Time versus Quality: Writing Workshops through Lucy’s Eyes

Lucy Calkins- Some say she’s crazy. Others might even dare to say there’s a method to her seemingly organized chaos. Yet, what intrigues me the most is why one of her so called crazy theories is actually working in some cases, more than others. Her idea of the writer’s workshop is working in local cases around schools in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where teaches have begun to implement writers workshops for their students. Here, you might see students spread out in bean bag chairs, or on the carpet writing for an extended period of time- whatever topic they want to write about. This image shows that students are given time during the school day to practice writing and to find their writer’s voice, while practicing a variety of forms that teacher may teach them about in a given school day.  Eventually students tend to build a writing stamina, and seem to enjoy writing much more, because their interests or choices are incorporated, instead of being left out- like some traditional writing programs would do. However, even though these methods work with the students interests and needs, there’s a huge amount of pushback where traditional writing teachers are starting to write blogs and voice reasons why they don’t agree with Lucy’s philosophy of writers workshops.

According to the New York Blog- The South Bronx School notes that Lucy Calkins “favors a “whole language” approach to literacy, which builds on the premise that reading and writing develop naturally in children.” Yet since she doesn’t, explicitly, teach or incorporate the phonetic skills that support “phonetic spelling” as a foundation to build writers workshop skills- students are going to have a very hard time writing their ideas in a way that the teacher would be able to understand them. With this method of writers workshop- students need to be able to apply the sounds they know and are familiar with, in order to be able to write in a more coherent way. Yet, if the students don’t have the foundations of phonetic linguistic knowledge before they begin to write in a writer’s workshop, it is going to be very hard for them to convey their message- in writing.  This blog argues that because there’s argue that this lack of direct instruction leaves many children, especially those who already struggle, at a disadvantage.

In schools where there are more students that need RTI literacy instruction, I can understand why some traditional writing instructors believe that more direct, phonics instruction should be incorporated. However, after working as an RTI literacy instructor in an urban school- I found out that when you work with student’s interests- the student’s frustrations about literacy ease up, they begin to see literacy as something they could do in their free time to express themselves, instead of a homework assignment they have to finish before Friday.  Usually RTI programs, focus on teaching materials that need to be taught through direct instruction- they don’t include the individualized needs that peak students interests to encourage them to develop their intrinsic motivations towards literacy.

Even though we had literacy games in the RTI room- they were never used. It was about the prefabricated lesson- get it done, and move on to the next child. Time was a necessity, and since there wasn’t much of it- the focus was more on what had to be done in the shortest amount of time- instead of the quality of what we were doing. And what Lucy brings to the table- is quality. It’s quality of learning how to write- which takes much more time than a 15 minute lesson about vowels. But because it’s the quality and the implementation of a writers workshop that takes this time- it encourages students to write what they want to- without any constraints and to see writing in a light that compliments them in a way that they might have not have ever seen before.






2 thoughts on “Time versus Quality: Writing Workshops through Lucy’s Eyes

  1. Megan,

    The points you raise about RtI are interesting. In my district (and I wonder if others are like this as well) we do not offer any Tier 2 or Tier 3 support for writing. Our focus is purely on math and reading. We find that often students who move from universal instruction to Tier 2 (and 3) for reading before grade 4 need explicit phonemic instruction partnered with, like you mentioned direct reading support. My guess is that’s what you experienced first-hand when you were supporting students in RtI.

    Your future students will be well-served by your understanding of the importance of honoring and including their life experiences in the work they do as writers.

    Happy writing!


  2. Megan,

    The information that you gave about Lucy Calkins was very interesting and easy to understand. I also value the opinions you gave as well. I can really relate to what you had to say about children writing about topics they are interested in. I too believe that if you engage students through topics they are interested on they will be a lot more successful. I like what you had to say about students not being so frustrated with phonics if it isn’t the ‘drill and kill’ mentality.



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