Lucy Calkins offered a fantastic presentation in Rochester today. It warms the heart to be in the company of those who truly love writing, those who invest themselves in the process of teaching it well, and those who are willing and able to share what they’ve discovered with those who are hungry for that knowledge. What I appreciated most was her willingness to dig deep into the strategies that she shared with us, moving well beyond the basic blueprints for workshop construction and directly into those aspects of writing instruction that mystify us all.

Narrative writing is often the cornerstone of a workshop. It’s engaging because it allows students to write from their own experiences in authentic ways that matter to them, and most people would agree that when we “write what we know” we do so with far greater success. Despite this, most teachers at the secondary level struggle to provide narrative writing opportunities to their students on a consistent basis, because let’s face it—-knowing how to write a decent essay remains something of a priority these days.

Calkin’s direct attention to this reality was a bit refreshing, I have to admit. All too often, the academic essay gets a bad rap in settings such as these, and this can be frustrating for those of us who know that overlooking this genre serves no one well in the end. Our kids need to know how to write great essays after all. Rather than banishing them to the bottom of the writing workshop priority list, Calkins did us all a favor by sharing out some incredibly useful processes for coaching older students to create INTERESTING pieces of expository writing. Pieces that possess, of all wild and crazy things, A WRITER’S VOICE. Can you imagine? I’m telling you, her ideas could inspire tears of gratitude from even the most anti-workshop teacher I know. Good instruction is good instruction, and I learned an awful lot about that today.

There was more, of course, and I’ll get to that in the posts that follow. Great take-aways for anyone who is coaching writing teachers this year or contemplating what writing might look like “across the curriculum.” Happy Friday!


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