A Journey Towards Implementing the Lucy Calkins Writing Project in a Highly Diverse School by Susan Zimmerman-Orozco
Full disclosure: I LOVE teaching writing. I used to brag that I could teach a dog to write (actually, I still stand by that boast…) so when our school decided to implement the Lucy Calkins Writing Project last year I was curious. After thirty years teaching English-language learners, I still get a thrill from showing students how they can express themselves with words.
Still, we are an elementary school highly impacted by diversity, poverty and second-language learners. Our WIDA language assessment scores district-wide are low. Would the Lucy Calkins program, with its rigorous academic foundation and demanding methodology, work with our students?
Frankly, last year we struggled. It was clear from the start that our population lacks the academic language to fully access the curriculum. For example, much of Unit One: Lessons from the Masters: Improving Narrative Writing in second grade relies on students’ understanding of the complex language and narrative tone of Owl Moon, a lyrical portrayal of a father and daughter who set off to look for owls and the magic of the moon-lit moment when, at last, they sight the mystical bird and he flies off. Even during repeated readings of the text, our ELLs sat on the rug staring blankly, reluctant to participate or share their writing.
We felt that many of our kids were being left behind as we pushed relentlessly through each unit, trying to cover a lesson a day. A half-time ESOL teacher, I spent most of my time with students playing catch up. I pulled small groups, tried to revise their ragged pages of haphazard sentences, and badgered my colleagues. What am I actually supposed to do with Lucy as an ESOL teacher: teach them the writing process a la Lucy Calkins, or teach them how to fix what they’ve already written?
Long story short, we ALL muddled through our first year and this is what I discovered in June…my ESOL kids could write! Lots and lots of writing! Was it anywhere close to perfect..nah. We are, after all, a work in progress, but I don’t remember ever before seeing so much actual writing from second grade English language learners at the end of the school year. Wow! Then this fall, another epiphany: our new second graders, who already had a year of Lucy Calkins under their belt…they started off the new year actually…writing! Lots and lots of writing!
This is a blog about our continuing journey- mine, my co-teachers, and our school staff – to adapt and improve the way we implement the program. Given the student load for ESOL teachers in our district, I decided that the best way to address the needs of my ELLs, regardless of their level, was to collaborate and co-teach with their classroom writing teacher. In this manner, we could hopefully anticipate academic language needs before they have steamrolled into an insurmountable barrier to learning.
I am lucky this year to be working –co-teaching– in writing classrooms at three grade levels – kindergarten, first grade, and second – with classroom teachers who are as different from one another as each of our students are. I already know that what will work for one classroom will possibly NOT work at all in another. So, to summarize, it will be FUN!
I hope you will travel with us as we puzzle out the best way to use Lucy to help our ELLs – and all of our students. But even more importantly, I hope you will share your own challenges, your successes, and your suggestions and recommendations for using Lucy to show these, our most fragile, learners that not only can they succeed as writers but also excel!
If you aren’t already part of our mailing list, please sign up HERE to receive freebies, announcements, and just to get to know us! Looking for new ideas and graduate credits? Visit our Online Professional Development School! Please visit the ELP website to meet the team and learn more about our services.