The Benefits of Lucy Calkins

The Benefits of Lucy Calkins
Posted on 12/07/2017
Lucy Calkins

New strategies to teach informative, opinion and narrative writing are being implemented for students in kindergarten through fifth grade, utilizing Units of Study for Teaching Writing.  Lucy Calkins and a team of people developed the units over three decades, piloting, revising and implementing the curriculum which contains plans to help teach writing and meet the Common Core Standards. 

With the goal of providing cohesive writing instruction throughout all grade levels, the benefits of the systemic implementation are already evident.  “Spencer began using the units last year, and kindergarten through fifth grade teachers all taught at least one full unit.  This year the teachers are teaching all the units,” said Amy Blau, Lincoln Elementary Fifth Grade Teacher. 

To help explain the process, Blau shared that The Units of Study are taught in a workshop model.  Each lesson starts with a 10-minute minilesson, and then students write.  Teachers do lots of conferences with individual students and small-group strategy sessions.  Blau added, “I think this helps students so much because they get a lot of support and feedback based on their individual needs.  This is still really new to us and will just get stronger.  Students also do a lot of self-assessment.  Most importantly, students are doing a lot of writing at high levels and are really pushing themselves to improve.”  To prove that point, Blau exclaimed, “My fifth-grade students just finished writing literary essays, and now we will begin writing research-based arguments!”

Students began the year writing literary essays, and their focus has now shifted to research-based argument.  When asked if she likes the argument style of writing, fifth grader, Madelyn Johnson said, “I like it.  We get to choose what side we are on and write about it.”  For their first argument writing experience, the entire class is using the same topic, whether or not chocolate milk should be part of the school lunch.  Madelyn is against it, explaining, “It is bad for your health and has way too much sugar.”  Overall, Madelyn says that Lucy Calkins is benefitting her because she is learning how to write with more detail, and she enjoys reading articles and taking quotes, which she used while writing her literary essay and is now using to back up her argument against chocolate milk.

“Since this is the beginning of research-based argument, we are all doing the same topic,” explained Blau.  “We are working together to gather research and focusing on how we formulate the argument on paper.”  Going forward, students will choose their topics, getting to pick what to investigate, based on interest, and do it a little more independently.  Upon completion of the argument unit, the class will move to informative writing, such as writing a research paper, and will then finish with memoirs.

To help make connections between reading and writing, Blau and several other teachers are incorporating Lucy Calkins reading units as well.  “The reading unit we are doing now is how to read argument writing and respond,” said Blau.  Students are challenged to recognize the author’s point, as well as their bias, pondering how the author is trying to convince the reader.  Blau said students then consider what they are reading and form their own opinion.  “The students are reading issues that are debatable issues and they are doing a lot of note taking.  We did a debate this morning to go along with that, so now it connects them with their writing in the argument style,” said Blau. 

All of the Lucy Calkins units are written considering vertical alignment which Blau believes will be a huge benefit in the future, saying, “We will better know what foundational skills students are entering our grade level with, and we will also know what skills they will need, to be ready for the grade level after us.”  Teachers are excited about the progression they are seeing at all levels and how students are benefitting and growing in their writing skills through the new writing framework.