Slice of Life: Reflections from a Writer

March 31, 2010

Over the course of this March month, I have been reflecting on my writing more than I have in a while.  I appreciated this slice of life challenge, as I have learned much about being a writer. Thank you, Ruth and Stacey, for hosting the challenge.  I needed a boost.

Some thoughts from me, the writer:

I have more empathy for students with writer’s block.

  • I remember on day ten sitting down at the computer and feeling like I had nothing to write about.  An idea would come to mind, and I would think, “I already wrote about that.”  Another idea would come and I wondered, “How do I start?”  The empty screen was a bit overwhelming.  I actually chuckled because I could visualize students having the same struggle or hearing “I don’t know what to write about.”

I have learned to press on even when my mind is being critical of what I’m writing.

  • I would begin to write something and think, “That doesn’t sound very exciting.  You need to change your wording.”  I often was almost fearful of writing because I didn’t have enough time to revise and play with my thoughts.  I didn’t want anyone to think that I wasn’t a good writer.  I was worried that the posts would be boring to my readers.  Now, although I still have those thoughts creeping in, I’ve learned to push them away and write.  If I don’t write, how will I ever improve?  Besides many of the slices were for me, capturing a memory for forever.

I have learned that audience does help motivate the writer.

  • I appreciated everyone who commented about my posts.  The encouragement helped fuel me.  With a deeper understanding, I see how sharing helps children to energize with their writing.   I can make kids famous, but the act of sharing their work with someone empowers them to be more independent and driven.

I have learned that it’s okay to read something to get an idea to write about.

  • I practice using books to springboard ideas for writing, but through this SOL Challenge, I have learned that I connect with others through reading their posts.  I form an opinion or agreement with the writing that spurs my own writing.  I see the importance of allowing children to ask their friends what they are writing about and listen to them to gain ideas.  Sometimes you need to write about the same topic.  It’s the act of writing that is the most important.  Ideas will come.

I have learned that if I want to write, I must make it a priority.

  • I have struggled with making time for writing.  I enjoy doing it, but with the demands of three children and a full-time job, time is precious.  I used the challenge as an excuse, “I have to post before I go to bed.  It’s my turn to use the computer.”  My family supported me in my efforts.  Now, I must continue to carve out time – intentionally – to write.  How else am I going to improve?

I have learned to be more in tune with my observations and surroundings.

  • Because I was looking for something to write about each day, I found the idea.  I noticed things happening around me that I would not have thought to write about.  The baseball banter was one example.  I hadn’t thought about the words being poetic, but now I can’t help but notice.  I can teach my students to notice more by sharing my SOL posts.

I have learned that I can write poetry.

  • Poetry is not my favorite genre.  I find it hard to rhyme and make the writing sound like music.  I pushed myself through the SOL Challenge and tried free verse poetry.  I like it.  I like that I can take phrases and play with them to make a poem.  I have a better grasp on how to teach it to my students and show them how to create poetry.

I have learned that even tough subjects can be written about.

  • I posted a difficult experience that my daughter went through.  The appointment had been set for almost two weeks and my mind had been on it.  I wanted to share my feelings yet would back away; my thoughts were too real.  By writing, I found the good in the experience.  I will remember the specialness because of capturing it through the written word.  I can help children to see that writing doesn’t always have to be about a pleasant topic.  Writing can be therapy too.

I have learned that I feel closer to my family and friends through writing.

  • By writing, I expose myself even more.  I can explain some thoughts clearer through the written word than through talking.  I can grasp ideas and share something special with my family and friends.  I have learned that several teachers are willing to write a special memory after reading mine.  Because my writing is not lofty and actually rather practical, they feel like they can write too.

I have learned that I am a better writer by reading others writings.

  • I would read different posts and would see phrasing that I liked.  I would fall in love with certain word structure and visual pictures the authors would use.  I would then try it in my own writing.  Writing and reading is like practicing for a sport or musical instrument – the more you practice, the more tricks you can learn.

I have learned much by writing daily for the Slice of Life Challenge.  I must continue to learn by practicing the skill frequently.  I am a writer.


Slice of Life: First Grade Notebooks

March 25, 2010

A first grade teacher, Mrs. F, and I have been collaborating this year in writing.  Independence is not a natural attribute for first  graders.  sols2You have to guide and model and gradually release time for the little guys to be independent.  Using the timer, Mrs. F would set a goal with the class on how much time they could write in a quiet workshop setting.  They began with 3 minutes, then 4, and now the kids will beg for 30 minutes to write.  Mrs. F will receive several “ahhhh, I’m not finished” when writer’s workshop is coming to a close.

Sustaining the independence is our challenge at hand.  The children seem to be able to write when they have a topic in mind, one that they love and are interested in.  Lately, the children seem to have writer’s block and finding topics to write about has been a frequent topic.

We decided to try some type of writer’s notebook for first grader.  We copied lined paper, front and back, and placed 20 sheets in a 3 pronged folder.  Then, modeling our ideas, we showed them how to capture their ideas.  We made a page for family, pets, places we like to go, activities we like to do, friends, and things we wonder about.  I modeled how on each page, I had listed some words with some ideas behind each.

Our goal is to help the children have a place to keep their ideas.  Mrs. F has some kids that are very inquisitive and daily are showing her what they are reading about.  They will write, or sketch,  their thoughts on sticky notes.  Some of the students chose to have some pages to put their sticky notes.  We are finding that the children are gathering their ideas.  Now, they are first graders.  These notebooks are not like a fourth graders, but it’s a start.  We want them to see that they can gather ideas throughout the day and have a place to hold them.

I appreciate the fact that Mrs. F wanted to try something different, to help lift their writing at this time of year.  We are experimenting and at least for now, the excitement in the class has lifted.  It’s like a breath of fresh air.


Slice of Life: A Kindergarten Writing Conference

March 23, 2010

I’ve been working in a kindergarten writing class.  I so admire Kinder teachers – such patience.

Our kindergarten students are working on a nonfiction All About unit.  One particular boy was writing about the farm he lives on.  J is a bright child with a wealth of knowledge.  For a five-year old, he can write with detail about a small moment in time.  I was a little surprised then with what he had written.  J had five tractors, all painted in different colors.

“J, what are you writing about?” I asked.

“Tractors,” he said so matter-of-factly.

“Wow.  I like your colors.  What are you trying to teach your audience?” I asked, looking at his pictures.

“That they can be different colors.”

My mind was wondering if he planned to tell about different manufacturers, as there wasn’t much meat to the piece.

“Well, this is a green tractor.  It has headlights.  This one is red.  It has headlights.  This one is yellow.  It has headlights.”  I restrained a chuckle.

“So what information are you teaching us in your All About Book?”

“Colors.”

I smiled.  So honest.  His teacher had warned me that J did not want to revise.  Colored tractors was his plan.  Adding the part about headlights was an accomplishment.  Recognizing J’s contentedness with his piece, I did not want to hurt his feelings.  Yet, I knew his potential was so much more.  “Forming the question to grasp that willingness was the challenge I was faced with.)

“J, how do you know about tractors?” I asked, hoping to ignite some idea.

“I ride with my dad in the field.”

“Oh, so you’re an expert on what tractors can do?”  My eyes were looking at J intently, excited about his knowledge.

“Yep.”

“Could you share some with me?”  My mind was wanting J to share from the heart, to know that he had information to extend to his fellow audience.  If only he would be willing to take a risk.

J began to share his background knowledge.  “Oh, you plow with a tractor.  You can plant.  You can ride your tractor.  You can disc with a tractor,” he replied looking frankly at me.

I pointed to his first tractor.  “So this tractor can plow?”  J nodded.

Pointing to the next page, I asked, “What can this one do?”

“It can plant.”  I nodded with understanding.

“How about this one?”  I said turning the page.

“It can disc.”

“Wow J, you have a lot of information to share with your audience.  Your all about book is about teaching your audience something.  Will you write that information down for us?”  I said with a nudge.

Off J went.  He still had his colored tractors but he lifted his work with so much more information.  I sat watching him, marveling at how children process.  They have a plan.  Sometimes they need a nudge to make the plan go farther.  Sometimes they need appreciation for the attempt they have tried.  In both cases, each child needs someone who looks at them intently, leaning on every word they say.

Today that person was me.


Slice of Life: Writing Tips

March 20, 2010

I heard Denise Brennan-Nelson speak today at the Michigan Reading Conference.  She is the author of Willow and My Daddy Likes to Say, plus several others.  Denise spoke  about what writers do to help them write.  Keeping a journal or notebook helps with gathering ideas.  She showed an old journal; it was her husband’s maternal grandmother.  She considers it the best book she has read.  The memories shared are priceless.  Denise has her family keep a gratitude journal.  With children, she encourages them to write down one good thing from each day.  I thought this was a great idea.  I think I’m going to try a family journal with my family.  I want to remember the specialness that molds us.  With the economic difficulties on our family, this journaling will be a good reminder for us.  We have much to be thankful for!

Denise Brennan-Nelson also encourages children to ask questions.  She said that questioning is probably the best way to begin writing.  Children often ask questions when they are young.  We need to teach them to embrace the questions and use them as ideas to write about.  I know we teach questioning while reading.  We need to teach questioning with observing.  Denise will ask children to go look for three new things before the next morning.  By noticing, we begin to observe our world more.  I know Ralph Fletcher has shared that ideas can pop out during a walk.  If I have my own classroom next year, I want to have an observation window in my classroom.  Georgia Heard shared the observation window idea as a poetry exercise.

Using our imaginations is the other pointer that Denise stated that helps with writing.  She said that due to technology, our children do not always engage their imaginations as much.  Denise started her presentation by sharing that everyone has a story to tell.  Write from your heart about what you know and throw in some imagination.  A story blooms.  I love it.

Denise began and ended her session by saying, “Thinking long, at the end of the school year, what do you want your students to accomplish?”

To write with clarity, from their hearts.


Wishes

November 2, 2009

I was browsing through books in the Half-Price Bookstore and came across this book, The Wishing Chair.  I was not familiar with the author.  Reading the book jacket and then reading part of the text, I realized that this book would be good mentor text with gathering ideas for writing.  Often children do not think about using their daydreams as possible writing ideas.  I also wanted to show that you can find great ideas in most any book.

The Wishing Chair is Rick Dupre’s first book (1993).  He shares on the book jacket that he had a wishing place as a child.  He spent time pretending with his siblings, the basis for the book.

Young boy, Eldon, spends time with his grandmother.  For entertainment, Eldon fantasizes.  He fantasizes that the yard is a jungle in the African safari, exploring animals.  Inside the house, Eldon fantasizes that the green cushions become boats in the alligator infested swamp.  What fun!

Grandma is always around, sewing, singing, or sharing stories.  She would have Eldon sit in the wishing chair.  In the wishing chair, Eldon would hear her stories about famous African-Americans and dream about making a difference.

Later in life, when Grandma is moving from her house, Eldon stops to reflect on his childhood memories.  He realizes these African-Americans are heroes, paving the way for his dreams of college and a career.

Savorings for reading and in writing for The Wishing Chair:

  • Imagination – “Granny’s yard was perfect for a game of Captain Explorer.”
  • Sensory Setting – “Teh smell of her peonies was sweet in the heavy summer air.
  • Passage of Time – “As Eldon grew older,…
  • Simile – “a hug with her round warm -as-a-quilt arms
  • Family Stories – “Granny’s little house was overflowing with wonderful memories.”
  • Day Dreams – ideas for writing
  • Civil Rights Movement – brief history of famous African-Americans

Happy 1 Year Anniversary

October 13, 2009

BookSavors began a year ago today.  Wow!  I’m amazed.  When my dear friend, Ruth, encouraged me to begin writing about  books, I didn’t foresee today.  I only thought of my beginning.  I needed to get started.   The first step seemed to be the hardest.  Writing is risk-taking, and I thank you, my audience, for being a part of this.  You have encouraged me to continue writing.  By writing, I have learned a lot about myself as an author.  Some days, the words flow.  Other days, I feel like I’m repeating myself.  And even other days, I hit writer’s block.  I reach high levels of euphoria and lower levels struggling with time.  This year has been an adventure, a true learning experience that has stretched me.

I am curious.  What books have been a favorite for you? Share with me by commenting.  I’d really appreciate hearing from you.

I look forward to this next year, finding more treasures in books and savoring each along the way.


Hello School Year

August 11, 2009

August 11 and the new year has begun.  Tomorrow the students will be entering the school doors full of energy.

Today, I was asked for several books to help begin the year.  As I have rearranged some of my books, I had to search a little for some of the books.  I made a mental note to share an idea.  Earlier in July, I shared about copying the cover of a book and placing it in your file – with the location of the book for reference.  Today, I was reminded that sometimes you need to make several copies of the book cover.

For example, one book was The Night Before KindergartenThe Night Before KindergartenFirst I went to my cumulative tale section of books.  Not there.  I proceeded to my pattern book section.  Not there.  Easy reader section.  Not there.  School books section.  Not there.  Then, I remembered that Natasha Wing was the author and checked in my authors file drawer.  Not there.  By this time, I’m trying to rack my brain as to where the book could be.  Nothing is more frustrating that knowing you have the book and then not locating it.

After a prayer and a sigh, I decided to check my writing file drawer and see if I might have placed it in a folder labeled “Night Before” books, as Natasha Wing has written several.  Sure enough.  There was the book.  Along with the book was the cover of several other books that were in different files (i.e.  Night Before Valentine’s Day is in the February folder).   Although I do not teach lessons on how-to-make a “Night Before” book, I decided to put the folder there because it was a frame of reference.

I share this experience to remind you that as you begin the school year, remember to make several copies.  We have so many components to keep track of in our day.  Placing the book in the bin that you think for sure you’ll remember – may work today but not necessarily tomorrow.  So… make extra copies of the cover and place it in several files.  I even went and placed the copied cover in the bin with the books that I might think it should be in.  Having the reference will definitely help save you time in the future!


Spelling

July 24, 2009

Robin Pulver and Lynne Rowe Reed collaborate (again) to create a wonderful text that helps teach a complex spelling skill.  In Silent Letters Loud and Clear, the font and characters show how many English words have a silent letter.  As the story is being told, the silent letters are outlined and not filled in.  For example, in the word ‘one’, the ‘e’ is shown with an outlined font.

“Practice, practice, practice!  Good spellers are made, not born!” said Mr. Wright.

Lynne Rowe Reed captures the attention of children with her vivid cartoon figures.  Even the text is in different shades.  I definitely believe this book can increase the retention of spelling silent-lettered words.

Silent Letters Loud and Clear

 

When the children complain how difficult spelling is, their teacher, Mr. Wright, suggests they should write a letter to the editor.  As they finish, the silent letters decide they will do away and the letter to the editor becomes a disaster.

Savorings for reading and in writing for Silent Letters Loud and Clear:

  • Letter to the editor – the children receive a response to their email
  • Persuasion
  • Spelling – importance of practice
  • Silent letters – final e, k, w, gh, b, p, a, l, h
  • Personification – the mixture of an everyday happening (school) with a non-living objects (letters)  becoming characters

Also check out these other books by Robin and Lynne:


Favorite Room in the House

July 19, 2009

Home holds many memories.  Stories can come alive from those memories.  Let’s Go Home:  the Wonderul Things about a House is a spring of ideas to help your kids.  You can use this text to reference throughout the year from  kinder to high school.

One way to introduce the book is to just read the text without showing the illustrations.  Cynthia Rylant invites the reader to remember.  Kids could bring their notebooks to the rug and after reading about a particular room, they could jot down stories ideas they recall from their home.  You could do this over a week’s time, only reading a couple of rooms at a time.  I would use this book when conferencing as well.

And if ever a kitchen is the most perfect place in the world to be, it is when cookies are being baked.

Believe it or not, a bathroom can be the most interesting room in a house.

Wendy Anderson Halperin illustrates the book with such detail that using an Elmo to enlarge the pictures would be an added touch to your lesson.  My eyes cannot help but wander through her illustrations; they are so inviting.  With the many details, more ideas come to mind.  Wendy definitely was able to weave Cynthia’s words into her paintings, bringing the text even more vivid to the reader’s mind.

Savorings for reading and writing for Let’s Go Home:

  • Everyday happenings
  • Mapping – have the kids map their home, yard, favorite place, neighborhood; have them focus on one room and enlarge that setting.  You could extend this activity to the school setting for more ideas.
  • Setting Lead – “It is evening and the crickets are singing…let’s go to the PORCH.”
  • Feelings – “In a kitchen, people will pat each other on the back, ….  It is the room that reminds people to look after each other.”
  • Voice – Cynthia talks to the reader, inviting him/her to recall or to see

Imaginative Stories

July 12, 2009

Nancy Carlson invites young readers to use their imaginations to share creative stories in her book, Henry’s Amazing Imagination! Henry loves to share stories during show and tell time in class.  Due to Henry exaggerating the truth, his teacher suggests, “…why don’t you use it to write stories?”  And Henry does. This text is excellent for young writers as Nancy’s illustrations show the importance of large, vivid pictures that enhance the story.

Nancy Carlson writes many books that can be used to help children build themselves up.  She does an excellent job of supporting the writing process in this book.  Henry wants to write his story but is worried about spelling the words.  His teacher asks him to spell the best he can as he gets the ideas written down.  I often tell children this as they are writing.  I’m excited that a book can be used to support the teaching.

Savorings for reading and in writing for Henry’s Amazing Imagination:

  • Visualizing – while Henry shares his stories, the illustrations show the pictures in his mind
  • Ellipses – connects one page to the next
  • School Setting
  • Spelling – Henry’s teacher encourages him to not worry about the spelling while getting the ideas down.  “But…what if I can’t spell all the words?”
  • Notice the dedication – to Peter Carlson