop isolating yourself. Look out for each other. Talk about what kids can and cannot do. Make plans with your colleagues. Invest the time, and discover that you’re actually an unbelievable teacher. Take a leap of faith and collaborate, collaborate, collaborate!! (Collaboration is NOT sharing independent center activities nor BLMs). Keep the faith in yourself, hope for your colleagues and school, and love for your students

  • April says:

    I work under a principal that is a true believer in the Lucy Calkins method. I began teaching a general education classroom a month after school started a few years ago. To ensure that each classroom in the grade taught the same thing, lesson plans were written by all teachers: 1 wrote math for the grade, 1 wrote science for the grade, etc. Because of this, I taught using Lucy Calkins’ methods without full comprehension of it. Fast forward to the next year, where my principal is moved across town to build the success of another district school. She pulls me with her and places me in a Special Education resource classroom (my dream job). Because her methods are not accessible to my severe/profound classroom, my current interactions with her methods are simply what I hear from the general educators. The school I am currently at became so low, it is a Focus School for the state of Georgia. Because of how far behind the students were to their peers in the state, the Lucy Calkins method of teaching met a lot of flak when it was pushed into the classrooms upon the current principal’s arrival. This continued for some time but the mumbling has died town and I, personally, can tell a huge difference in the achievements of the children just by walking down the hallway and reading work that has been posted on the wall. Lucy Calkins appears to be abstract and irrational when seeing that she has kindergartners writing “How-to” stories but once it is implemented and taught with fidelity, you too will be a believer in her ways. Starting students out young helps them to be able to build upon their writing knowledge and grow from year to year. By the time those kindergartner reach the Georgia Milestones in 5th grade, they will have written hundreds of pieces that cover both fiction and nonfiction. What better way is there to provide them with, not only the confidence to tackle such state-wide tests, but the content that will benefit them for a life time?

  • Comment on this Article

    Name ()


    Sponsored Results

    The Hoover Institution at Stanford University - Ideas Defining a Free Society

    Harvard Kennedy School Program on Educational Policy and Governance

    Thomas Fordham Institute - Advancing Educational Excellence and Education Reform