reading · slice of life

Digging in the Heels Over a Mentor Text

I’m going into Isabelle’s second-grade classroom tomorrow morning during writing workshop. As a result, I asked her teacher what the kids would be doing so I could make a conferring plan. Isabelle’s teacher informed me the students are coming to the end of their information writing unit of study and that tomorrow’s minilesson is on content-specific language. She told me Isabelle was writing a book about Halloween. However, when I asked Isabelle to tell me what she was working on as a writer, I learned nothing more than what her teacher told me.

Since I knew Isabelle might have a tough time with using technical language to teach about her topic, I grabbed one of my favorite books, The Slug by Elise Gravel, to use with primary writers who are doing informational writing. I’ll never forget how the first class (of first graders) cackled when I read it aloud to them soon after it came out in 2014. I expected Isabelle would love it too.

She didn’t. Isabelle showed her disinterest in the text by refusing to look at the pictures, playing with a small piece of skin on her thumb, and keeping a straight face during the first few pages of the book (even when the slug, himself, uses the word snot). In fact, she seemed perturbed I was making her listen to a book. I was feeling frustrated but didn’t want to show it so I closed the book. I told Isabelle I was going upstairs and when she was ready, I’d be happy to read the book aloud to her.

Moments after retreating upstairs, Ari woke up and I became consumed with his needs. About 20 minutes later, Isabelle appeared in my room.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“What are you sorry for?” I asked.

“I’m sorry I didn’t want to listen to the book you wanted to read to me.”

“I appreciate your apology. But do you understand why I wanted to read that book to you?”

She didn’t. So I explained, again, that it was to help teach her something as a writer. I explained that books, not teachers, help me write better now. I explained how this book was funny and could also teach her how to teach her readers about her topic.

She agreed to go downstairs and try again. I grabbed my phone and took the kids downstairs. As I did, I noticed I had a voicemail from my husband. Odd. He was in his home office. I put the phone to my ear and discovered it was from Isabelle (who had called from our home phone to my cell). Go ahead and read the transcript.


She’d left that message about 10 minutes prior to coming upstairs to apologize in person. I guess she figured out what to apologize for when she didn’t get me on the phone.

I’d like to say everything went well when we got downstairs, but it didn’t. Isabelle tried to employ more stall tactics. Once we finally made it through the book, I went back and quickly reread the pages that contained content-specific language. She didn’t seem to care.


Frustrated — again — I simply told her we’d be looking at the book together in writing workshop tomorrow. She said nothing. I don’t like being ignored, but I know when I’m not wanted too.

I’m armed with my materials for tomorrow morning.

Four hours later, still feeling like I wish our interaction had gone differently, I sat down at my computer and typed up two mentor sentences. It’s my hope she’ll be more agreeable when her peers are in the same room tomorrow. Sometimes peer pressure can be a good thing.

slice of life_individual
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reading · summer reading

Summer Reading Festival

Richard L. Allington’s research left its mark on me when I read What Really Matters for Struggling Readers when I was in graduate school. Perhaps that’s why I’m a  hardcore about insisting Isabelle read independently and be read to (by us) every single day. Exposure to lots of words and books matters!

I drove by the Governor’s Residence on Front Street nearly two weeks ago and saw something about a Summer Reading Festival. I investigated and learned the following:

A Summer Reading Festival at the Governor’s Residence (which I’ve wanted to take a tour of since we moved here)??? Count me in! However, I knew I would have to “sell it” to Isabelle since, as you may remember from earlier posts, reading doesn’t come easily for her. She continues to love being read to, but doesn’t enjoy reading independently. I can’t blame her. I wouldn’t enjoy doing something that was extremely difficult every day either!

Thankfully, an outing — just the two of us during Ari’s naptime — that would potentially include an art project was enough to entice her to attend the Summer Reading Festival.

We arrived around 2:45 p.m., but had more than enough time to complete all of the STEM activities and complete a scavenger hunt around the Residence grounds. On our way out, the librarians tried to entice Isabelle to sign up for their summer reading program. I was convinced she’d say no even when she heard there were prizes.

“What kind of prizes?” she asked. (Thankfully, she didn’t wrinkle her nose when they said books and the possibility of being entered into a drawing for a Kindle.)

“How much does she have to read to earn a prize?” I asked. (I cringed as I asked since I don’t think kids should be reading for prizes. However, if a kid — like mine — lacks intrinsic motivation to read, then sometimes an extrinsic motivator helps.)

“Ten hours,” the librarian said.

“That’s it?!!?” I was surprised.

She nodded.

“Isabelle, remember how we set a goal to read for 1,800 hours this summer when Mrs. H. sent home the optional summer reading log in May?”

Isabelle nodded.

“Do you remember how many hours you’ve already accumulated? We tallied up your progress yesterday.”

“Ugh, I don’t remember.”

“You’ve already read about 400 minutes since we started logging in late May, which is like…” my voice trailed off. I apologized for being a literacy, not a math, person, while I converted minutes to hours. “You’ve already read more than half of what the Library is asking you to read all summer!”

Isabelle smiled.

Moments later, Isabelle signed up for the library’s summer reading program.

On our way out, we experienced the bubbles coming out of MARCO, the library’s mobile van. I think my minivan would be way more cool to drive if it had a bubble machine. 😉

Of course, the legwork for tallying the books we’ve read for the library’s summer reading program will fall to me. Thankfully, the library uses an app, Beanstalk, to help.


Here’s a peek at Beanstalk, which is quite user-friendly. Every day, when Isabelle finishes reading two just-right books, one of us reads a nonfiction book (that she chooses) to her. Here’s a look at some of the titles we’ve recently finished.

What’s really good is that when Marc asked Isabelle about her day (when they were writing in her line-a-day memory book at bedtime tonight), she told him a lot about the Summer Reading Festival. I’m thrilled that she not only said she had a good time, but decided to write about it in her memory book as well.

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Jewish · reading · slice of life

Charts, Charts, & More Charts

Adon Olam à la Hamilton
The verses are in blue, the chorus (or is it a refrain) is in red, and the repeated words are in purple.

Have you ever spent hours making charts only to finish and wonder:

Will these help kids?

Are these charts meaningful? 

I spent three hours making charts this afternoon. My hand hurts. But I’m hopeful the charts I created will be useful.

This school year, my friend Jenny and I are leading Junior Congregation Shabbat Services at our synagogue. Our mission: to make attending synagogue fun. Our daughters — both of whom are in first grade — got into a funk about attending Saturday morning services last year. As a result, we talked about taking action in the form of volunteering to lead Junior Congregation for our synagogue’s Kindergarteners through fourth graders. Granted, neither of us has done this sort of thing before. However, Jenny grew up attending Jewish day school and I have taught elementary school. Between the two of us, we should be able to handle leading Saturday morning services for children, right?

My daughter is an emerging reader in both English and Hebrew. However, I know she often feels uncomfortable trying to follow along in the prayer book. Seeing as other kids might feel the same way, I decided to make charts for every prayer we’re going to do with the kids this Saturday. I’m hoping to have time to add some relevant clip art to each of them before Saturday so that there’s a visual representation of each prayer’s meaning.

There was some joy during my afternoon of chart making. Jenny & I decided we’re going to sing the song “Adon Olam” to the tune of “You’ll Be Back” from “Hamilton.” I went a little overboard when creating that chart (so much so that I’m going to have to tack it to the wall since it’s too long for an easel). While I doubt our first go of it will be as joyful as it was in the video (below), I’m hoping the kids will take to it. It’s one both Isabelle and Jenny’s daughter love since it’s upbeat!

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ocular motor dysfunction · reading · slice of life · vision therapy

Trust Your Gut.

Anyone who knows me well knows I’ve been making decisions by listening to my gut for the past decade. Every time (except for one) I haven’t listened to my gut, I’ve regretted it.

My gut told me something more was at-play with Isabelle who has been having reading difficulties. Despite hiring a tutor and buying Elephant and Piggie books for at-home reading practice, my gut told me there was a bigger problem well-before Isabelle declared “I hate reading!” in late June.

Last year, Isabelle’s occupational therapist informed me she was having trouble with visual perception. Upon her recommendation, I subscribed to Puzzle Buzz and helped her with the hidden pictures pages. I thought she was making progress, but my gut still told me something was up. However, after she passed her most recent eye exam with 20/15 eyesight, I told the optometrist about the visual perception issues and trouble with reading. The optometrist referred me to a vision therapy specialist who we saw in mid-August. It was my hope I was spending money just to rule something out.

Nothing was ruled out. Instead, a diagnosis of Ocular Motor Dysfunction was given. I cried despite being happy my gut was correct — again. The treatment for OMD meant weekly vision therapy sessions and nightly vision therapy homework. The eye doctor reassured me that diagnosing this now would help Isabelle as she progressed in school. I continued to cry so she handed me a cheat sheet about OMD. Upon reading it, I quickly realized my six-year-old could be an OMD poster child.

I waited until the school year was underway for Isabelle to start vision therapy. She had her first session yesterday. This afternoon, I mapped out what our afternoon would look like:

After School Schedule
Click on the image to enlarge.


This doesn’t look horrible, right? I’m hoping it isn’t. In fact, the first, second, and fourth activities actually look fun. (The third one is tedious. I tried it myself. It’s challenging!)


The third activity requires Isabelle to put on colored lenses that block out one eye at a time. She has to place dots in the center of each shape. (There are ~200 shapes in all.)


We’ll get through the vision therapy homework — and everything else — this afternoon. I’m more nervous about what happens three weeks from now. You see, in three weeks, Isabelle will begin having nightly homework. She’s been dreading it because she thinks it’ll be too hard. Now that I’ve created a schedule for how her afternoons will go, I am dreading it, too, since it means she’ll have virtually no free time after school. She’s six. That’s not okay. Kids need unstructured time to play after being in school for a full day.

I’ve been chatting with some of my TWT colleagues about homework for a while now. I’ve also been reading articles — scholarly and popular — about homework in the past six months. I plan to share some of my thinking about the impact of homework in the elementary grades soon. For now, please send positive vibes. It’s my hope vision therapy will be the key to helping my daughter become a confident and successful reader!

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accomplishments · OBSERVATIONS · reading · slice of life

Glimmer of Hope

Isabelle's reading tutor worked with her on Friday morning. Saturday got away from us and we didn't read together. (i.e., She was read to, but she didn't practice reading aloud.) Yesterday morning, I knew I had a battle ahead since the day after her reading tutor comes is always the trickiest practice day (since we have a new lesson to review). With every subsequent day, the Orton-Gillingham practice pages get easier. However, the day after is always — always — a challenge.

I poured myself extra coffee at breakfast. Once the bottom of the cup was in sight, I asked Isabelle, who was playing in the next room, "Do you want to read now or five minutes from now?"

"Five minutes from now!" she called back.

Of course.

I finished the last few ounces of coffee, knowing I would need as much energy as possible to get through our session. Not only were the Orton-Gillingham practice pages new, we were also starting a new Elephant & Piggie book.

When the five minute timer rang on my iPhone, I pushed myself back from the kitchen table, inhaled deeply, and called to Isabelle, "it's time to read together!"

As we settled in on the couch beside each other, I asked myself some questions:

* What if I didn't harp on her about keeping her tracker finger straight and underneath every single word?
* What if Iowered my voice every time she raised her voice in frustration?
* What if I hugged her and kissed her cheeks every time she thrashed her legs when the words tricked her?
* What if I didn't mention she was making reading take a long time by complaining?

I tried all of those things yesterday. I praised her as much as I always did, but gave her extra attention, in the form of love, every time she got frustrated with something in the binder. (She is practicing voiced th words this week — and it's HARD for her to say and read —
so there was lots of frustration!)

After five minutes of her usual antics, the amount of frustrated outbursts decreased. I think Isabelle had no idea of what to make of her mommy who was approaching the reading session as less of a teacher and more of, dare I say it, a loving mother.

By the time we finished the Orton-Gillingham practice pages, we decided to take a break before starting Let's Go for a Drive! Once we started the book, there were almost no complaints (except for one time when she got annoyed because I insisted she use her tracker finger on the page to help her reread accurately after two miscues of the word "the.")!

Yesterday was a small reading victory. Tomorrow might not go as well as yesterday went. But when your child struggles with reading, you'll take whatever glimmers you can get.

reading · slice of life

The Worst Words You Can Say to Me

Isabelle gave me a gut-punch on Saturday without ever laying a hand on me. We were in the middle of practicing the binder pages her tutor gave her. She was growing increasingly frustrated. That’s when she finally exclaimed, “I hate reading!” It took everything in me not to break down in tears.

About an hour later, I talked to her about books being wonderful things that teach us things and take us to new places. I acknowledged that I know reading is hard for her right now. I discussed having a different mindset.  I encouraged her to say “Reading is hard for me right now,” rather than “I hate reading!”

While I haven’t heard the words “I hate reading!” since Saturday morning, Isabelle’s declaration has continued to nauseate me every time I’ve thought of her making that declaration.  Of course, she detests reading practice. She mixes up words — possibly because she’s not seeing them correctly. On Sunday, which was a slightly better practice session, she saw the word Look and couldn’t figure out what it was (despite reading the word look several times that morning) and declared, “This word is trying to trick me!”

This morning, we snuggled under a blanket on the couch for our practice session. She brought her beloved teddy bear, aptly named Teddy, who read some of the words for her. We set a timer and discovered she could get through her three binder pages and two books in under 16 minutes. She was pretty pleased with herself when she realized it didn’t take that long to practice.

The first of three practice pages.
Reading a just-right book.
I use a stopwatch (and graphs) to help Isabelle see how long it takes to practice reading. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a relatively short amount of time.
The reading specialist from Isabelle’s school provided her with a bag of books and activities to do over the summer. While I’m not a fan of the activities that correspond with the books, Isabelle liked the idea of filling in the names of the books she has been able to read on her own. Seeing we’re less than two weeks into summer vacation, I have a feeling I’m going to need to create additional sheets like this so she can track the books she’s read independently over the summer.

I’ve been turning to educators like Deb Frazier and Tammy Mulligan for advice on how to get through this rough patch in Isabelle’s reading life. Therefore, I wanted to publicly thank them for their support. If you have any other words of wisdom, please share them in the comments below. I want my daughter to love reading on her own as much as she loves being read to. (And thank goodness she still loves to be read to every day!)

read aloud · reading · slice of life

Questioning Myself (as the Parent of an Emerging Reader)

Every afternoon, after Isabelle gets off of the bus, washes her hands, and eats a snack, we read together. She’s comfortable reading books like this:

But she wants to read Elephant and Piggie books. I have a feeling it’s because many of her peers are reading E&P books independently. A few weeks ago, her teacher and I discussed her taking home I Am Going, which is an E&P book. After a lot of support from me (and about three weeks), Isabelle was able to read I Am Going independently. (I have a feeling a lot of it was memorized due to the repetition.)

Tricky Words Flash Cards
Six weeks have passed since our initial foray into reading E&P books together. We’re about ten or so days into our third one, Happy Pig Day. This one is harder than the previous ones we’ve read since it contains more complex words Isabelle hasn’t encountered yet. Therefore, I made flash cards for Gerald’s part, which is the part she’s chosen to read in this book. We review them prior to each reading of Happy Pig Day.

Here’s a peek into her reading aloud from Happy Pig Day today.

Not bad, right? I cannot tell how much is memorized, but I do know she is self-correcting when she misreads, so that’s a positive thing. 

If I’m being honest with myself, I know this book is too challenging for her right now. However, I believe motivation is crucial, which is why I’m allowing her to read this with a high amount of support from me. Therefore, we’ll continue reading the eight-page books her teacher sends home, as well as the E&P books she wants to read. And, I’ll probably keep second-guessing myself every day.

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picture books · reading · slice of life

Picture Books to Weather the Storm

We’ve been hit by the blizzard (aka: Stella). What do you do to keep a six-year-old from climbing the walls on a day like this? There are only so many TV shows I’ll let her watch or crafts she’ll want to do.

An idea came to me after reading the lovely comments I received from so many of you after yesterday’s blog post I shared.

“Isabelle!” I called.


“I have an idea of something we can do together today.”

“What?” she asked.

“Would you like to build a fort in the great room? We can turn on the fireplace and read picture books together. I’ll read to you.”

Her face lit up. “Yes! I want to!”

I thought of a tweet I saw from the Anne Arundel Public Library:

“What if we read one book for every inch of snow that’s fallen on the ground?”

“Okay. How much snow do we have?” she asked.

I texted my neighbor who I knew would know. Within minutes I found out we had 17 inches! (That was at 11 a.m.)

“17 inches so far. So we’ll read 17 picture books. What do you think?”

“Good,” she replied.

“I have stacks of review copies I need to read in my office. What if I bring them in here and you select the ones you’d like me to read to you?”

“I like that,” she said.

I brought in piles of picture books and let Isabelle select the ones she wanted me to read to her. Next, we built the fort with blankets, chairs, and heavy-duty clips. (BTW: This is the best fort we’ve ever made thanks to the newly-installed baby gate around the fireplace in our great room.) Isabelle placed pillows on the floor. Then, the two of us crawled in beside each other. (We left Ari in our view, but we didn’t let him inside. We figured he’d pull down the blankets.)

Our fort filled with books.
So far our favorite book has been A River by Marc Martin. The language is beautiful as are the illustrations. (I won’t disclose the titles of the ones we didn’t like.) Each of us gave it a thumbs-up!We’re taking a break so she can watch an episode of “Super Why” while Ari sleeps (and I write). More books to come soon!

We’re taking a break right now so she can watch an episode of “Super Why” while Ari naps (and I write). More books to come shortly!

**** Update: 3/14/17 at 11:15 p.m. ***

We read 19 books since we got 19 inches of snow. Here were some of the 19, which got a 👍🏼 from Isabelle and me.

reading · slice of life

I Wish You More

Amy Krouse Rosenthal is a fantastic children’s picture book author. We’ve come to love many of her books, especially I Wish You More, in our house. (In case you missed Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s recent Modern Love essay in The New York Times, then you’ll want to read it now before you read the rest of this post. In fact, you should click on the link NOW because I don’t want to be the one to deliver bad news to you if you’re a fellow AKR fan. Warning: Have tissues nearby when you read her essay.)

In an effort to pay tribute to Rosenthal before cancer takes her from this Earth, Chronicle Books is encouraging their patrons to share what we wish for those we care for in the spirit of Rosenthal’s picture book (I Wish You More).

As soon as I finished the Chronicle Books piece, I rushed to my computer and printed the I WISH YOU MORE card. I knew exactly who I wanted to give it to and the message I wanted to send. However, it took me awhile to find the right words.

For those who don’t know, my daughter was diagnosed with Childhood Apraxia of Speech, or CAS, when she was 27 months old. In the almost four years since her diagnosis, she has learned to speak beautifully. While there are times when she still struggles to get her words out, those instances are fewer than they were in the past.

What you may not know is that 30-40% of kids who are diagnosed with CAS are later diagnosed with language-based learning disabilities. While I’ve been told a formal diagnosis of Dyslexia is usually not made second-grade (because one needs to see a child is two years behind grade-level), there are tests that can often show the writing is on the wall for having a language-based learning disability.

Unfortunately, the writing is on the wall for my kiddo. As a mother and a literacy specialist, it makes me sad. (It makes me lots of other things too, but I’m going with sad this morning.)

Today, my kiddo begins working with two new people. One is a school-based reading specialist who will pick her up with one other peer to provide assistance with things like rhyming. The other person is a private reading tutor we’ve hired to work with our daughter. She’ll be using the Orton-Gillingham sequence with her. It is our hope that with early support, we’ll be able to avoid a Dyslexia diagnosis once she’s in second grade.

Last night, before I retired to my bedroom, I left the little lady a card on her placemat. I made sure I was downstairs when she sat down for breakfast. (My husband usually gives her breakfast.) I asked her if she knew what it said. She read the first three words, but got stuck on the fourth word: wish. Rather than frustrate her by asking her to use her strategies to figure out the word wish, I read the card to her. Despite the lump in my throat, I held back tears and explained what my words meant.

I told her I know reading is hard for her.

I told her new people would be working with her today.

I told her she’d be missing class — twice — to work with these new people. (She balked and I gently reminded it will help her.)

I told her these people would help her learn new strategies to figure out tricky words, like wish, so she could be a more confident reader.

I told her she would learn how to become a brave reader.

I told her I’d be here to help at home.

After we finished our talk, she ate breakfast. I asked her if she wanted me to put the card in her backpack. She said yes.

Later, when I buckled her into her seat to go to school, I asked her, “What are you going to do with the card?” I figured she’d tell me she’d keep it in her backpack.

“I’m going to put it in my cubby,” she replied.

I smiled. I hope she looks at it when she gets frustrated. I hope she looks at it when she feels like it’s hard. I hope she looks at it and remembers to try things even when she’s afraid to say the wrong thing.

As a person who is trained to work with young readers and writers, it’s hard to step aside to let someone else help my kid. However, as my daughter’s developmental pediatrician told me, I’ve already done so much. If I do any more to help my daughter, I risk ruining our parent-child relationship. And I don’t want that. Therefore, today I am taking a step back and letting other people help her move forward. As a result, I’m wishing myself the courage to let go and see where this takes us.

UPDATED at 12:30 p.m.: About an hour after I hit publish on this post, I learned of Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s passing.

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easy reader · reading · slice of life

Can I Play Too?

This afternoon, Lynne Dorfman and I chatted on the phone about the chapter we’re finishing for our forthcoming book, WELCOME TO WRITING WORKSHOP. Near the end of our phone call, we began a “SOLSC Eve” conversation. I lamented to Lynne that I’ve been writing about anti-Semitism because it’s been consuming my thoughts. (Click here or here to see why.) I told her, “I don’t want to focus on what’s happening in the news all March long.”

Lynne gave me some straightforward advice. “Keep writing stories about Isabelle and Ari.” She reminded me I need to write about them despite all of the ugliness surrounding us now.

Simple enough, right?

Even though the Challenge begins tomorrow, I typically share the post I wrote on the previous day so I can get up and share first-thing in the morning. (In other words, I’m writing for 32 consecutive days.) So, here goes…

Something happened when Isabelle started Kindergarten. Her teacher began teaching them Everywhere Words (aka: sight words). And just like that, Isabelle began reading. As of today, the kids are up to 50 Everywhere Words, which means Isabelle can read simple books. However, the books she self-selected to bring home weren’t just right. They were safe. They were too easy.

Isabelle’s teacher and I chatted about my concerns. We decided she’d try an Elephant and Piggie Book we didn’t own. I Am Going was the first Elephant and Piggie book that came home from her teacher. It was CHALLENGING for Isabelle. (Thankfully, she was motivated because she enjoys the Elephant and Piggie books.) After a couple of weeks, Isabelle was able to read both Elephant and Piggie’s parts on her own. Therefore, she returned I Am Going to school.

can-i-play-tooWhile we finished up I Am Going, Isabelle’s teacher sent home Can I Play Too? This book frustrates Isabelle since it contains many words that aren’t on the list of Everywhere Words she has mastered. As a result, I read the Elephant and Snake’s parts and she reads Piggie’s part.

But today, something wonderful happened… and I don’t think Isabelle realized what she did. Today, Isabelle read several of Snake’s speech bubbles on her own! And when I say read them, I mean she put her finger under the first letter in each word as she went through each of the sentences. This happened without prompting. Isabelle read several of Snake’s speech bubbles and flowed right into Piggie’s speech bubbles. And I couldn’t be prouder of her!

I acknowledge this book is challenging for Isabelle, which is why we’re focusing solely on it this week. Perhaps, if I don’t push too much, she’ll read a few more of Elephant or Snake’s speech bubbles when we practice reading tomorrow.

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