slice of life · writing

A Surprise on My Nightstand #SOL21

I can’t see much clearly until I don my glasses so I was startled when I didn’t have a clear view of my abnormally large digital clock. There was something rectangular on my nightstand. I switched on my lamp and moved in close for a look.

Isabelle must’ve slipped into my room early this morning to return the journal back to me. Tag, I’m it!

I noticed some sticky notes peeking out from the sides of the journal. I reached for my glasses and opened up to the marked pages.

*****

Isabelle and I started the Just Between Us: Mother & Duaghter: The Interactive Journal & Activity Book, by Meredith and Sofie Jacobs, a few days ago. I had received a review copy from Chronicle Books and showed it to her after I opened my mail on Monday. We perused it together. I asked her, “Would you like to do this with me?” I figured she’d say, “Is either answer okay?” which is what she usually says before responding negatively to something she knows I want to do.

But… she surprised me! Isabelle said yes!

We decided I’d start writing and drawing and would return it to her. On Monday evening, I deposited the journal on her nightstand after she was asleep. The next morning, I walked into her room and found her looking really guilty at her desk.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Um… I’m writing in the journal, see?”

I. Was. Shocked.

Isabelle is a striving writer. Even though she agreed to do the journal with me, I didn’t think she’d actually do it. So, I walked out of her room and left her alone.

Sometime on Tuesday afternoon, she returned the journal to me. Tuesday evening and Wednesday were busy. But on Wednesday night, I wrote it in and left it on her nightstand. Isabelle left it on my bed sometime yesterday morning! So, last night, I took the time to respond to some of her writing (on the opposite page) and then left it on her nightstand around 9:30 p.m.

*****

I asked Isabelle to come and talk with me about the journal once she was dressed this morning. She had elected to draw a picture on the page that says

Here’s a drawing of something that scares me.

(Mother, go back and put stickers over the drawing to make it less scary!)

Since the journal is private for us, I won’t share Isabelle’s picture. However, we talked, and then I added some stickers (from the enclosed sticker pages) to her picture to transform the picture into something happy.

Next, I asked, “Do you think we should decorate the cover?”

“Yes! Let’s use some of the stickers,” she replied.

Our new cover!

“Do you like passing this journal back and forth?” I asked.

“I do,” Isabelle replied.

“Well, I better start working on the drawing that scares me so you can make it less scary, shouldn’t I?”

“You should, Mommy.”

*****

If this keeps up, you’ll see a blog post about this journal on Two Writing Teachers soon! (Again, without seeing any interior shots, because it’s private! Not even Marc can peek!)

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COVID-19 · slice of life · writing

Just Another Day

I have no idea what day of the stay-at-home order we are on. (Day 50-something, perhaps?) I think we are nine weeks into our quarantine-schooling adventure, but I am not entirely sure of that either. What I do know is that Isabelle is nearing the end of her second writer’s notebook. That I am sure of!

Today’s writing was inspired by one of Amy LV’s Keeping a Notebook chats. Isabelle wrote about a play date she had with her friend Yael a couple of months after we moved into our house.

While Isabelle orally rehearsed her story, I noticed she was telling about what one person said to another rather than pretending to speak the words aloud. So, I taught into that. I pulled out a mentor text, Kaia and the Bees by Maribeth Boelts, and we looked at how dialogue was used and how it was punctuated.

Isabelle inserted a couple lines of dialogue. She declared she was finished with her entry, which is when I pushed her to write a couple more lines. “What else did Yael’s mom and I say to each other when she picked Yael up from our house?” Like many kids writing about something that happened in the past, Isabelle couldn’t remember the exact words we said. I told her to imagine what we may have said. That freed her up and she was able to include a couple more lines of dialogue.

Dialogue isn’t something one masters in single day. Isabelle worked really hard, but I could tell she will need more lessons on how to craft effective dialogue that advances a story or that to reveals a character’s personality or motivations. However, I was pleased by her efforts to punctuate it like Maribeth Boelts did in Kaia so I decided to take her out for a minivan lunch picnic. Why not? It’s not like we had anything else going on since it was just another day at home.

Isabelle ordered a rainbow grilled cheese sandwich and fruit.
COVID-19 · post-op life · slice of life · writing

Scheduling Change #SOL20

Writing Together

On the first day of quarantine-school, writing did not go well. It took Isabelle an eternity to brainstorm ideas and even longer to get lackluster writing down on the page. She argued with me, groaned repeatedly, and acted as if someone was hurting her. So, the following day, I moved writing time to the morning immediately following read aloud. While her efforts were still labored, she whined a lot less. As a result, I have kept writing time first-thing in the morning.

Today was day eight of quarantine school and writing was downright enjoyable. After we gathered our notebooks, we watched the fourth Keeping Our Notebooks video, which was “The Story of an Object.” After we watched it, I encouraged Isabelle to gather three to five objects from around the house that she could write a story about. She returned with five! Next, I prompted her to orally rehearse what she might write about each one to help her determine which one she’d select to write about. Two of the stories fell flat. One was mediocre. The other two were good. Ultimately, Isabelle decided to write one of the good ones, which she figured she’d be able to write about using action, thinking, dialogue, and description, something Amy Ludwig VanDerwater reminded about in the video.

I encouraged Isabelle to fill two pages in her 5″ x 7″ notebook. I encouraged her to skip lines so she’d have room to edit once she finished.

Five minutes passed. Then ten. I gave her the fish-eye and noticed she was still writing so I continued to write in my notebook too. By the time she finished, she had filled FOUR 5″ x 7″ notebook pages!

I. Was. Floored.

Eight days ago Isabelle behaved like she was tortured because I was making her write. Today, she seemed to enjoy it. (And she used her personal editing checklist with minimal guidance too!)

Every day will be different in quarantine school. But if things keep improving, then maybe I’ll have a notebooker on my hands by the time she returns to school. (Who knows when that will be?!)

Head over to http://twowritingteachers.org for more slice of life stories.
COVID-19 · post-op life · slice of life · writing

Separating My Role as Mommy and Teacher #SOL20

One of the reasons I’ve never homeschooled Isabelle is that I have a hard time separating my roles of mother and teacher. Throughout the first few yeas of her life, I engaged in “Mommy Speech Therapy.” As her former doctor once told me, I shouldn’t be doing both roles. So, while I read with Isabelle daily, there is someone else who’s worked with her since Kindergarten as a reading tutor. Doing this allows me to preserve our mother-daughter relationship.

Now that we’re quarantine-schooling, I find myself doing the mother-teacher thing again. And while I am mostly enjoying the chance to work with Isabelle for hours at a time, I find myself slipping into the role of mom more often than I should. I try to catch myself when I do this. Thankfully, my teacher-side came in and gave the mom-side of me a slap on the wrist yesterday morning.

You know how those of us who teach writing workshop passionately tell parents not to obsess over grammatical and spelling errors? Well, yesterday, I forgot this and harped on Isabelle for misspelling high-frequency words she should know, for forgetting to end sentences with punctuation, etc. It wasn’t my finest hour.

After serious reflection, I decided to work with Isabelle to create a personal editing checklist that she could use to fix up her writing at the end of each of each day’s notebooking session. We talked about the things she could work on after she writes to make her writing easier to read. I limited her to four things. (She kind of knew what she needed to work on given my step into the parent role yesterday.)

After I printed the personal editing checklist, Isabelle retrieved it from my printer. I taught Isabelle how to go through each checklist step to examine her writing through that lens. Once she finished each item, she moved on. It took her less than two minutes to make all of the corrections to her writing.

“How did that go for you? Did that take as long as you expected or less time?” I asked.

“It took me less time than I thought it would,” Isabelle stated.

“Was it easy or hard?” I asked.

“It was easy. I was able to make all of the changes fast,” she replied.

“I want you to understand that this is your personal editing checklist for today. It might be something we change up as soon as next week. The idea is for you to get in the habit of making these changes on your own. Let’s say you start capitalizing all of the Is in your writing by the middle of next week. We’ll remove that item off of the checklist and we’ll add something else. How does that sound to you?”

“Good,” she replied.

Thank goodness, I thought. That means I can focus more on teaching her to write rather than hounding her about all of the things I know I shouldn’t be bothering her for when she’s working in a writer’s notebook.

slice of life · writing

What color do you use for drafting?

I try not to look in my Isabelle’s cubby or desk when I go into her school. That doesn’t mean I haven’t peered into those places. Rather, it means I *try* not to.

I went into Isabelle’s class for writing workshop yesterday. I restrained myself from checking the neatness of her desk when it was time to confer with her. After all, we were talking about her writing, not her organizational skills. However, as Isabelle took me on a tour of her writing, I noticed she was still alternating between colors when she was writing. I’ve bitten my tongue about that before since I didn’t know if the colors corresponded to drafting, revising, and editing pens. However, she was in the first bend of a unit of study on information writing. She’s *only* drafting. Yet, her pages were covered in two — and sometimes three — colors of pen.

“Do you have a blue or black pen?” I asked her, noticing she was writing with a red one.

“I have a blue one, but it doesn’t work right.”

“Can you show me?”

Isabelle rummaged in her desk.

“I can’t find it,” she said.

“Don’t you have supply box?”

“Not in this teacher’s room,” she replied, ducking back down to look for the blue pen.

I looked at my watch. This was a waste of time. This wasn’t what I would have been doing with any other kid. Yet, I was going down the rabbit hole, so-to-speak, because this was my kid. I was about to stop Isabelle when she pulled a retractable pen from her desk.

“Found it!” she said setting it on her desk.

I picked it up and realized it was slightly unscrewed. Problem-partially solved.

I gave Isabelle a spiel about using one color when she was drafting going-forward — blue OR black — and then moved onto something that mattered (i.e., breaking down her new book’s topic into a table of contents).

After I left her school for the day, I made my way to Staples to remedy the supply issue. I picked up a pack of blue pens and a pack of black ones, plus a zip-top supply bag in her favorite color. Later in the day, I typed a reminder note and gave it to her. Isabelle was elated by the bag filled with new pens. I reminded her, again, to only use ONE color while drafting.

This afternoon, when she returned home from school, I asked her how it went with the new pens.

“Great!” she said.

“What color did you use when you drafted today?”

“Black.”

“Only black?” I asked.

“Only black,” she replied.

slice of life · writing

Work in Progress

Lynne and I planned to get together in early August to work on the study guide for Welcome to Writing Workshop, which is our forthcoming book from Stenhouse (available in early Winter 2019). However, that plan got thrown out the window late last week when Bill, our editor, sent us a first pass of edits earlier than expected. We were thrilled! We decided the study guide could wait.

So here we are at Caffe Galleria in Lambertville, NJ!

img_5962
This photo was taken at 9:30 a.m. just as our breakfast arrived. It’s 12:30 p.m. right now. Lynne’s feeding our meters. We’ll work for another hour and then break for lunch. Isn’t it great that we have two tables? One’s for eating and one’s for working!

We’re spending the day working together, which means my parents have my kids for yet one more day (G-d bless them! I think they are going to need a vacation once my kiddos and I depart tomorrow. Or maybe a sensory deprivation chamber. One or the other!) so Lynne and I can power our way through the edits. For instance, moments before I wrote this post, we realized we didn’t write “final thoughts” for three-quarters of our chapters. Guess what we’re doing next? Making sure each chapter has a “final thoughts” section.

We know we won’t complete Bill’s edits today, but we’re hoping to make a significant progress.

On that note, Lynne’s back from feeding the meters so it’s time for me to get back to work.

slice of life_individual
Head over to http://twowritingteachers.org on Tuesdays for more slice of life stories.

slice of life · Uncategorized · writing · writing journal

First Writer’s Notebook

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Front Cover of the Notebook

Over the weekend, we attended a blueberry festival at the farm where we pick pumpkins, apples, and blueberries annually. While there were plenty of berries to pick, one of the best parts of the festival happened away from the blueberry bushes. It happened amongst the craft vendors.

Isabelle insisted on browsing the craft vendors’ wares. I felt myself get frustrated since Isabelle, like many kids her age, usually wants to blow her money on junk. She’s been saving her money and had $24 to spend. And that made me fearful she was going to buy $24 worth of junk! (Yes, I do have the final say. Like I said no to her buying stuffed animals. However, I can’t say no to everything!)

The second vendor’s tent she walked into was selling polymer clay-covered notebooks. They weren’t cheap: $12 for small ones and $24 for large ones. Isabelle insisted she wanted one. Even though it was a notebook, I felt my heart sink a little bit. Was this going to be an overpriced scribbling pad?

“Let’s come back after we pick raspberries and blackberries.”

Isabelle held me to that promise. Even though she visited other vendors’ tents, she bought a small notebook since “that will mean I’ll still have $12 left.” (Imagine how pleased I was with that declaration!)

Lo and behold, Isabelle has written in her new writer’s notebook the past two days. In fact, she’s pretty excited about writing in it. She’s decided to keep it in the car so she has something to do while we’re driving places. Of course, that makes looking up unfamiliar words and decent penmanship challenging, but I think she’s off to a great start. Take a look:

img_5058img_5059

Perhaps I should’ve looked inside the notebook to make sure it would be appropriate (in terms of line size) for a rising second grader. But then again, she wants to write, so perhaps I should continue to have a hands-off approach on this one!

slice of life_individual
Head over to http://twowritingteachers.org on Tuesdays for more slice of life stories.

poetry · slice of life · writing

Poetry Mission, Part Deux

Last week, I declared my intent to help Isabelle like poetry. But, on Thursday night, Ari spent most of the night crying. He required soothing by his one-and-only mommy. By noon, he was diagnosed with double-ear infections. Then, on Saturday, I came down with something and have felt crummy ever since. But despite all of that, I managed to place poems in Isabelle’s snack bag every day and chat a little bit about poetry with her at night.

Despite feeling miserable all day yesterday, I went in search of amusement park poems to share with Isabelle since her teacher informed me Isabelle expressed interest in writing poems about Hersheypark. After an internet search that left me wanting for more, I went to Amy LV’s Poem Farm blog. Unfortunately, I came up empty-handed. So I emailed Amy to ask her if she knew of any amusement park poems I could use for inspiration with Isabelle. Not being an avid ride fan, Amy didn’t know of any (which explains why she hasn’t written any!). However, Amy suggested looking at Marla Frazee’s Rollercoaster, which happens to be one of Isabelle’s books since it’s poem-like. Therefore, Isabelle and I studied it together yesterday afternoon. We talked about line breaks and the many reason poets might choose to break lines. Then, we spent about a half-hour looking through various poems on Amy’s Poem Farm website before Mommy needed to lay down.

Even though I still felt awful today, I ventured into Isabelle’s classroom since the next two weeks are filled with consulting commitments and manuscript work. There’s something about being amongst children — in writing workshop — that helps me forget my misery. I find I journey far away from my ailments when I’m sitting on the floor, beside a child, talking about writing.

I conferred with one of Isabelle’s friends first since my daughter was taking awhile to settle in. Therefore, I taught her friend about line breaks and coached her through revising an existing poem by adding line breaks. Next, I went to Isabelle. I discovered she’d written a poem about a ride, Helicopters, she’d taken with Ari over the weekend. The poem read:

I went

on the

helicopters

with Ari.

We went

up.

I think there was one more line, but I don’t remember it. Whatever it was, wasn’t memorable. I asked Isabelle about why she ended the poem when she did. “I ran out of room on the paper,” she replied.

That’s when I taught her a paper trick she could use anytime so she wouldn’t feel constrained. We visited the paper center and grabbed more paper. I showed her how to tape on a piece so she could write more. Once we made that quick fix, I asked some questions about what she was trying to show. She said it was important for her reader to know that Ari was saying hi to everyone as the ride went in a circle and that she held Ari. I encouraged her — now that she had more paper — to write about those things with precision. (While I wanted to encourage her to start anew, I knew I was skating a thin line between mommy and literacy coach, so I opted to stay a little bit on the side of the mommy role.) I told her to come back to me once she had shown her reader what she was really trying to say.

Towards the end of the workshop, Isabelle found me while I was conferring with another friend. I asked her to wait — and she did. Once I was finished, I found this:

I complemented her on writing longer and reminded her she could do that any time in writing workshop. Then, I noticed what she did by writing about the important parts of the ride: Ari saying hi and holding onto him.

At the end of the workshop, I pulled Isabelle aside and gave her a charge for tomorrow. I talked to her about trying to make the reader feel they’re alongside her at Hersheypark, riding rides with her brother. I encouraged her to pay more attention to the feeling she has when she’s holding her brother on their rides rather than the describing the rides themselves.

I won’t be in next week, but I am hoping her teacher will send home Isabelle’s next attempt so I can see what kinds of poems she writes going forward.

slice of life · writing

The Fifth Night

I’m still awake.

Sick.

At 11:45 p.m.

I thought about

Waking Lynne.

She *is* just across the hall.

But I don’t want

To disturb her.

(Though I know

She’ll tell me

I should’ve woken her

When I see her

In the morning.)

So here I lay

In bed

Hoping sleep will come

Soon.

We’ve had

Four productive work days.

The manuscript

Is almost finished.

We are

Supposed

To work more

Tomorrow.

This is not the way

I want my time

At Highlights

To end —

With me

Being sick.

slice of life · writing

Friendly Letter

Just when I thought I knew what my slice of life story would be about today, I unpacked Isabelle’s backpack and discovered a letter to her cousin, Casey. I smiled when I read it not only because she wrote to someone important, but because I got to see something she did in writing workshop on the day she did it. (That’s one of the curses of doing what I do. The parent in me wants to see everything she writes in real time, but the teacher in me knows that’s not how writing workshop works.)

“Do you want to mail this to Casey?” I asked Isabelle after she reappeared from the kitchen where she washed her hands.

“Yes!” she said, jumping up and down.

“Do you want me to help you address the envelope?”

“Yes!” she exclaimed again.

“Meet me in my office,” I said.

“I’ll go and get a chair,” she replied.

 

don_t write on kids_ work!
I stuck a sticky note onto the letter since I wanted to make sure my brother-in-law and sister-in-law knew Pafrov was actually Passover. Isabelle asked why I wrote on a sticky note and not on the paper. That’s when I shared a belief with her: I don’t think adults should correct kids spelling on their actual papers.

“Why do you need a chair?” I asked. After all, it doesn’t take that long to address an envelope.

 

“Because I need a chair to sit in while you’re writing out the envelope,” Isabelle replied matter-of-factly.

Alrighty then.

Once the envelope was addressed, Isabelle requested to put the stamp on it. Then, since I was the only one of us wearing shoes, I walked it out to the mailbox.

A few minutes later, Mike, our mail carrier, drove down the street. (This was early for him since he typically gets here around dinnertime.) He parked his truck outside our house since he was walking some packages up to the front door.

“Thank you!” I called to him from the front door. “I’d walk outside to meet you, but I just removed my shoes.”

“No problem!” he called from the back of the truck.

As he walked up the front path, I asked him, “Did you see the letter in the box?”

“I did,” he said.

“It’s an important one from Isabelle to her cousin.”

Mike, who has known Isabelle since she was a baby, saw Isabelle standing close by. He promised he would get it to New York safely, which made Isabelle smile.

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There goes Mr. Mike with Isabelle’s letter to Casey!