Cotsen Foundation for the ART of TEACHING Hosts a Day of Learning with Lucy Calkins

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The highly anticipated conference, Lifting the Level of Reading Comprehension, Grades 2-5, fills to capacity within days of being announced as Cotsen educators eager to hear from literacy expert and author, Lucy Calkins, whose Units of Study books have influenced reading and writing instruction in Cotsen classrooms across California. 


5C1A1524LOS ANGELES, CA, October 29, 2015 — Cotsen Foundation for the ART of TEACHING had the honor of hosting a conference on Oct. 21 with guest speaker, Lucy Calkins, best-selling author, founding director of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, and the Robinson Professor of Children’s Literature at Teachers College, Columbia University.

“We are extremely pleased to have been able to provide approximately 400 ART of TEACHING educators the opportunity to learn directly from Lucy Calkins,” said Jerry Harris, executive director of the Cotsen Foundation for the ART of TEACHING. “Dr. Calkins is so knowledgeable and engaging that our time with her flew by. She definitely left all us who heard her even more enthusiastic about and committed to improving teaching and learning reading through workshop.”

The day began with opening remarks from Harris, who welcomed teachers and administrators from Northern and Southern California to the Manhattan Beach Marriott. Harris, who, prior to joining the Cotsen Foundation for the ART of TEACHING, served as principal of Roosevelt Elementary in Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, introduced a Roosevelt teacher and Cotsen alumna, Kitty Donohoe.

Donohoe, who has attended multiple summer institutes at Teachers College and whose school is a Teachers College project school, reflected on the impact that both Lucy Calkins and Teachers College have had on her as a professional.

“The stars in the Yosemite sky where I grew up were bright and incandescent, illuminating the way in the dark. In my career as a teacher, I have experienced the light of different kinds of stars, equally profound…. Thank you Lucy Calkins for being such a bright beacon for us.”

5C1A1547Following Donohoe’s warm introduction, Calkins took the stage and began her comments by saying that as she has travelled around presenting, she has heard many favorable comments about the Cotsen Foundation for the ART of TEACHING. Calkins added that she views Cotsen’s ART of TEACHING program and Columbia’s Teachers College Reading and Writing Project as sister organizations because the mission and work of the two entities are so closely aligned.

She then went on to issue a call to action for teachers to shift from simply imparting information to students to teaching students how to access, synthesize, organize, and apply information; skills that are particularly important in an age when kids are flooded with information. She also asked teachers to think about what it is that they hold sacred in the teaching of reading. She shared some of her own “non-negotiable” practices in reading instruction, including the idea that reading is a skill that is to be developed in use, that there should always be explicit instruction, that reading should be assessment-based instruction with constant feedback to and from students, that students should be read aloud to everyday, and they should be given time to have daily conversations about their books. Calkins also discussed the importance of having leveled classroom libraries and creating opportunities for kids to have access to books.

Later, Calkins shifted gears and discussed nonfiction reading, noting the importance of orienting students to the text by helping them to think about how the text is organized. Calkins also reviewed writing samples, highlighting the qualities of Opinion writing across grade levels. She went on to caution teachers about the writing they have students do about their reading. The writing should further, not hinder, the understanding of text. Calkins reminded teachers to provide their students with clear, specific feedback, including models for how to improve their writing of reading. The conference came to a close with a resounding standing ovation for Calkins.

morealumni3By day’s end, conference-goers had much to think about and take back to their own classrooms. For Lindsay Light, Cotsen alumna from Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, Calkins’ thoughts on writing were particularly profound. “My biggest take away is that the quality of the writing about reading is far more important than the amount of writing about reading the students are doing.” 

For Alicia Jackson, second-year Cotsen mentor from Culver City Unified School District, seeing Lucy Calkins in person was the true highlight of the day. “Her passion permeates the room. Her desire to do what’s best for kids touches you as she speaks.”

Chris Quirarte, Cotsen alumnus from Whittier City School District, was inspired by the opportunity to learn alongside many like-minded individuals. “Watching hundreds of educational leaders nodding and confirming the multiple messages Lucy was stating, reignites the passion and strengthens the courage to continue to create a focus on reading in our classrooms, in our schools and in our district,” said Quirarte.

First-year Cotsen mentor, Stephanie Guppy from Fullerton School District, summed up what the conference meant to her and her fellows. “Being new to Reading Workshop, we heard Lucy say to commit, and she helped define and clarify some of our questions as we begin workshop.”

“She gave us many words of wisdom,” Guppy continued. “One that resonated with me was, ‘Reading should be core to you. Any reading skill is a life skill.’”

Many Cotsen participants took to Twitter to share their key learning from the event. A popular retweet of the day was Calkins’ idea that teachers’ expectations become their students’ ceiling. See #CotsenLucyDay for the day’s tweets.

whyiteach14Twitter played a major role at Wednesday’s conference, as the foundation hosted a #WHYITEACH storytelling table for Cotsen teachers to use as an opportunity to share via Social Media what it is that motivates and inspires them to teach. The #WHYITEACH project was born out of the Gates Foundation’s Teacher2Teacher community, where hundreds of teachers have been coming together to learn from and inspire each other. Dozens of Cotsen educators participated in the foundation’s #WHYITEACH activity.