Discover more from Special Education Today by John Wills Lloyd
NY Times reported changes in Lucy Calkins's work on early literacy
Dana Goldstein presented a rich story about the forthcoming version of "Units of Study."
[Reading time: About 2 min]
On 22 May 2022, Dana Goldstein wrote in the New York Times that Lucy Calkins is increasing the emphasis on teaching phonics in her widely adopted early literacy curriculum called “Units of Study.” In her article, “In the Fight Over How to Teach Reading, This Guru Makes a Major Retreat: Lucy Calkins, a leading literacy expert, has rewritten her curriculum to include a fuller embrace of phonics and the science of reading. Critics may not be appeased,” Ms. Goldstein described Ms. Calkins’s changes as a response to learning more about the “science of reading.”
Professor Calkins long championed “balanced literacy,” promoted integration of reading and writing, and helped popularize a view of teaching often called the “workshop model.” She also previously (2018) created a “Units of Study” about phonics to accompany those focused on reading and writing.
Critics expressed concern about Units of Study. Criticism of has come not just from the popular press (Schwartz, 2020) and bloggers (e.g., Vaites, 2020) but also think tanks (Hanford, 2020; Pondicio, 2020) and academics (Adams et al., 20201; Figge & Sass, 2021; Westerlund & Besser, 2021)
Ms. Goldtein (2022) reported some of the criticism as well as interviews with educators and observations about legal developments in telling the story of the change in Professor Calkins’s views.
So after decades of resistance, Professor Calkins has made a major retreat. A rewrite of her reading curriculum, from kindergarten to second grade, includes, for the first time, daily structured phonics lessons to be used with the whole class. There are special books and assessments to track students’ progress with decoding letters.
Ms. Goldstein reported that states have adopted laws regarding early literacy that differ with how Units of Study recommends teaching. She also discussed the “myth of the natural reader” as well as the financial aspects of selling Units of Study and providing support for its use.
There’s a lot packed into her story. It’s worth a read. I think Ms. Goldstein is likely right about critics being unlikely to be appeased. The changes are too little and too late.
Adams, M. J., Fillmore, L. W., Goldenberg, C., Oakhill, J., Paige, D. D., Rasinski, R., & Shanahan, R. (2020). Comparing reading research to program design: An examination of teachers college units of study. https://achievethecore.org/content/upload/Comparing%20Reading%20Research%20to%20Program%20Design_An%20Examination%20of%20Teachers%20College%20Units%20of%20Study%20FINAL.pdf
Calkins, L. (undated). Units of study. Website: https://www.unitsofstudy.com/
Figge, B., & Sass, T. (2021). Impact evaluation of the Lucy Calkins Units of Study program. Georgia State University, Georgia Policy Labs Reports, #20. https://scholarworks.gsu.edu/gpl_reports/20
Goldstein, D. (2022 22 May). In the fight over how to teach reading, this guru makes a major retreat: Lucy Calkins, a leading literacy expert, has rewritten her curriculum to include a fuller embrace of phonics and the science of reading. Critics may not be appeased. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/22/us/reading-teaching-curriculum-phonics.html
Hanford, E. (2020 27 January). Experts say widely used reading curriculum is failing kids. American Public Media. https://www.apmreports.org/episode/2020/01/27/lucy-calkins-reading-materials-review
Pondiscio, R. (2020 22 January). Reader’s workshop: The science denial curriculum. Flypaper, The Education Gadfly. https://fordhaminstitute.org/national/commentary/readers-workshop-science-denial-curriculum
Schwartz, S. (2020). Reading Workshop ‘unlikely to lead to literacy success,’ researchers say. Education Week, 16 January 2020. https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/reading-workshop-unlikely-to-lead-to-literacy-success-researchers-say/2020/01
Vaites, K. (2020, 25 January). Understanding the concerns about Teachers College Reading Workshop [blog post]. Educaites.org. https://eduvaites.org/2020/01/25/understanding-the-concerns-about-teachers-college-reading-workshop/
Westerlund, R., & Besser, S. (2021). Reconsidering Calkins’ process writing pedagogy for multilingual learners: Units of Study in a fourth grade classroom (WCER Working Paper No. 2021-4). University of Wisconsin-Madison, Wisconsin Center for Education Research. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED615004.pdf
To be clear, the Adams et al. report resulted in some of the other stories and posts I’ve cited here.