kitchen table math, the sequel: Alternatives to Lucy Caulkins?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Alternatives to Lucy Caulkins?

Everywhere I look, the elementary schools around me use Writer's Workshop. Schools that are adopting Singapore Math are still using Writer's Workshop.

When did it become standard to teach young children writing?

Are there any school program alternatives to Writer's Workshop for grades k-3? Are there any well known schools that haven't felt the need to teach writing per se?


palisadesk said...

Writer's Workshop was with us long before we heard of Lucy Calkins. Like Fountas and Pinnell, Calkins has taken advantage of a growing trend and put her "brand" on it, but just as F&P did not develop "balanced literacy" but have dominated its marketing, Lucy Calkins has done the same for "Writer's Workshop."

The origins of Writers Workshop go back to the early 1980's and before, and parallel the Whole Language movement. The earliest spokesmen for WW were Donald Graves at the early elementary level, Nancie Atwell at the middle school level, and Donald Murray at the secondary/college level.. All three were New Englanders and drew upon the "language experience approach" In the 80's and '90s, the term "Writer's Workshop" was used (especially by Atwell's followers, as she also incorporated "Reader's Workshop") but so was the term "Process Writing" .

Lucy Calkins took the ball and ran with it, producing teaching materials for most grade levels, and detailed lesson plans (semi-scripted) for the early grades. Some of them are pretty good, actually -- teachers at my school like the "Small Moments" lessons.

Pretty well everybody uses variations on the Writer's Workshop theme, public schools, private schools, everybody. Spin-offs include "Kidwriting" for prek--1st, more structured formats such as "Four Square Writing" and "Step Up to Writing" (disparaged by the true believers as "too artificial") and "Six Traits of Writing" (now also called 6+1 Traits), originally formulated by Vicki Spandel in her 1990 book, Creating Writers. Other prolific authors in the Writer's Workshop arena are Katie Wood Ray (for primary), Ralph Fletcher, Barry Lane and Shelley Harwayne.

Anonymous said...

Susan Wise Bauer has created one or two grammar/writing programs for the early elementary years, the Core Knowledge Foundation has created an early literacy series that is is the testing stages, there are classical technique programs (check out the Well-Trained Mind website and blog). Of course, most of these are programs adopted by home-schoolers who are fed up with Readers and Writers Workshop. You might want to check out the web-site for Hillsdale Academy, a K-12 classical school in Michigan associated with Hillsdale College that makes its entire curriculum map available on the its website. They use widely available books and curriculum series for their materials.

Crimson Wife said...

I grew up in New England and agree with everything palisdesk said. I went through before "whole language" caught on, but we did plenty of "writer's workshop". However, it was balanced with old-fashioned techniques like dictation and outlining. Those, unfortunately, have fallen out of style while WW has remained...

California Teacher said...

"Step Up to Writing" (disparaged by the true believers as "too artificial")...

True believers... that's the thing about Calkins' Writers' Workshop. If you dare to suggest any criticisms, or derivations, you are branded a heretic. It is the mandated "curriculum" at my school, and there are a few teachers (& literacy coaches) who view WW as gospel handed down by the God who shall be called Lucy, not to be questioned. It would be funny if it weren't so weird.. definitely bears similarity to a cult.

A colleague of mine used Step up to Writing at her previous school and loved it. She sorely misses it now that she's at my school. Step/Writing seems very clear and guided, and is especially strong for English Learners. There's lots of instruction in grammar and structure, not just navel-gazing self reflection, as in the Calkins stuff. I'm a first grade teacher and I like to joke that we do non-writers' workshop!!

I don't completely hate WW, some of it is very good, as long as adaptations can be made for the age and English proficiency of the students, but I am tired of it being viewed as Holy Writ.

Here's a post to a NY teacher blog discussing WW... plus a gag-me video of the goddess herself.
Personally, I think she could use an extreme makeover.


CassyT said...

Hmm, I don't know anyone using Writers' Workshop.
When I taught, we used Step Up to Writing and Excellence in Writing along with the 6+1 Trait® Writing Model of Instruction & Assessment.

Core Knowledge has a new literacy program that includes writing. Singapore Math is one of the math curricula that Core Knowledge recommends, so I would expect to see CK's writing recommendations starting to get adopted in more schools.

Anonymous said...

What is Writer's Workshop? I'm guessing that it's another Progressive Ed program based on replacing developing yourself with expressing yourself, but I don't know for sure. I'd be grateful if someone would summarize the features for me including, especially, your perspective on it. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Reader and Writer's Workshop (along with "balanced literacy") has become the standard curriculum on our district. In our experience, Writers Workshop can be a good way to get younger kids interested in writing, but after a few years of small moments, it gets old. Lots of navel-gazing.

In my opinion, it is very time consuming and doesn't leave time for or promote other basic writing skills - grammar, outlining, summarizing, etc. (which Susan Wise Bauer's methods do cover).

I rank it up there with Everyday Math - it's filled with good intentions and the kids seem engaged, but in the end they are left without a grounding in the basics that will carry them into the higher grades.

Crimson Wife said...

The way it was implemented in my elementary school back in the day was a 45 min. or so block maybe 3 times per week where we would spend about 20 minutes writing responding to some (typically navel-gazing) prompt, and then 25 minutes "peer conferencing". During the "peer conference", the teacher would go from group to group, giving individual feedback.

It's based on the kind of writers' support groups that many adult writers find helpful. But elementary school kids don't have the same capacity to give useful feedback to each other that participants in adult writers' do.