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In defense of Lucy Calkins

Language Arts | Writing 


Senior Member
For quite a while now I've read many scathing posts about Lucy Calkins. I have managed to refrain from responding to any of them, so I hope you'll be kind to me as I present one opposing opinion. This is just me.

1. I have read a lot of Lucy Calkins, way back to The Art of Teaching Writing. Calkins taught me how to think like a teacher of writing. She taught me how to expect more of my students. She taught me how to run a real Writers' Workshop. I model my style of talking to my students on the way Lucy does in her videos. I try to be honest, thoughtful, and respectful of their thinking. I think Lucy Calkins is a genius and I owe her a great deal.
2. I organize my WW by Units of Study, just like Calkins. I have her boxed units, but for me they are a guide not a procedure. I read them and select what I want to write my minilessons.
3. I build my Units of Study exactly as TCRWP advises: I aim for 20ish lessons per genre. I write each lesson on a stickie and put it on a calendar for the unit. Then I put the corresponding lesson in a binder sleeve. Voila! It usually takes me a long time, about 20 hours, to plan a Unit, but once it's done, I use it over and over for years (when I move grade levels, if I need a new unit, the lessons can come right out of the binder and get used again). I revise frequently, but with this brilliant method of organization, it's easy to revise.
4. Many of my lessons come from other sources. I still love Ralph Fletcher and use many of his (really easy to read) lessons from Craft Lessons (1 and 2) and especially Teaching the Qualities of Writing. I also use a lot of Vicki Spandel; I highly recommend her Revisers and Editors series--30 lessons per grade level. And (when I get to poetry) Georgia Heard; if you only buy one book to teach poetry, follow Awakening the Heart--great lessons!).
5. I know you won't believe me when I say this, but my Writers' Workshop is successful. My kids think of themselves as writers and they write. Do all of them write well? No, but they all write better than they did last year. Do all of them produce at least one piece per genre? Yes, and some are stunning. And I give the credit to Lucy Calkins.

Now, if you've read this far, you may want a story:
Our genre right now is Research Reports. One kid is writing about the Ferrari and wanted to share his lead for peer advice. After he read it, another commented.
"You said 'which is' three times in that paragraph. You might want to revise a bit."
The writer looked stunned. He paused a long time. Finally he looked at the adviser and stated, "I didn't write anything about witches."


Senior Member
I do think Lucy Calkins is great and is a genius! I'm sure she works writing miracles. I just can't seem to get her style to work for me....but I'm more sure that it is me and not her! <!--giggle-->

Your units sound wonderful....I would love to see a true Writer's Workshop in action for a whole unit. I'm sure I'm not doing it the way Lucy envisioned it.

ETA: I've had ZERO training in Lucy Calkins, despite our district adopting her approach. That could be a big part of why it isn't working for me.
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Senior Member
I'm a Lucy Fan as well and have learned a great deal from reading both the primary and upper grade resource books. Many fine products are ruined when district admin get their hands on the materials and attempt to be in total "control" over how the teacher implements the products.


Senior Member
Lucy Calkins

I totally agree with you, Amiga.

The thing is, training and collaboration are a must when using her program.

And, it doesn't all happen overnight. I focused on one thing each unit when I started: mini lessons, conferencing, active engagement.

I think what people don't realize is that even Lucy said she doesn't expect you to teach every single thing in her boxed units. She actually said at a conference take what you need. I put everything in there to give you ideas, but it's not a scripted program.

I love teaching writing her way.

Lady Teacher

Senior Member
Lucy Calkins

I completely agree with you. I've been teaching Lucy for many years. I've also been fortunate enough to attend a conference where she was the speaker. She definitely said to take what you need and leave the rest.

I think for too many teachers, her units of study are adopted without any training or PD. One of our district curriculum coordinators actually trained with Lucy in New York. He brought all of that information and training to our district before we adopted it in our district. That helped tremendously. But others aren't getting that. Her units are very dense and can seem overwhelming. When our district switched I was overwhelmed for the first two years. So, I understand where other teachers that criticize the units of study are coming from. I think the problem may be more lack of training and PD, rather than the units of study or Lucy herself. But, I can't speak for others and it's just my opinion.


Senior Member
Her units are very dense and can seem overwhelming. When our district switched I was overwhelmed for the first two years. So, I understand where other teachers that criticize the units of study are coming from. I think the problem may be more lack of training and PD, rather than the units of study or Lucy herself.
This is how I interpret those posts too.

Funny story about the "witches". LOL


Senior Member
I like your posts. I agree the Units are dense, but I really believe good teaching requires work, not a script. I sent Lucy Calkins my original post and here is what she wrote back:
It is true of course that people have lots of interpretations of our Units. I always applaud well informed and super dedicated teachers altering units as you seem as if you do, but I do also find myself suggesting that teachers adhere quite closely to the units the first time or two in which they teach them, teaching the units inside 4-5 weeks so they have time to develop and teach 3-4 other units, units they develop by drawing on fletcher, heard, and their own experiences. that is, I'm not always so fond of the results when teachers skim a unit of ours, pluck out a few cute lessons, add in a hodge pudge of other 'cute' ideas etc---something which is s far cry from what you do but you'd be surprised how often that's the way people improvise on our units.
She sticks to her guns. :D


Senior Member

I don't think things are always appropriate. Maybe because I haven't had training. I was given the books and told to implement after using Step up to Writing for 11 years. The Personal Narrative was fine. Then Information for 3rd we had to have them pick a topic they were an Expert at. They had to write a table of contents and several Chapters. My students had a great deal of trouble with it. For students who can't write at all (low-functioning), I would spend 20 minutes trying to conference with them on what they were trying to say on their rough draft. We have spent at least a month on this and none turned out very good.

We didn't do any type of reviewing before jumping into these. My co-worker spent the two weeks before vacation going over and modeling a basic paragraph. I will be doing it after vacation.

It is a lot of reading to do to try and figure out what I am supposed to be teaching. Maybe after using it more or some type of training I will start to like it better.


Full Member
I love Lucy

When I was still teaching (I've been retired a year and a half) I loved the first grade units of study. It seemed that my students felt empowered as writers and really saw themselves as writers.

My district had adopted another writing program and I was given permission to use Lucy after I bought the units as long as I made sure I had gotten in anything that was in the district curriculum that wasn't in Lucy's units.

The only time my kids didn't like writing time was when I was using the district adoption. Other than that they LOVED to write and really grew throughout the year.


Senior Member
I was handed the curriculum, given a half hour overview and said'"off you go." Then, the curriculum was taken away from me because we didn't have enough kits to go around so I got a copy of Bend 1 without any of the supplemental stuff.

Originally, one person per grade level was going to pilot, observe others, get one on one training and have all year to implement. That would have set us up for success. Then we were told, nope, everyone is going it at once with no training and no money to buy enough materials for everyone. Figure it out. You can see where the problems came. <!--eyebrow-->

Cat woman

Senior Member
I have never been fond of writing so Lucy's UoS for writing were not my strong points. Our district is using her UoS for reading and I think they are fabulous.


Full Member
We just really started this year with it. I think for teachers who have not taught writers workshop, it can be a great way to help them into understanding how a workshop can work assuming there is enough support. For those of us who have always taught workshop though, it can be a bit intrusive if we are expected to follow it like a program (I don't believe any true workshop follows a program......utilizes pieces perhaps, but workshops are meant to be student centered). I have a hard enough time making my students stay within one type of writing ( I'm thinking of folding in the different forms vs making them all switch as the only focus); let alone if I followed a program vs what my students are showing they need when they need it. It takes years to understand this and I had training years ago under Learning Network on how to teach writing authentically and with purpose. Many have not, so using this to understand at least one way to utilize a workshop (I don't believe there is one true way to teach workshop ) makes sense . By the very nature of student centered individualized workshop, a set of provided lessons to be followed does not fit.


Senior Member
Lucy Fan

Lucy was with me from the beginning of my career. The people that mentored her and the people she has mentored I have followed. She will always be the professional I turn to when I need to be reminded what great teaching is. I can't tell you the amazing work in writing and reading my students are accomplishing. I don't find the new units daunting because I have always used her units, her ideas, her resources. These units are just spelled out so that the NYC schools can use them instead of the "lovely" NYS modules. I understand that as an educator with a contract with one of the largest school districts in the nation she had to make it a bit more scripted. In NYS right now education is a hot mess. Lucy allows us to still teach what is right for kids in a way that kids are excited and successful in and about their work.


Senior Member
We've been using Lucy for years. I take what I need and leave what I don't. It was hard the first few years as a new teacher. Now several years in its much much easier. I think it depends on the PD and newness to the curriculum.

Ms. Chan

I totally agree with everything that you said about Lucy Calkins. I, too, try to talk just like her and channel my "inner Lucy." She is brilliant and her Units of Study have made my students excited about writing. The Crafting True Stories unit was so much fun and students did not want to stop writing. Thank you for your post. I love the idea of putting the lessons in a binder. My books are highlighted, post-it noted, and bookmarked. My colleagues and I saw Lucy in San Francisco this past October and I just hung on her every word like a groupie!


Full Member
I love Lucy too!

Thanks for the post. I think she is brilliant everyday! I use the reading and writing units and have for years now. Wouldn't teach another way.


elementary teacher

You hit the nail on the head with this one! My district brings up LC and her methods on/off during training. For the longest time, I feel terribly lost with what they are trying to accomplish. So, I just figured LC must be this disorganized and random researcher that has very little practical strategies to offer (based on my district training experiences.) Then, I researched into LC a little more over the summer. Turns out, what the admin in our district is offering is totally off. They take snippets here and there and make it their own. They twist our arms and force ideas in our heads that are far from what LC implies. Until this day, admin makes many rounds of "visitations" in our classrooms looking for what THEY propose. It's sad because, while I don't always agree with everything LC says a teacher can/should do, many admin are throwing their own interpretations out there claiming it's what LC says. That's a disservice to LC and her work.


For more than 6 years Lucy and her cult have been shoved down the throats of the the teachers in my district. There are some fangirls who will only do what is written. For the rest of us, it's just training, training, training with ZERO opportunities to discuss what works and doesn't work in the UoS. We are told make it your own. But in the next breath we are told teach with fidelity. If I were allowed to make it my own I could probably stomach the writing units. Teachers are always revising their craft, but if it takes so many years to understand and use a curriculum doesn't that tell you there is something wrong with it. I hope I have enough years left in my teaching career to see the demise of Lucy Calkins. I hope I don't damage too many students.