At last summer’s institute I innocently dropped the name: Lucy Calkins. For those unaware, Calkins is highly regarded by elementary teachers around the world and is best known for her work at Columbia’s Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. To others, she is fingernails on a chalkboard. She is the author of the (what I know now to be controversial) Units of Study.
I wasn’t prepared for the reaction I got. The squirms, shifts in seats, eye contact avoidance, and maybe even an intentional “ahem” surprised me. I’ve heard complaints from others talking out against how hard it is to implement her ideas.
I have since learned of other reasons why Calkins rubs people the wrong way. Some who have met her proclaim her to be pompous. Others in her field are put off that she has marketed her program. There are those who believe she should be followed word-by-word, promoting scripted curriculum. Some feel that her disregard of the importance of fiction in our earliest writers is a disservice.
For me, Calkins’ Units of Study isn’t a curriculum, it is a structure. This structure has many strengths. Her books are chalked full of examples and provides modeling, especially for new teachers or those wanting (or needing) to improve their writing instruction. She offers up units/genres to delve into. Any good writing teacher would be able to use the structure with other genre inquiry, including fiction. As commented in a previous post, it is impossible to teach it all. Educators have to remain diligent when choosing what to teach.
As I finish Newkirk’s Misreading Masculinity, I’m left wishing I could have a dinner party with Tom, Lucy, and Anne sitting around the table. I may be naive, but I think we’d have a good time; and feel they would have more in common than differences.