Lucy Calkins

The way that students write in school varies from classroom to classroom, school to school and district to district. The way teachers instruct writing depends on quite a few things. It depends on which curriculum the district/school uses as well as the teachers philosophy on writing instruction. When I think of my elementary school writing experience, not much comes to mind, which tells me that it probably wasn’t very engaging. The experience I do remember was in third grade we actually did writer’s workshop. We were able to pick a piece of our writing from the school year and revise and edit it and eventually publish it. The books were eventually bound. I even remember what my story was about, my family trip to Florida. This shows me how meaningful writer’s workshop can be to students. It shows them that their writing matters and that it doesn’t have to be boring or not meaningful. At the time, I didn’t know that my teacher was following a curriculum but now it makes me wonder which curriculum she was following. There are a quite a few literacy researchers that find writer’s workshop to be essential in writing instruction. Lucy Calkins has a workshop approach that hundreds of thousands believe in and follow.

Lucy Calkins is the founding director of Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. She believes in bringing writing to life. Lucy Calkins is the author of the best-selling new grade-by-grade Units of Study for Teaching Reading and Units of Study in Opinion/Argument, Information and Narrative Writing (Feinberg). According to Calkins, she is a constructivist that believes children should generate their own texts, using material from their own lives (Feinberg). This is something that I believe in as well. Students will be more engaged in their writing if they have background knowledge and/or are interested in the topic that they are writing about. She believes that writing is a process with distinct phasing. Students should be working in small groups and collaborate as much as possible. Teachers should also engage in conferences with each individual child so they get specific instruction on their writing.

Keeping a writer’s notebook is also essential according to Calkins. Students keep a writer’s notebook and jot down anything that they feel or wonder about. These ideas can then spark their writing. I like the idea of a student keeping a writers notebook. For my future teaching, I would like to have writing stations so I am able to conference with individual students.

Although Lucy Calkins has a massive following and her system is implemented in thousands of schools, there are some concerns that I have. Calkins says, “I tell kids that after they’ve finished writing they should go back and lop off the beginning and lop off the ending.” (Feinberg)

She said that there are no exceptions to this. I am concerned with this statement. If students are in a writing station that they are supposed to brainstorm a great lead for their piece, I don’t think that they should have to cross it off after they have finished writing. There is also some concern that teachers are very scripted when following Calkin’s system.

Overall, I hope to implement writer’s workshop into my classroom. There are a lot of benefits to Calkin’s system and I hope to become more familiarized with her ideas.

By Barbara Feinberg  . (2013). The Lucy Calkins Project – Education Next. Retrieved September 20, 2016, from

Kelsey Linhart


2 thoughts on “Lucy Calkins

  1. Kelsey, I like your thoughts on how organic following another persons curriculum could be. While Lucy’s ideas are probably well-intentioned and incorporate children’s interests to guide the forefront of each and every lesson- I believe, idea’s should never be crossed out. And even though she incorporates the children’s interests, I’m not sure if much of the teachers interests are thought of too- when she originally cultivated this curriculum. Nowadays, when I think of curriculum development, I wonder how much creative freedom teachers might have in implementing it- or if it’s completely scripted and unnatural. If there’s no buy-in or motivation for the teachers to make these writers workshops their own with the students, that could explain why she’s getting some back fire too- given the history of how limiting some curriculums can be. – Megan


  2. Kelsey,

    Your concerns are well-founded in my opinion. Revision is the absolute hardest stage of the writing process for my fifth graders. They have very little experience with removing, rewriting or rearranging any of their work. What I can do as a teacher of writing (and this is much of what I’ve learned from Lucy Calkins) is to conference with a student and help them identify what they truly were after. What 10-year olds start with is a warm-up of their ideas. They get to the crux of their ideas often times paragraphs into their writing. And honestly I’ve found, it’s only when they are questioned, “I wonder if this is what this is really about…?” That they pause, consider, think and then realize, “Yes, that’s what this is really about.”

    It’s then that I can suggest starting their piece 4-paragraphs in. All of this is based on a trusting relationship, that cannot be stressed enough.

    I’ve sat-in on many interviews of new teachers. Your goals of wanting students to be engaged and invested in their writing is exactly what principals and fellow teachers want to hear. As you keep your writer’s notebook, pay attention to how the time you invest in your work impacts the depth of what you’re able to collect. You will not blindly be asking your students to do things you’ve not done yourself!



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