Our child’s teacher said that she went to a “Lucy Calkins” professional development workshop over the summer and is excited to apply what she learned in our child’s class. Should I be worried about the quality of my child’s education? Also, why do teachers and schools literally buy marketed curriculums? Isn’t a curriculum based in training and educational philosophy and research? Shouldn’t there be flexibility in teaching rather than a subscription to a teaching package?—Underwhelmed by Kindergarten
Depending on who you are, the name Lucy Calkins can inspire either joy or terror. There’s a long New York Times profile of her here, if you’re interested.
The Lucy Calkins debate speaks to the broader shift in how people are thinking about teaching reading. In particular, there has been a sharp shift back toward recognizing the primacy of phonics in teaching kids to read. I talked about this some in Family Firm, and there’s an interview with a reading expert, Emily Solari, in this post. The bottom line from this is that approaches that really lean into phonics have been shown to be much better than approaches that emphasize “balanced literacy” or (much worse) “whole-language reading.”
The shift to phonics-first hasn’t happened everywhere, despite the move in expert opinion. But there have been some notable hints of success where states have moved in that direction (e.g. a series of articles about Tennessee here).
The Lucy Calkins approach has traditionally been less phonics-focused, although her latest revision has leaned back into phonics, as that NYT profile notes. So it’s possible that your child’s teacher got a good dose of phonics learning.
All of this is to say that, as a parent, I wouldn’t worry too much about the particular name of the curriculum as much as the content. If you see phonics — letter sounds, putting letter sounds together, etc. — being taught, that’s what you want to be looking for.
Final note: For the several people who wrote in asking how they can scaffold reading instruction for their own children, two sources for good phonics-based instruction are the Bob Books and Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.