Slice of Life - 7/16/13

Every Tuesday, Ruth and Stacey, host Slice of Life at their blog, Two Writing Teachers.  This is my second week participating in Slice of Life, and I am hoping to make it a regular feature.

One of the reasons I wanted to participate in Slice of Life was to give myself an opportunity to write more freely.  I began to realize that most of the writing I did was technical. A letter to parents, a proposal regarding instructional materials, newsletters, and more have made up my regular writing.  Even my blog was primarily technical - book reviews. Yet, it would seem that coming up with what to write about is more of a challenge than I expected.

I wonder if this is what writing is like for the students that I work with? If I as an adult with reasonable writing abilities struggle to find the words to put down on a page, how is this any different for my students, especially for those who are English Language Learners or the others ones with special needs? Maybe when they stare out into space or play with their papers or lean over to talk with a peer, it's similar to my staring at a computer screen praying for words or thoughts or phrases to come. Maybe it isn't a lack of what to say or even the lack of words, but the struggle to decide on what is  important enough to talk about?  Do they wonder if their words are valuable enough to put down on paper or that others would want to read those words?

This will not be a long post today.  I just don't have the words I need to put my thoughts down in a coherent manner.  Maybe next time.  However, I hope I remember this moment and that the reminder of it will help me discover ways to provide my students with the understanding that what they have to say is important, that others do want to read their words, and that there are ways to support their journey as writers. 

Comic Strip Writing - 5th Grade Project

This year, I have been working out of our District's Central Office.  It has been a big change and though I have learned a lot I miss seeing my students on a regular basis.  So, when I had a chance to work on a writing project for part of the year with a class of 5th graders, I jumped at the opportunity.  Since the class is made up of 90% English Language Learners, writing tends not to be their favorite activity.  It has been fun to find ways to support critical thinking, language, and writing with this great group of students.

Recently, we spent a lot of time looking at and discussing comic strips, comic books, and graphic novels.  None of the students knew anything about Babymouse, or Squish, or The Lunch Lady or any of the other wonderful graphic novels out there today.  They devoured the books I brought in.

The next step was to try a writing activity where students would write their own comic strip.  Here is a peek at what they created.

One of the requirements of this project is that students would work in teams of 2 on their comic strips.  For many of the students, English is a second language and I wanted to provide a setting in which students would need to discuss with another person the story that they would be communicating in their comic strip.  Initially, it was difficult.  Some of the teams were less than thrilled to work together.  However, I was extremely excited to see how the teams came together during the week they worked together.

Students had to include 3 basic elements of a story - characters, setting, and plot (or what problem needs to be resolved) in their comic strip.  They were given a couple of different blank templates to use for their comic strips.  Some of the stories were fairly simple.  In the above story, two diamonds steal money from a bank, get caught, and go to jail.

This story had a princess stuck in a tower and wanting a cupcake before a tornado set in.  Prince Charming had to rescue not only the princess but the cupcake.

One student gave me a glimpse of his artwork even though his team's comic strip wasn't completed.

Some students moved beyond just one page to create a story.  The two students who created the above story about a penguin egg and an adoption by a bear went on to a second page.  

My favorite comic strip bordered on becoming a comic book or graphic novel.  It was a story about bullying with super mom as the super hero.  The two students who worked on the pages above went onto multiple pages (only 3 of the pages are shown above), even labeling some of the pages as chapters.  What was more impressive is that both were resistant to working with each other at first.  By the end, they not only had worked out an impressive start to a story but also when they presented it, they worked out who would do each character voice.

The classroom teacher has expressed to me numerous times that thanks to the writing projects that we have been working on students seem less hesitant to write.  Writing is still a challenge for many of the students but it has been wonderful to watch them grow as writers and for them to feel successful with the various projects.

Now onto our next project...   

Book Review: Your Child's Writing Life

Author: Pam Allyn
Publisher: Avery Trade (August 2, 2011)
Audience: Adult (Specifically directed towards parents)
Source: NetGalley (e-book for review)

Description from GoodReads:

New educational research reveals that writing is as fundamental to a child's development as reading. But though there are books that promote literacy, no book guides parents in helping their child cultivate a love of writing. In this book, Pam Allyn, a nationally recognized educator and literacy expert, reminds us that writing is not only a key skill but also an essential part of self-discovery and critical to success later in life. Allyn offers the "the five keys" to help kids WRITE-Word Power, Ritual, Independence, Time, and Environment-along with fun, imaginative prompts to inspire and empower children to put their thoughts on the page.

A groundbreaking blueprint for developing every child's abilities, Your Child's Writing Life teaches parents how to give a gift that will last a lifetime.

 "Reading is like breathing in, writing is like breathing out.  A child reading and writing, one from the other is building the capacity for reflection, synthesis, and inquiry." - Pam Allyn
In July, I reviewed Pam Allyn's The Best Book for Boys and have subsequently recommended it to a number of teachers, librarians, and booksellers that I know.  Pam is a teacher, author, motivational speaker, global literacy advocate, and a parent.  She is passionate about her work and is extremely knowledgeable about the field of literacy. 

Allyn's latest book is directed at parents.  Early in the book, she indicates that there are various books on helping your children to read but really no books on nurturing a child's writing life.  She sets out to provide that resource for parents.  As I read through the book, I had to remind myself of this fact, since often times I have on my educator's hat and in this case, I needed to switch gears and look at the book from a different angle.  Though the book does have useful information and reminders which can be used by teachers, the book is really directed at parents, and specifically parents who are interested in their child's writing.  I can see two groups of parents which will gravitate towards this book - the newer parent who is trying to make sure that he/she provides a solid foundation for his/her young child and the parent of an older school-age child who may be struggling with writing and wants to know more about how to support their child's writing.

Allyn makes an extensive case for the importance of early writing, as early as ages 1 to 2 years, in the role of children being better readers and more confident writers later on.  She discusses five writing pillars that are essential in this process: stamina, creativity, organization, fluency, and phonemic awareness.  Early, frequent writing exploration will stimulate and support each of these areas.  Allyn provides multiple examples from her own children's lives as well as from others about how a parent can encourage and support a very young child in this process and how to continue to nurture it as the child grows.  Additionally, Allyn share 5 Keys for Forever Writers which she connects with the word WRITE: word power, reading life, identity, time, and environment.

Two other sections parents will find particularly helpful are the developmental stages of writing and the section on how to help children when they are struggling with writing.  In the developmental section, Allyn breaks things down by a particular age of the child and focuses on the developmental characteristics of that age as connected with writing, the writing elements that are evident at this age, suggestions for writing activities, and suggestions for books.  This varies per age level and provides some additional information for parents are children become a little older.  With these sections, I can see parents scanning through the sections that are not relevant for their child at that particular time and reading more thoroughly the section relevant to where their child is at currently and then returning later to look at other sections.  I can also see teachers pulling out some of the information for a particular age child when speaking with parents about supporting their child's writing at home.

Though I am not a parent, I do have many friends with school-age children.  As I read through this book, many of them came to mind.  I tried to imagine them reading this book or picking it up.  Hence, my earlier statement that I believe this will be a book sought out more by newer parents interested in literacy development or parents of older school-age children whose child may be struggling with writing.  Most parents with pre-school or school aged children are extremely busy and though the activities provided by Allyn in this book are very practical, I am not certain I see parents sitting long enough to read the book or applying the information without some condensing of material (for example, a teacher using the book to provide a hand-out to parents on a child's writing stage, writing ideas for that age level, and some tips on how to support it at home).

Additionally, for teachers working with lower-income families, and families/parents who have limited literacy skills- especially in English, the information provided by Allyn will certainly need to be teased out and formatted in a manner that they can relate with.  Allyn is a passionate supporter of global literacy and I would love to see a companion piece to this book specifically for teachers working with families who the information in this book would be more of a challenge to access or for ideas that would not overwhelm families with limited literacy skills and different cultural values. 

Please note:  There were some formatting issues with the e-galley which were a bit distracting, and also made checking out the references or notations difficult. 

For more information about Pam Allyn, check out the following websites -

Her official website:
Or her LitWorld page:
Or her LitLife page:

Friend her on Facebook:

Follow her on Twitter: @pamallyn

Summer Goals, Part II

A few days ago, I blogged about my summer reading goal here.  Today, I wanted to share my writing goal for the summer.  Normally, I consider myself a reader.  What do I mean by this?  I love reading books, but I never gave any serious consideration to writing a book before.  I consider myself a reasonable writer from a technical standpoint.  I write a lot for work but that is very different than creative writing and story development.  As a teacher, I also read a lot of student work and enjoy the process of helping them improve on their writing.  So, I also consider myself a decent editor.  But calling myself a writer,well that is another thing.  I almost have this feeling of being taken back to preschool and to dress-up pretend play.  I wonder if I am the only one who feels like this?

Yet, over the last year, I have felt the pull to try my hand at writing creatively.  To stretch my brain and do something that may be uncomfortable and hard at times.  Several friends have talked about creating a writing group that can support one another.  To set goals and to work towards those goals.  A couple of the members have manuscripts that they are preparing for query.  Others, like me, have not even fleshed out a true chapter.

Of course when you decide to do something it seems like writing challenges pop up all over the place.  Karen Mahoney, a YA author, started a Summer Reading Challenge which you can read about here.  I signed up for it knowing that in June I would get little writing in and would have to play catch up in July and August.  Then, on Judith Graves' posting on GoodReads about a 1K a day challenge.  The lovely ladies over at YA Edge are hosting a 1K a day challenge for the month of July.  You can sign-up here I encouraged a couple of my other friends to join me.  Breaking the writing task into 1,000 words seems much more do-able.  However, I don't think writing my blog counts towards my 1,ooo words.  So, I am heading off to - yes, write.

I do have one quick announcement - In the next day or two, I am going to kick-off my summer book contests.  I will be giving one book a way per week for the month of July in celebration of summer reading.

Happy reading or writing,