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.
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.
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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.