Skip to content

Teaching Writing: A Review and Book Giveaway

The first time I met Lucy Calkins was in the summer of 2016, when I attended my first summer writing institute. She is the founder and director of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. The experience was so incredible that I returned a few more times since then. Most recently, I’ve attended Coaching Institutes on the teaching of writing. From these valuable experiences, I have so much I can share with you on what makes Calkins’ research unique and so important to new and veteran teachers alike. Fortunately for all of us, her new book, Teaching Writing, does a great job of synthesizing much of Calkins’ research into a concise and accessible companion for writing teachers. 

Teaching Writing begins with a glimpse of Lucy in her infancy years of teaching. While working as a teacher at the British primary schools, she started to write articles about all that she was learning. This led her to read the work of Don Murray. Murray’s book, “A Writer Teaches Writing,” inspired her to alter her classroom into a writing workshop. Murray and Calkins eventually teamed up at the University of New Hampshire, where the two Dons of her life would converge. She began working with her childhood minister Don Graves, as they set out to carefully study the same students in their own writing lives daily for two years. The duo kept meticulous notes on everything they learned from these students, all while being coached by Don Murray.  

The writing frameworks I used early in my career were very formulaic. Students would fill out graphic organizers and transfer them into paragraphs. Students’ writing often came off mundane and lacked excitement. Calkins’ writing workshop framework allowed my students to start telling their own stories in a meaningful way. 

The book walks us through the essentials of teaching writing well. It has an emphasis on the writing process for narrative, information, and opinion writing.  One of my favorite chapters is on Assessing Writers, because of how it challenges us to use an authentic approach for assessment. Recently at a staff meeting, I asked teachers to bring in their students’ informative writing benchmarks. Teachers worked together in their grade-level teams and chose what they felt to be the most strongest information writing pieces. Many of our teacher colleagues chose informative pieces that were loaded with details as their best student work. As important as detail is, I noticed that some teachers were not utilizing other necessary assessment lenses that Calkins refers to, including volume, process, structure, evidence of instruction, qualities of good writing, and writing behavior. 

Kindergarten teachers closely examine their students’ information writing pieces.

One of these additional lenses teachers can use to authentically to assess student writing is volume. By using this lens, we can look at how much students are writing with the cadence of oral language, so that they can develop their own ideas and gain fluency in their writing. Calkins suggests students during every workshop lesson to mark where they start writing and then to mark where they finish writing. They do this at every lesson. This strategy helps students monitor their own growth in cadence and fluency throughout the year.

Process is another lens we can use to assess for a student’s writing progress. For instance, when examining the piece, you can check for signs for revision such as students crossing off a word or sentence to write new revisions. Important evidence of student planning include pictures, story arcs, and timelines.

Calkins discusses how teachers can also effectively assess student writing by looking for specific evidence of instruction. For example, anchor charts can act as checklists for students to use as they are engaged in the writing process. If a student is working on a narrative piece, they may decide to include the dialogue presented in an anchor chart. Calkins emphasizes that some aspects of writing don’t come automatically in our children’s DNA, and that it must come from teaching. Looking for evidence of that teaching in our student writing is important to their growth.

This is just a snapshot of my favorite chapter in the book. I’ve been fortunate enough to evolve myself over the years regarding how I view assessment. I now rely completely on Calkin’s strategies to coach teachers on utilizing formative assessment to best guide their own instruction and ensure their students’ growth in writing.

Lucy and her colleagues at TCRWP work alongside teachers throughout the year. She keeps researching and sharing her research, just like she started 30 plus years ago. You can learn from her at any one of the TCRWP institutes found here. Additionally, sign up for her free office hours through Heinemann.

Book Giveaway Information

This giveaway is for a copy of Teaching Writing by Lucy Calkins.

For a chance to win this copy of Teaching Writing, please leave a comment no later than February 28th 11:59 EST. A random number generator will be used to pick the winner’s commenter number. 

Please leave a valid email address when you post your comment. This will help me contact you to obtain your mailing address.

If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line with Teaching Writing within five days. A new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of giveaway announcement.

Therapi Kaplan View All

A mom, a wife, a teacher, a learner, and a novice cook. I write about adventures in being all four and life lessons to be learned.

89 thoughts on “Teaching Writing: A Review and Book Giveaway Leave a comment

  1. Our school currently uses a formulaic writing structure, and I have had the hardest time teaching it to 2nd graders. I love the ideas presented in your blog from the book. If I don’t win it, I will definitely be buying it for my summer reading.

    Like

  2. Have read so much about Lucy Calkins and her methods of teaching writing, as well as followed some videos, as someone who lives outside the US and is not part of a community of writing teachers, I would absolutely love to have a copy of this book! My resources are so limited!!

    Like

  3. I too was fortunate to attend a summer writing institute with TCRWP. It changed my own writing as well as my work with students. I look forward to Lucy’s new book.

    Like

  4. I have been lucky enough to have been at workshops with Lucy Calkins and Donald Graves,not at the same time. Even though I am retiring at the end of the school year, I can’t wait to read this book.

    Like

  5. I used to dread teaching writing until I started teaching Lucy. The kids excitement to write helped me be excited to teach the next step! I would love to read this book!

    Like

  6. I was honored to attend my first coaching institute in January, and I must say it was a career game changer. Lucy and her team are intentional and systematic in their approach to reading and writing workshop. I would be honored and so lucky to win a copy of her new book. Writing has always been a struggle for as an educator because it was hard fir me to envision what I wanted for my students. I’m sure this book will be a game changer in that area.

    Like

  7. So much of this resonates with me, not the least of which is assessing for “evidence of instruction.” For several years I served on a team assessing student writing as part of a process for grade level acceleration. Students had already met math and reading requirements – but the writing was alarming. A colleague asked: “What does this say about the state of writing instruction?” Students do have to be shown many things, and often need different things, to develop as writers. And teachers need this guidance.

    Like

  8. This book has been on my list to purchase during this month. I am pleased to see your review of it and the implications for instruction. Especially helpful is your focus on assessment elements. I will be looking forward to reading more and making my own connections to instructional implications of my students.

    Like

  9. I can’t wait to read this book! I too have been finding ways to access my students’ writings. It’s challenging to balance volume and craft.

    Like

  10. I can’t wait to get a hold of a copy of Lucy Calkins’ new book! TCRWP and the Units of Study in Writing have really guided and coached me to becoming a better teacher of young writers. I love that we walk through the writing process, also as writers, with our students, and study what good writers do as we encourage our writers to try these craft moves. Can’t wait to read more about the different lenses of assessments in her new book:-)

    Like

  11. TCRWP has changed the way I teach literacy. Their work is so inspiring and engaging for students. It’s amazing to see kindergarten students love being readers and authors of their own work. I would love to learn additional ways to refine my teaching from Lucy’s new book.

    Like

  12. I first started following “the Donalds” when Lucy was their protege in the 1980s. Reading her book (Lessons from a Child) hooked me into starting a Writing Workshop in my first grade class. I am thankful for all the years of learning through her work!

    Like

  13. Every time I read something from Lucy Calkins, I learn a little bit more. She pushes my thinking and I appreciate her contributions to our evolving understanding of best practices in teaching. I’m eager to read this new work.

    Like

  14. I appreciate the reminder to assess what you teach! It holds both the teacher and student accountable. Would love to see what other goodies are in Lucy’s new book! Thank you.

    Like

    • I love the opening quote you used for the piece, “The most important belief is that kids need the opportunity to grow up as writers, writing a lot, just as they talk and read and do math a lot,” (Calkins, ’20).

      The chance to grow. Yes, we want our kids making “progress” each year, but human being are not machines. You don’t input set process and data and get a set product. So, we need to take the long view. Yes, we need to assess our writer’s and our teaching each day and year, but we need to step and see how has the writer grown in two, three years, etc. Time to grow.

      Writer’s need to write a lot. Not just a lot, but for their own purposes and through their own lenses. But we need to help them to see what is possible. Thus experience with a lot of genres is important. Kids need to also experience the power of just writing outside of any unit for any set purposes/audiences. The trick is finding the right balance with the time we are given to work with them.

      There is so much we have to balance. Jugglers. But without writing a lot without the structure of the unit and mentor texts, how will they ever find their own voice? Of course, there are those students who can’t move without the structure of the genre unit. A juggling act.

      I would say the Lucy and both Donald Graves and Murray have been my great inspirations as a writing teacher. The most important lesson. You have to write to teach writing. Another important habit to juggle into the dance.

      I look forward to reflecting on Lucy’s latest musings.

      Like

  15. My school does not have a set writing curriculum. I am very curious to read more about Lucy Calkins methods. Currently, I am teaching writing to sixth graders.

    Like

  16. I love all of Lucy’s work. Writing is an area where I need to continue to grow and develop. I would love to dig into this book to learn more about the craft of teaching writing!

    Like

  17. This book looks amazing! I love Lucy! I feel like this would be a great resource for me for the students I teach, and perhaps it would be a good book for me to use with my pre-service students!

    Like

  18. This book sounds like exactly what I’m looking for. I’ve been using the WUOS for several years, and I’d love to read through what Lucy Calkins would suggest as the most important things to know about teaching writing. My knowledge about teaching writing has grown so much and I’d love to read this to keep on learning.

    Like

  19. Our school is in the first year of implementing Lucy Calkins. Each grade level teaches writing at the same time. I have seen such writing growth and engagement, I am going to try to register and attend my first Writing institute this June. I would love to be able to take and read this book on the plane. Thank you!

    Like

  20. I too have been lucky enough to attend two summer writing institutes as well as a three day tool
    kit institute. I have been using TC in my fourth grade class for five years now. I am forever growing and improving, as are my students. I believe in this program. JHeissenbuttel@gmail.com

    Like

  21. Absolutely loved attending the Writing Institute and Lucy’s keynote speech both times I was able to attend. I learned so much in that short time and continue to grow as a teacher every time I review the materials provided.

    Like

  22. I love teaching writing. I love how much my students improve by the end of the year! Lucy Calkins is amazing!! I love continuing to learn about writing to support my kids

    Like

  23. I ❤️ Lucy‼️
    Read her first book many, many years ago and implemented over my 40 year career! Still promoting her perspective on writing as a consultant! Can’t wait to read this new book!

    Like

  24. Lucy’s work changed my life as an educator. I first met Lucy when I had to drive her to the airport after a Vermont Council on Reading conference. At that time, I was a beginning teacher and I was having students dictate stories to me in my 1st grade classroom. She challenged me! Why are you writing for your students? That was my beginning of a journey learning about writing workshop. That was in the early 1980’s!

    Like

  25. I would love a copy of Teaching Writing. Our lower school has adopted Lucy Calkins’s writing methods, and it is moving up to our middle school. This book looks like a great way to get started. I’ve used a writing workshop approach over the years to lesser or greater success. I’ve never felt that I’ve approached it as authentically as I can. This book would be a great place to start.

    Like

%d bloggers like this: