Building Schoolwide Excellence in Reading and Writing — Lucy Calkins

Building Schoolwide Excellence in Reading and Writing — Lucy Calkins

– Good morning. – [Audience] Good morning. – Thank you so much. I’m Scott Montgomery. I’m the Editor-in-Chief of Education Week and I wanna thank you all
for being here this morning. Before we welcome Dr.
Lucy Calkins to the stage, I wanted to just take a moment and tell you a little bit about her work. A little more than a moment, but Lucy is the founding director
of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project and she’s the Richard Robinson Professor of Children’s Literature at the Teachers College
at Columbia University, where she also co-directs the
Literacy Specialist Program. The Teachers College
Reading and Writing Program has a staff of 80, and many of the most influential
instructors of literacy are either part of that team
or have been part of that team. Lucy regards her leadership of this extraordinary group of people to be among her
contributions to the field. Together, Lucy and her colleagues have led weeklong summer
intensive institutes to over 200,000 teachers
and school leaders. Each year, the team provides long-lasting field-based
professional development to well over a thousand
schools across the world. And as you already know, Lucy is the coauthor or
author of more than 40 books, including most recently, “Leading Well: Building Schoolwide Excellence
in Reading and Writing,” and also “Pathways to the Common Core,” which in 2013 was a New
York Times Best Seller. So with that, I’d like to
please welcome Dr. Lucy Calkins to the stage. (audience applauding) – Thank you so much, Scott. Well, I’m honored to be here and particularly to be
following my friend, Doug. It was amazing to have the
two of us put on together. Quite lucky for me. You know, I think about the
words of Roberta Flack’s song, “I feel the earth move under my feet.” These are hard times for
all of us in education. One of the statistics
that means the most to me is Buckminster Fuller said that in 1900, the amount of knowledge
that exists in the world was changing every century. Now the amount of knowledge
that exists in the world is changing every 12 hours. So, as Tony Wagner points out, this radically changes the teacher’s job because it used to be our job to deliver the information that
mattered to the uninformed, the elements of the periodic table, the names of the planets. Now of course, the elements
of the period table, the names of the whole, which are the planets is changing so fast, but more than that, we can
Google any of this information more quickly than we can retrieve
it from long-term memory. Knowledge is like air, it’s everywhere. So that means that the teacher’s job now is to teach kids to access knowledge, to organize it, to synthesize it, to compare it and contrast it, to dig under it and find
out the assumptions, to follow through and
figure out the implications, to apply it, to make something of it. And that requires levels of composition and of comprehension that
we didn’t used to teach. Teachers are being asked
to teach things now that we only did in college. You just think about fifth grade. When I was a fifth grade kid, my teacher was doing pretty well. If we were asked to go to
the S Encyclopedia Britannica and find Switzerland and copy down the national
bird, the national flower onto our index cards, and then we’d move it from the index cards onto our paper, and then we would add a little
clip art and yarn binding, and if we really wanted
to exceed standards, we would get a board and make a salt and flour map and hang Hershey bars off of it and we were doing really well. And now, fifth grade students are asked to take a provocative topic, like is bottled water
good for the environment, and to research that topic, gathering together sources from all over. And even to understand that
those different sources are arguing and saying different things, and to figure out what
is the point of view that is informing this or the point of view that’s informing that and where do I stand and
what’s my evidence for it? So teachers have a lot of
on-the-job learning to do. And the problem is that teachers, and particularly teachers of reading, are under a lot of pressure to pretend that our methods of teaching are perfect. They are researched-based, scientifically proven to
leave no child behind. So there’s a lot of pressure to armor up, to armor up against any
show of vulnerability, not realizing, as Brene
Brown so beautifully puts it, that vulnerability is the cradle of all that we most long for in life, of wholeheartedness, of intimacy, of an all-in relationship. Schools aren’t making it easy for teachers or for principals
to say I don’t know, I’m not sure, I need help. As Brene Brown says, “Any
culture that is saturated “with blame and with shame, “where trying and failing isn’t okay, “what’s lost is the
possibility of risk-taking, “of approximation,” I
would add of learning. It’s worth noting that Olin College, which is the number one
technological college in this country, the motto is fail early and fail often. They call failures iterations. They say, “We embrace the F word.” In most schools, people
are too on edge to do that. I was talking to a colleague, an instructor of language arts
in a fancy Connecticut town, and I asked her, I said,
“What are teachers really “caring about right now?” And without missing a
beat, she said, “Safety.” And this isn’t even a district where we have to worry about kids being deported off the plane. Safety. I was thinking about that, and I realized this is the
time of fear, of uneasiness. No matter where you are
in the political spectrum, I think we all feel upheaval. Institutions that have held
our government together are being tested as never before. The social media is radicalizing people in ways that we’re
particularly susceptible to because we’re all novices at it. When people are asked, do you
trust the people around you to do the right thing, something like 76% of
people used to say yes. Now, 32% of people say yes and 19% of millennials say yes, I generally trust people around me to do the right thing. A lot of people are feeling lonely. The former Surgeon General said, “The most common pathology
that I’m encountering “is not diabetes, not
cancer, but loneliness, “and it’s worse for the health “than smoking 15 cigarettes a day.” The problem, I would argue, is that when people feel
lonely and threatened, it’s in our mammal natures
to retreat to our dens and to the security of
those who look like us. In schools, as in our nation, there can be a sense of us versus them, of being under attack, of survival at any cost, of tribalism, and that’s intensified
in high-needs schools. The problem is fear is not a
good context for risk-taking, for approximation, for trying new things. Fear is a good context if
you’re trying to get people to hit a nail faster and harder, but not if you’re trying to get people to take risks to outgrow themselves. So here we are,
approaching New Year’s Day. New Year’s, of course, for educators, doesn’t come between December and January. It comes right about now. And we all know that as leaders, this is the time to look
back and to look forward. Now’s the time to rally our people, rally our people to
whatever the new work is. And one of my favorite
quotes in all of education is from that Peters and Waterman classic, “In Search of Excellence,” where they write at the
end of their preface, “I believe the real
difference between success “and failure of our work
lies in the question “of how well we bring
out the great energies “and talents of our people. “What do we do to help our
people to find common cause “with one another?” I wanna argue that in the year ahead, we need to turn our schools into places where everybody’s learning
curve is sky high. We need to make sure that
adults as well as kids are given communities of practice. My folks are 95 and 98, and they live in the farmhouse where my eight brothers
and sisters and I grew up in Western New York. They live alone in this big farmhouse. As you can kind of imagine, the whole thing’s a little
bit of a house of cards. Dad doesn’t hear very well, so when Mom wants to get his attention, she’ll pick up any old dog
toy that might be nearby and heave it at him and call, “Evan!” Usually, my mom can get
upstairs to the second floor to sleep up there, but sometimes, she just doesn’t have the
strength to climb the stairs, and so she’ll sleep in
what we call the dog bed. It’s really a daybed in the
far reaches of the living room. And then my father doesn’t
wanna sleep far away, so he’ll sleep on the living room couch, and even that is pretty far
away, given his deafness, so he’ll rope together
all these dog leashes and leave one beside my mother and then he ties one onto his arm so that when he’s lying on the sofa, she can just sort of jerk him into action. (audience laughing)
And then a little while ago, my dad said to me, “Lucy, do
you wanna know what it’s like “to be 98?”
(audience laughing) It’s really not that I’m
dying to be mentored in, but the polite answer
was, “Yeah, yeah, Dad. “What is it like to be 98?” He said, “You wake up every morning “and the first thing you do
is you go and you check to see “if Virginia’s still breathing. “And if she is, you
give her a cup of coffee “in her special cup and
you have another day, “and each day is a gift.” So on this particular day, Dad woke up and looked across the room and Mom was in the bed beside him, writing and jerking and foaming. My Dad is a physician, he
knew what was going on. He called my sister, also a
doctor, and he said to Joan, “Virginia’s having a grand mal seizure,” and Joan said, “I’ll get the ambulance “and I’ll be right over.” And Joan drives 15
minutes, she rushes over, she stands in the doorway of the room, and she looks in and she sees
my mom lying there, comatose, and my father’s sitting beside her. And my sister said to Dad, “Is she alive?” And Dad said, “I don’t know.” And my sister said, “You don’t know?” And Dad said, “I didn’t wanna check “and find out that she’s
gone and to be alone with it, “so I waited for you to come.” And I totally get it, because the truth of the matter is we human beings don’t want to be alone in the hard parts of life. And the truth is what teachers are being
asked to do is hard. Roland Barth, who founded
Harvard’s Principals’ Center, said, “All too often,
relationships among teachers “are like relationships among
two-year-olds in the sandbox. “One has the shovel,
the other has the pail, “they talk all the time,
but never to each other.” Problem is in a good school, teachers are talking all the time. Teachers are in and out of
each other’s classrooms, they’re sharing their stuff, they think of the kids as our kids, and they wish each other well. Roland Barth and I went
into staff room together and we noticed the sign on the door said No Children Allowed. And Roland pointed out to me
that’s just the written rule. The unwritten rule is no
talking about children allowed. And yet, as Carey Lyon points
out, in all of our schools, you take teachers at any one grade level. Let’s take third grade. You’ve got teachers who are
more experienced and skilled and teachers who are less
experienced and skilled. And the single best way to
raise the level of teaching in the school is to decrease the gap between the most experienced
and the less experienced. That is to democratize what teachers know. And the way to do that is
to have teachers talking, have teachers planning
curriculum together, have teachers studying
student work together, have teachers revising curriculum in the light of student work. All too often in schools, there’s many teachers have many dreamt that a grade level group of teachers can be this incredible,
vital learning community. Many teachers have never
imagined that during prep time, they might meet with their colleagues to be planning their teaching. Every year, hundreds of
principals and teachers visit the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project
schools that dot the world, and when they come to visit, very often, what they wanna see are grade level planning meetings because it’s those grade
level planning meetings where you take good teaching to scale. So I wish I could put
you on a magic school bus and I could bring you
to some of these schools and we could just slip
in on a planning meeting, and we can’t do that. But what I’m gonna do is to just have you watch 2 1/2 minutes of a planning meeting. And this is a meeting
where third grade teachers are getting ready, it’s
the middle of third grade. They’re getting ready to teach a new unit, and the unit includes book clubs. And you’ll see there’s a teacher
in the sort of front right, who, this is her first year of teaching, so she’s just asked a
question about book clubs. And I want you to watch
this as an ethnographer, trying to think about what are the tools, what are the assumptions of how things go, who’s talking, what’s
getting written down, and what does this say
about shared curriculum in this school and in the
schools in which I work? So listen really closely,
’cause it goes very quickly. (audience chattering) (woman speaking faintly)
A little louder. – We have one from the one
where they make a rule. – Yeah, last year, so
the tools that we used in the past to stay organized. Yeah, just the club members with the books that they’re reading, and then this is a little more specific. It’s kind of the materials
that they’re using. Have ’em prepare for conversations and the kinds of writing
that they’re gonna do just to hold everyone accountable
for what they’re doing. And then in the book, on page 59, the mini-lesson, the coaching part, up and down the story map, kind of over the coaching info, what you’re supposed to
be doing for a book club. And something that’s worked in the past is to kind of videotape
a model partnership or a model book club, ’cause then you can watch
it as a class together and kind of like coach ’em to see what makes that book club go well and what can we do to make it even better. – And we do that with this first session? – It could be. Something I’m struggling with is do we wanna do this inquiry
before we start book clubs so that this way, the expectations are set together before we start or do we wanna do it after we start book club and then do it? – I kinda feel like maybe
a day of trying it out. In there, it was really mentioning like you’re gonna wanna observe, so I think it’ll be
interesting to observe first, like that first lesson, you’re just gonna be spending
more time just like– – Then that way, you see (mumbles). – And then from there, we can, ’cause each class might have its different problems to tackle. – Exactly.
– So it might be nice. – And then you can even do the videotape as like a share at the end. – Something you might wanna try out too is trying to maybe model that or any of these particular problems that might come up in your
individual class and read-aloud. So like bringing that to the club, bringing that type of jot or that idea to a read-aloud to get that sense of feel, like to have that conversation as like a whole class book club, so then they know what it feels like when they enter their
individual book clubs. – Maybe during read-aloud,
well two things we know. One, maybe during read-aloud, they sit with their club, ’cause I feel like before, they were just really sitting
with their reading partner, but maybe it would make
the conversation more rich if they’re used to being with their club and having those things, they
might be more supportive. – What would that make
your goal of the unit? – What? – The idea of the story arc.
– Yeah. – Yeah.
– Because of that, I think it’s something
to address early on. – I mean, it comes
within this first lesson. – Right, and we were talking
about, so in writing, so in the writing unit,
they’ve done it a lot, the story arc stuff, but we haven’t necessarily
talked about it yet in reading. So we really bring up some of the stuff from the writing lessons.
– Or make that connection before going there. – That makes sense.
– You can think about that in connections with workshops, something– – So, talk to the person beside you, as an ethnographer, what
did you notice about what grade level planning happening there and what’s alike that’s
happening in your school or different? (audience chattering) Colleagues. Colleagues. So. My argument today is that I think if we have grade
level planning meetings that feel like that in all of our grades,
in all of our schools, we’re gonna be beginning to
raise the level of teaching and learning across the
school, and of course, that requires a shared curriculum and one that asks a lot of teachers. In a lot of our schools, there’s a shared curriculum
around kindergarten, first, and second grade
reading and writing. But very often, grades three through eight either becomes glorified test prep where no teachers are
gonna wanna gather together to learn how to teach this, or the message to teachers is let a thousand flowers bloom, each of you create whatever
units you wanna do, and the curriculum ends up looking like a Saturday
morning flea market with different units kind
of jerry-rigged together, one on a book, on friendly
letter and adjectives and haiku and in fact, in those schools, you’ll see a lot of
so-called staff development or professional development reform is just adding more
inflation of curriculum, as Doug was talking about. The quote that teachers
have responded to the most of any quote I’ve ever said is one from Michael Fullan
that goes like this. “One of the biggest
problems in our schools “is not resistance to innovation, “but the fragmentation
overload and incoherence “resulting from too many innovations “adapted in an ad-hoc superficial way, “uncoordinated with ongoing
work and with each other.” Doug is so right. One of the things that’s
really important is focus, is focus. Warren Buffett says, “My
greatest gift as an investor,” and in a way, all of us as
educators are investors, he says, “I look at investment proposals “and I say no, no, no, no, “and then one comes along
that’s exactly right “and I say yes.” Now part of this involves teachers, principals, school districts saying no to an image of what it is
to be a professional teacher that says that the professional teacher goes home Monday night
and invents curriculum to do in your own classroom on Tuesday. I personally hope that if I ever have
neurosurgery done on me that my neurosurgeon is not the kind of professional surgeon who goes home Monday night and invents the technique he’s gonna use to do neurosurgery on me on Tuesday. In most fields, you
think of a professional as somebody who stands on the
knowledge base of the field and contributes to the
knowledge base of the field. But it’s really important to understand that if you’re gonna be teaching kids higher level comprehension
and composition skills, you need to have a coherent curriculum. We can’t teach kids to multiply fractions unless they come to third or fourth grade understanding something about fractions. And you can’t teach kids to write a research-based
argument essay in fifth grade where they’re gonna be
including counterargument and analyzing data if they don’t come to fifth grade knowing how to write a
good persuasive piece with a claim and reasons
and with evidence. So in Teachers College Reading
and Writing Project schools, you’ll see a kind of strand
of work on argument writing or on main idea or on information writing, going from kindergarten
up to eighth grade. So let’s just look, for
example, at first grade. In first grade, the kids are
doing persuasive writing. They come in for a unit of
study on persuasive writing, and are they gonna learn to write reviews of restaurants and games and books? The unit begins with the
kids bringing this shoebox full of stuff in, their
very favorite things. So it might be baseball cards or it might be hairbands
or plastic horses, and then they have a kind of dog show or a horse show or plastic hairband show. Miguel brought his very
favorite things in, which is a shoebox full
of his mother’s bras and (audience laughing) this is his persuasive writing, arguing for the first place bra. Look at those dots, be thinking about what Miguel
knows as a first grader and look at those dots. This pink polka dot is the prettiest because it has so many dots. That is a lot of dots. It’s prettier than the
boring white, way prettier. (audience laughing) Because Miguel’s writing like that and kids are growing through the system, developing their ability
to write persuasively, to write argumentatively, Jack is able to write like this, and you’re not gonna be
able to read Jack’s writing, but I’ll read a little bit of it for you. Why chocolate milk should stay. Schools should keep
serving chocolate milk. There should be chocolate
milk because kids like it. It gives them vitamins,
it gives kids good habits. Many kids love chocolate milk. It makes them happy to
see it in the cafeteria, in their lunch box, at the kitchen table. Research shows that overall,
(audience laughing) chocolate milk is pretty good for kids. Even though some people think it’s bad that kids like chocolate
milk more than white milk, it’s actually especially important that kids like chocolate milk. It turns out that more kids drink milk when they can get chocolate milk. When you interview a lot of
parents like Katie Couric did, they’ll say that their
kids only drink milk if they can get chocolate milk. So at least they’re drinking milk. In a survey of students at this school, 84% said they would drink more milk if they had chocolate milk available. Of those same students, 28% said they wouldn’t
drink any milk at all if it weren’t chocolate. Moving forward, it is
true that Jamie Oliver, a chef and an enemy of
chocolate milk, argued (audience laughing) that chocolate milk does have added sugar. Jamie’s a famous English chef who is involved with lunch
for kids in Los Angeles. In a shocking video,
Jamie shows a school bus filled with sugar to show how much sugar schoolkids get from chocolate milk, but there are a lot of
schoolkids in the United States, and if you divide that busload up between all those kids,
(audience laughing) it would not be such a shocking amount. And if you put next to it a
bus filled with vitamins A, D, E, and calcium that the kids also get, that might pull in a different picture, so that’s why we should
keep serving chocolate milk. Maybe it’s true it has
a little bit of sugar, but it gets kids to drink milk and it gives ’em vitamins and good habits. Personal insider experience
supports this claim. As a fifth grader, this investigator was part of an experiment
to ban chocolate milk in his cafeteria. Fifth graders, though, are
allowed to go out for lunch with no chocolate milk. This luncheon seeker started
going out for pizza and Coke and (mumbles). Jamie Oliver doesn’t necessarily know what happens inside schools. When something that’s taken away at lunch that’s even a little good for you, it’s not always replaced
by something better or anything at all. In fact, the vitamins from chocolate milk may possibly be the only
ones that some kids get in school lunch.
(audience laughing) So keep chocolate milk, kids’
main source of vitamins, good habits, and happiness. (audience laughing and applauding) When teachers have a shared
and cohesive curriculum and shared learning progressions against which they can
chart student progress, professional development
happens on the job. So I was with a group of teachers recently who had made a kind of
class set of argument essays by cobbling together some
from each of their rooms, and they were norming their
evaluations of these essays, starting by just bad ones,
okay ones, good ones. And they did this really quickly and realized that two of the teachers had taken essentially a rant and put it in the highest pile, whereas all the other teachers
had taken the same rant and put it in the lowest pile. And this conversation ensued with the teachers who had put
it in the highest pile saying, “It’s passionate, it’s not cookie-cutter, “this person has a lot of feelings,” and the other teachers saying, “It has no structure,
it doesn’t make a claim, “it doesn’t have reasons,
it doesn’t have evidence.” “Yes, this is a good writer, “and with some good teaching, “the writing could be
moved to the highest.” They agreed on this, and
my feeling watching that was it was one of the bits
of PD that I’d ever seen. Now what happened as that
conversation continued was the teachers came to realize that most of the essays in the best pile were all from one class, and they were literally
saying to the teacher, “What the hell are you feeding those kids? “How do you get them
to do work like this?” Now that realization
that good student work is the result of good teaching, and that we can ask what are
you doing and learn from you, that’s pretty much as
important as anything that can be taught. When teachers teach writing
alongside of each other, big insights like that emerge because good teaching of writing leads to dramatic visible progress almost overnight in writing. It’s harder to get one’s
hands on growth in reading because it happens in the
black box of the mind. But I think it’s really
important in schools that teachers have a more
concrete understanding of what progress and
comprehension looks like. About 10 years ago, a
group of colleagues and I were going to a school and it was October and everybody was reading
fiction at that time. And interestingly enough,
they were all pretty much talking about character, which is a sorta normal thing to do if you’re reading fiction, so that’s fine. But in first grade, third grade, fifth grade, and seventh grade, they not only were all
talking about character, but all of the readers
were doing the same work. In first grade, it was Poppleton
is a good friend because. In middle school, it’s Hester Prynne is a strong woman because. And I realized that it’s not
clear to a lot of teachers what growth in comprehension looks like. What do you expect of character trait work for an eighth grader versus a
third grader versus a first, so let’s try it for a second. You all know Charlotte’s Web. If you don’t know it,
you get the gist of it. It’s Fern who runs out to pull
the ax away from her father, saying, “Don’t kill that pig.” Saves the life of the pig, and she ends up living in the barn, befriending all the animals, and she and Templeton the
rat and Charlotte the spider save the little pig
one more time later on. Okay, so here’s the challenge. With your partner, one of
you’s gonna be a first grader, one of you a third grader, or one of you could be a third grader and one of you a middle schooler. Quickly tell each other
what grade you are. Just you can mention it, all right? You’re gonna write in
the air a little Post-it showing your character trait work, okay, as a first grader about Charlotte’s Web or a third grader or a seventh grader. Fern is, ‘kay? Fern is, what’s gonna be different? First grade, third grade, seventh grade. Do it quickly, go. Just say it in the air. (audience chattering) Be sure to say what grade you are. So colleagues, can I bring you back? Folks, I have so little time. In fact, in first grade, when you ask kids to develop
theories about characters, very often, they’re not
going with character traits. They’re going with
character emotions, right? So first grade, it would be common for
the first grader’s work, and it would be fine for
their work to be Fern is sad because her dad is gonna
kill the pig, okay? By third grade, you need your
kids to know character trait as different than emotion. So it would be Fern is the
kind of person who is caring because she defends the pig, and she, by third grade,
characters are complicated, they’re more than one way, she is also strong-minded
because she fights with her dad to save the pig, okay? Characters are more than one way. Now by seventh grade,
you’re gonna be wanting Fern is a social advocate who
stands up for justice, and we see this because
she argues with her father, “If I was little, would you kill me?” Or Fern is a leader. She gathers together all of
the characters in the barn to work together for a cause that’s bigger than themselves, all right? Let’s do this with
nonfiction for a minute. Imagine you have a little
article about camels and the article tells you
how their hump holds water and their feet, and that birds live off
of them and so forth, and you’re gonna do main
idea work, all right? In your mind, just do this. I don’t have time to actually do it. Second grade, main idea work
on this little camel thing. The main idea is? Just think of second grade. And now, third, fourth
grade, the camel piece. How would the main idea work be different? Middle school, how would the
main idea work be different? Let me just tell you a lot of teachers can’t answer these questions. If you can’t answer these questions, how will you teach it, ‘kay? Second grade would be typical. This is an article about camels, and there’s subtopics, the hump, the feet. ‘Kay, by third, fourth grade, by third garde, you need
it to be idea, main idea, not main topic, okay? You call it main idea in second grade, but a topic will do, okay? By third grade, this is a
book about camel’s bodies are made for life on the desert. The hump holds water,
even in the hot climate. The feet are made for walking on the sand. By seventh grade, this is an article about how animal’s bodies are
adapted to their environment, and the camel’s body is adapted, as is the bird that lives on the camel, which makes us worry with
the environments changing. That’s gonna be trouble. You need more than one
central idea in seventh grade, and it’s gonna be moving up
the level of abstraction. If teachers don’t know
this, how do they teach it? If they have a coherent curriculum that’s undergirded by a knowledge
of learning progressions, then teachers can come together and they can track student progress and they can look at student progress as a reflection of their teaching and they can learn from
what’s moving kids forward, as Doug talked about, and
what’s not moving kids forward. So today, as we ready
ourself for the new year, let’s rally teachers in our schools, principals in our
districts to work together around a shared cohesive curriculum that is undergirded by
learning progressions and understanding that skills
develop with good teaching. Let’s help all of us feel safe enough to say I don’t know
this stuff, I need help, and understand that we don’t know this and learning is in order. And please keep in mind that all of this is only going to work
if there is engagement from the kids, the teachers, from you. So remember that all important
quote by Peters and Waterman. “The difference between success
and failure of your work “lies in the question of
how well you bring out “the great energies and
talents of your people. “What do you do to help your
people find a common cause “with one another?” I think David Brooks is onto something when he suggests that
people across this nation are suffering from a crisis of meaning. Teachers certainly are. As Brooks tells us, 20 years ago, UCLA freshmen were asked what do you
really long for in life and given choices. They mostly chose to find a
meaningful philosophy of life. Just recently, UCLA freshmen were asked what do you really long for in life? And what they chose, number
one, financial security, number two, fame. Google traces the use of words, just in books, television, current lingo, and the use of economic
words is skyrocketing. Words like output, payoff, bottom line, value-added, and optimize. More so, value words is plummeting. The use of word bravery is down 66%. Gratitude, down 49%. Humility, down 52%. Brooks suggests that maybe
we need a new national story to replace the story of the
lone individual who rises up with grit to acquire success. He writes, “For too many
people, the story isn’t working. “Either the system seems too
rigged, the odds too steep, “or success, once achieved, too hollow.” He’s not talking about literacy reform, but he could be. We’ve all seen education and the teaching of reading specifically taken over by the rags
to riches milieu story. The lone student, teacher,
district, principal that races, claws to the top. And we know that when
achievement and rankings are all that matters, and when they feel out of reach or hollow once you get them, the result can be cynicism
and disengagement. Brooks argued that maybe
we need a new national and I would add a new educational story. Instead of the lone
individual who rises up with hard work and pluck, maybe the story needs
to be about communities that come together to heal, to support, to reach, to approximate, to take risks, to learn. And I think it’s important to remember that when people read and write together, we do form communities,
communities of meaning. I recently relearned this. I was visiting my folks on a weekend, and I happened to stay over Sunday night, which is unusual, but the good thing was I was
able to go to the book club. So I’m kind of an honorary
member of my parents’ book club because when my mom turned 90, I couldn’t think of what to get her for her birthday present. You can’t really give a
90-year-old a tennis racquet or a kayak paddle. So I got the idea to give her a book club. And I got 10 copies of
the hardbound version of “Snow in August” and mailed them out to 10 people I thought would be good
people for her book club. And then I created a dinner and had them all come to my parents’ house and they had a book club. And at the book club, I
had the next book ready and the next dinner ready, and that was when she turned 90, and she’s now 95, turning 96. So for all this time,
the book club’s gone on. So this particular Sunday, I’m able to go. And I was so glad to go and have my little internalized
checklist for book clubs. You saw the teachers
talking about the book clubs with third graders, well you know, I haven’t really
thought about a book club for nine-year-olds, but
(audience laughing) I was ready to see when
one person raised a point, did the others look for
evidence in the text and did they all open the text and talk between the text and the point? And when one person said
something, did we stay on topic? I agree with you, I wanna
add on, I partly disagree. I was all ready to check it out. Well, this book club was
so totally off my charts. I mean, they watched the
Preakness horse race. They had some sherry. They started to talk
about one part of the book and ended talking about some
disaster in somebody’s family and what had happened. They passed around the various
candidates for the next book as they were eating, and on the way home, my mother’s a very smart woman, and on the way home, I’m, “Mom,
do you like that book club?” And she said, “Lucy,
over the last five years, “you’ve given us two presents that really, “they really matter:
Roadie and the book club.” Now Roadie is my mom’s standard poodle. When her last one died,
she was gonna get a puppy, so I found a retired show dog poodle for her to get instead, Roadie. And Roadie is my mom’s constant companion. Roadie’s everything to her, and she was comparing
the book club to Roadie. And then she said, she
says, “It’s not so bad.” She says, “I read books
I would never have read.” She said, “That ‘Freedom,’ “if you take the word fuck out of it, “it would be half its length.” (audience laughing) And she said, “And Shackleton, “taking us up to Antarctica and whatnot,” she says, “I’m kinda sorta
stuck in the kitchen. “It’s not so bad doing that.” Then she said, “Besides, when
I was at the rehab center, “it was the book club that
visited, not the church. “It was the book club.” So I tell you this because
it was startling to me. I realized that my little
internalized checklist for what makes a good book
club kind of felt small, and my criteria, cramped. Although all this work
with learning progressions and skills and strategies can accelerate kids’ progress as readers, we do also have to have the humanity to remember that we need to
be teaching kids why read and why write, as well as how to read and how to write. So I’ve revised my rubric for a book club and I include in it, does the club forge
relationships of comradery, creating intimacy and community around the big work of being human? Does the club prompt members to read books that help them to entertain ideas, to care about people that bring new dimension to their lives, that get us out of our bubbles? Naomi Shihab Nye said, “When you love someone
who’s different from you, “your heart stretches, you grow.” I’ve been reading “So You
Want To Talk About Race,” and I’m falling in love with that author, and it’s painful, and my heart breaks and
stretches, absolutely. Absolutely. It’s not just reading that does this. Writing does it as well. In many classrooms, kids
are kind of invisible. Gloria Ladson-Billings says that one of the most
important things we can do is to pull kids out of hiding. Remember that call when we were little and we would play Kick the Can and we would be hiding
and the call would go out, and Olly, Olly in free! Come out, come out wherever you are! Well, that’s the call that goes
out in any writing workshop. Olly, Olly in free! Come out, come out wherever
you are, whoever you are! I was in a classroom in the Bronx, and I was on my way to a different room, but the principal sometimes
has me stop by different rooms like I’m the Pope to
kind of say, “Bless you, “bless you, bless you.”
(audience laughing) So I was in this one bless you room and it actually was a celebration. So I told the kids I’d
stay for a little while, and Marisol stood up to read, and Marisol was dressed in
her Holy Communion finery for the author’s celebration, which right there, just. (sighs) She looked like a little
bride, large bride. I was gonna say a little bride. In fifth grade, you have these large women and then these little tiny guys. It’s a sort of an odd look of the class. Anyhow, Marisol read her
memoir, and it went like this. “I’m the kind of kid who
never had a birthday party. “I live with my step-grandma, “and she tells me, ‘Get going,’
and ‘Where have you been?’ “She cooks macaroni for me, “but she doesn’t think about my birthday. “Last summer, I was back
in the Dominican Republic “and my baby step-cousin,
he had a birthday party. “No one could tell I never had one. “Soon, I’ll be 10. “In my dreams, there’ll
be a birthday party. “In my dreams, we’ll
play Duck, Duck, Goose, “listen to the radio, and
there’ll be a pink cake, “but then my dream ends. “I’m the kind of kid who
never had a birthday party.” A week later, Marisol turned 10, and the kids in the class and their parents and grandparents gave her a birthday party in the park. And they, these great big fifth graders, listened to the radio and
played Duck, Duck, Goose, and there was a big pink sheet cake, and on it, the words, Marisol, for all the birthdays that you never had. And back in the class later, the kids talked about how Marisol is no longer the kinda kid
who never had a birthday. And they talked about how words did that. Words gave us something
as big as a nation. What do we celebrate on July 4th but a time when people
went in a very little room and put words on the page, and out of those words,
we created a nation? And they talked about how
words created something as big as a birthday party. Now what I wanna say is
words can create something as big and as beautiful
as a learning community in a school. Rufus Jones, the great
American Quaker has said, “I pin my hopes on the small
circles and quiet processes “in which genuine and
reforming change takes place.” Now there’s research on happiness, and the research on happiness says that you think the things
that are gonna make you happy don’t actually make you happy. Like you win the lottery, and your happiness apparently
spikes for a little while, but then it goes right back to your normal level of happiness. Something terrible happens,
you become disabled and you become sad, but your level of happiness
goes right back to normal. Very few things actually change a person’s level of happiness. One of the only things that does is the opportunity to work
with a small group of people on a cause you care about. We’ve got to give ourselves, the teachers in our care,
the principals in our care the opportunity to do just that.

1 thought on “Building Schoolwide Excellence in Reading and Writing — Lucy Calkins”

  1. this lucy calkins adoption in our school district is complete junk – such a waste of money and scores are down….not to mention attitude

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