A Retrospective: VCR’s May 2015 Conference with Lucy Calkins and Katherine Paterson by Kathryn Maitland

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On a beautiful spring day, almost 500 educators from all parts of Vermont and from surrounding states gathered in Burlington to learn more about reading and writing with the Common Core State Standards from Lucy Calkins and Katherine Paterson. Lucy Calkins is the Richard Robinson Professor of Children’s Literature at the Teachers College at Columbia University, the Director of the Literacy Specialist Program, and the Founding Director of the Reading and Writing Project. Katherine Paterson is a renowned Vermont author who has written award-winning books such as Bridge to Terabithia and The Great Gilly Hopkins. The agenda for the day included a keynote address and workshop session from Lucy Calkins in the morning and a keynote address from Katherine Paterson in the afternoon. Before the afternoon keynote address, two Vermont educators were recognized for their accomplishments. Nancy Woods received the Lyman C. Hunt Award for promoting a better understanding of reading instruction for other educators. Angela Yakovleff received the John Poeton Award for the classroom teacher who enthusiastically promotes reading and writing. John Poeton was at the conference to present the award.

Calkins’ keynote address, “High Leverage Methods for Lifting the Level of Students’ Reading: Reaching Toward Common Core State Standards,” was delivered with energy, liveliness, and humor. She focused on how educators can accelerate students’ reading by collaborating. Calkins emphasized that teachers need to reflect together at the end of the year and then change their practices where necessary. In order to do this, educators need to create a supportive community. She suggested one way to build this community is to read children’s literature together. Calkins emphasized that teachers should be reading children’s books in the same way that is expected of their students, according to the standards in the Common Core. Students need to be able to dissect texts and read as writers. Calkins gave educators multiple ways to improve reading instruction for the higher-level reading concepts in the Common Core.

Calkins’ workshop session, “Lifting the Level of Student Writing,” focused on writing instruction and the Common Core. She emphasized the importance of having a specific writing time during the day when writing skills are taught. Calkins explained that students need to learn how to write different genres and how to identify which type of writing they should use. She suggested that teachers work together as a team and each become an expert on one type of writing. Then teachers can share their knowledge about writing with each other, instead of feeling overwhelmed with teaching multiple types of writing. To illustrate different types of writing that are expected in the Common Core, Calkins showed and read examples of students’ work. These examples helped show the result of great writing instruction.

Paterson’s keynote address, “The Child Left Behind”, was delivered with warmth and emotion as she modestly spoke about her books and being an author. The title of her speech was fitting because she explained that most of her books were about the child left behind. To illuminate this point, Paterson shared stories with the audience about where her ideas for some of her books came from. She also spoke about what it was like being an author. Paterson explained that she never talked about a book while she wrote it. When she was finally ready to share a draft with someone 1 to 3 years after she started writing the book, Paterson explained that it was hard for her because she wanted to know what the reader thought of the book right away! Paterson ended her address by reading a touching part of Bridge to Terabithia, which had many educators in the room tearing up. All conference attendees left deep in thought with ideas to lift the level of reading instruction with their colleagues, ways to better teach writing, and great appreciation for amazing authors.





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