Books, Friends and Joy, Part 1

NOTE: As I was about to move my home office, I read a post by a friend who suggested those of us in a coaches group post pictures of our home office.  This was motivation to get crackin’ and make things look good. Or at least, better.  A day later, Jess Lahey and KJ Del Antonia were chatting on #AmWritingWithJessandKJ about their lack of workspace, reminding me how lucky I am to have a space and how needy that space was for some love.  So the move and requisite purge began with a little kick in the pants from these three friends.


At last count, four bookcases in my office and one in the basement. Stacks around the house and stashed in tote bags and baskets. About a dozen bankers boxes with children’s books.  After our fire in 2005, one of the movers said, “Lady, are you a librarian or something?”  “Nope, I am the Trifecta. Teacher. Parent. Reader.”  He didn’t get it.


We replaced dozens of the books lost in the fire.  A decade later, I have SO many books – Kids’ books. Teacher books. Grown up books. Picture books. Well-read books. Unopened books. I am now trying to part with some of them, because… well, I really do not need all of them and they need more love and care than I can give.  It’s more emotional than looking at a scrapbook or photo album, perhaps because I never managed to keep either of those.  I AM really good at keeping books.   Continue reading “Books, Friends and Joy, Part 1”

13 Things I’ve Learned About Writing

shelf sampling
shelf sampling

Lucy Calkins has long been a curriculum mentor of mine.  Her writing for teachers expanded from her work at Teachers’ College and  reaches far beyond New York City.  Over the years, I’ve followed her work, wrestled with her curriculum and seen the amazing writing produced by students who are lucky enough to have teachers who guide and listen to them authentically, deeply, intently.  Lucy brings remarkable knowledge and compassion to the writing process for children.  The clarity of  her body of work guides legions of teachers to bring out the best in student writers.  When I first viewed her video Being a Good Writer: Writing tips and strategies from Lucy Calkins, I felt as if she was speaking to me; only in the final seconds was it clear that she was speaking to students.  Then again, writers are all students, walking similar paths, following a similar process with unique challenges and joys.

One year while I was teaching third grade, I put myself to the test.  The writing test, figuratively speaking.  During our daily writing workshop, I committed myself to spending part of each of those 50 minute blocks to my own writing. That brought on it’s own inherent conflict (How will I conference with writers? How will I assess their progress? How will I be able to observe their work to offer reminders and reinforcements?). Eventually, I admitted this was a lofty and unrealistic goal, so I revamped that to spending part of one writers’ workshop writing AND  two personal blocks of writing outside school hours.  It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t always fun. But within a few weeks, was hooked.

Writing became a challenge I looked forward to but yet was still reluctant to share it with others.  I soon decided the only way to get over this fear wasn’t, in the words of Pema Chodron, to “itch it” and let it grow larger, but to be with it and share it with others so I could witness where it would go.  By letting go of my attachment to “it” (i.e., my writing), my blog audience grew and I learned many lessons.

Here are just 13 things I’ve learned from writing like we ask of children:

1. Writing is hard. Really hard sometimes.

2. Writing is messy at first, but then often brings great clarity.

3. Writing can bring up feelings of insecurity and fear, but also pride, joy, satisfaction and relief.

4. Writing can serve the writer, the audience or both.

5. Writing is a process. A time-consuming one. And sometimes an all-consuming one. It needs to be scheduled and that time revered so the process can unfold.

6. Writing can offer quite solitude or feel like solitary confinement.

7. Writing can be enhanced by technology and it can also bring up a whole crop of new, technical issues.

8. Writing needs to be a commitment to be rich and meaningful (See # 5 above).

9. Writing often never feels like it’s over. There is almost always more (Again, see #5 above).

10. Writing offers so many ways to consolidate and synthesize experiences and information, and just as many ways to continue growing.

11. Writing is a goldmine. Keep digging, be persistent, and you’ll be rewarded.

12. Writers – all of  us – need support. Good organization and planning, a cheerleader to keep your spirits up and a mentor to ask you tough questions that move you forward when you’re stuck and validate your hard work.

13. Writing is to be shared. Somehow, someway, even if it’s something you read aloud to yourself and bow to yourself in gratitude and appreciation.

I’m writing a lot these days and I’m reading a lot of other writers.  I look to the work of Lucy Calkins for inspiration, along with other writers and observers of life and learning,  such as Caltha Crow, Chip Wood, Peter Bregman, Jonathan Fields, Jennifer Weinser, Maya Angelou, Malcolm Gladwell, Jonathan Kozol, Anne Lamott, Anna Quindlen and many, many others.

Who do you read for inspiration?

What have you learned from writing?

How have you learned to empathize with child-authors?

I’d love to read about either in the comments…

Ernestine Buckmeister Teaches Us A Lesson

The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister by Linda Ravin Lodding

Last week I wrote  Patience, Grasshopper with 6 tips for settling into the new school year.   As I revised it, it occurred to me that I left off some pretty basic ways families can slow down and live in the present moment, as they settle into new routines. And then I remembered the valuable lessons Ernestine Buckmeister teaches us.

In fact, these are so basic, these lesson  stare us in the face yet often defy recognition.

  1. Play. Be silly. Pretend.
  2. Be outside. Observe. Enjoy.
  3. Once in a while, scrap the busy calendar.

Just ask Ernestine, and she’ll show you.  She’s the uber-scheduled heroine who pals around with Nanny O’Dear each week. Ernestine’s calendar includes yodeling, yoga, karate, and knitting, just to name a few.  Like many children, Ernestine’s  busy schedule is set up by her well-meaning and loving parents, who themselves are so busy at work, that have outsourced the supervision of Ernestine’s schedule to the trusted and venerable Nanny.

Any of this sounding hauntingly familiar?

Sure, we’re all busy.  Especially if we are raising kids and working to ensure there’s a roof over head, food on the table, and generally provide for the myriad of needs and wants that come with raising a family. It’s easy to think the hectic pace is just “us.”  Recently, I asked a friend how she was, her was her response was, “ah, well (l-o-n-g sigh)… You know, I am in that marathon that starts September 1 and ends in June.”  Yikes.

But most of us can empathize.  It might feel like you are isolated or perhaps that you are an 0utlier, but you are not alone. But as a teacher who sees dozens families do the same juggle each year, believe me, you are not alone.  Most of us are doing “it”  – the marathon, the juggle, the merry-go-round, the circus, whatever name you give “it.”  Some of us have the courage stop the madness and slow down. Even little Ernestine summoned the courage to stop for an afternoon. Be brave. Be bold. Stop your own personal circus just for an afternoon. If you haven’t tried it, plan on trying it. Go ahead, put it in your calendar and see what happens!

Engage your family in a discussion about what the new schedule feels like. Do you have kids that like to have something most days? Or would they enjoy an afternoon home with you to putter around? Honor those plans to take a day off.  Research shows our kids need that down time from unstructured play, so no need to beat yourself up for skipping those yodeling lessons. Time in the back yard or painting at the kitchen table along side of you will give your child time to decompress, consolidate learning from a full day at school, connect to you and broaden expressive language or problem solving skills. If you don’t feel like you can make a preemptive strike, then tread carefully. Watch for signs of over load.  And when the schedule feels too full, patience is waning,  or a cold is coming on –  take a tip from Ernestine. Schedule a day off and see what joys you can find!

Need some convincing? Let Ernestine show you or herself.  Check out her story with a  peek at the pages.

Once inside, I think you’ll concur. Linda Lodding skillfully captures modern-day childhood at it’s best and not-so-best. Well-intention parents, like the Buckmeisters, often forget that time with loved ones, time alone and certainly, time and space to explore and play are critical to childhood.   Lodding’s tongue-twisting names,  hilarious text, and lessons on the importance of play are complimented by Suzanne Beaky’s whimsical illustrations.  It’s a combination that immediate attracts and then sustains the readers’ attention to create a lasting story that let’s us all find  personal connections. Ernestine is sure to earn her place among such classic literary  heroines as Clementine, Eloise, Madeline, Ramona and Junie B. Jones!

Digital Versus Print: Encouraging Literacy is a Balance

Regular followers know how I feel about reading. It’s essential. It’s one of the 10 Desirable Traits. There are more articles on this topic  that can be counted.  I’ve written on reading literacy before in 6 Steps to Foster a Love of Literature, Summertime and the Reading is Easy and the Resource Edition.

Lately  I’ve been questioning and researching the role digital literacy and electronic books play in our lives. As a reader, a teacher and a parent, I wonder just what part of reading and life electronic reading should play in our complicated, complex and oh-so-busy lives.  I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to log the number of minutes I read electronically versus print.   If you’re on email during the day, do research, or teach you may be able to empathize.   I am quite certain, and a smidge ashamed, that I  read exponentially more electronically  than I read on paper.

So I wonder what that “digital literacy” and traditional definitions of literacy mean for our kids? Specifically, I wonder what role digital literacy plays in the lives of those who have crossed the life-defining threshold of “learning to read” and are now squarely in that wondrous land of “reading to learn.”  This week’s LD On line newsletter opens with a reminder that  “Learning to read is an ongoing task. Even the best of readers can fine-tune their skills.”  So how to keep them moving on that path, both with traditional reading and electronic reading?  I also wonder how the advances in digital literacy support those who are just discovering books and are working through the arduous process of making meaning from text.

The traditionalist-bibliophile-teacher-collector in me simply cannot let go of the idea and the existence of books. Not to mention  the  cascade of positive emotions and learning that arises when one holds an amazing book in two hands.  The pragmatic-techie-innovator side of me says, “jump on the train before it runs you over.”  Digital life is here to stay. It’s moving fast and morphing.  Make peace with it. Learn to use its power for good, not evil.

How and where do electronic books have a role in the life of elementary, middle and high school students?  Bad news. I have definite answers.   I do have some insights and articles from other, far more eloquent writers.   If you have answers, by all means, comment on the blog or Facebook.  I’ll be sure to read that electronic print!

Several  articles point to the role of electronic print – a quick Google search churns up articles from a range of authors – everyone from the International Reading Association and Scholastic to tutoring companies and tech bloggers.  Scientific American’s blog On-line Print Versus Reading: Which One Makes You Smarter concludes that the jury’s out until we see more research.  Discovery Education’s Print Versus (Social) Media – Rethinking Literacy in the Digital Age conclude that the answers come from an expanded definition of literacy that reflects the 21st century demands and offerings.  Like many great educational debates (whole language versus phonics, arithmetic versus mathematical problem solving), the answer most likely likes in a balanced approach.  And that’s my stand on the print versus digital reading debate.  It’s not one way or the other because we all need the wide range of skills to read, comprehend and process text in various formats and venues. As adult readers, it’s our obligation to present a balanced set of options to younger readers as well as to have conversations about the benefits and limits of both.

I am by no means advocating giving up on traditional print; I’ve am avid reader of both types of print myself.  As a teacher, I’m cautious about how I balance the two and encourage readers to do the same.   Here’s my list of advantages of each:

Electronic media does offers readers:

  • Motivation – it’s cool, it’s hip, and it’s engaging
  • Multi-media – there are often plug-ins and other media that further engage readers, however those with “weak processing control issues” would benefit from having n adult read with them
  • Read aloud features – beginning readers benefit from hearing the sounds of letters and words either on a consistent basis or to give them a break as they fatigue and lose meaning while decoding
  • Additional meaning – many methods of electronic reading allow for easy note-taking, supplementary text, dictionaries, reference material, etc. which all the reader to process longer and/or more complex text with greater efficiency

My list of benefits of traditional print are simply too long to list here, but tops on the list include:

  • Life long habit of reading for pleasure and information
  • Developing and sustaining intellectual stamina, and curiosity
  • Serves as a tool for life-long learning in a variety of setting
  • Builds vocabulary, knowledge, emotional resilience
  • Allows reader to connect or disconnect from world
  • Companionship and pride in one’s collection of books, especially when old friends wait on the shelf to be revisited as the need arises

If gloss over the benefits of digital literacy, we shield ourselves and our readers from where life is moving.  Furthermore,  for readers who need support (decoding, comprehension, processing), we fail to give them all the tools they could have at their disposal to become a more fully engaged reader.  If you stick to all digital, not only does that limit neurological development in the brain, but there’s a whole range of skills that are shown to develop with traditional reading that we do not know if or how they develop.  Balance is essential.

Post Script:

It’s rare that I rave about any particular product on this blog, except for books that I find essential to teaching and parenting.  As my disclosure policy states I do not accept any compensation for products mentioned on this site.  However, in this blog, there is one particular product that I’m compelled to recommend to help balance print and electronic reading. If you’re looking for ways to engage young readers in digital media, check out Tales2Go.  They offer an ap that brings high quality children’s literature to life as a digital read aloud.  Used in conjunction with shared and independent reading, it brings literature to children’s lives in one more enriching way.

Summertime, and the Livin’ is Easy. Reading Can Be, Too!

summer reading

One of the most restorative acts I engage in over the summer is reading. Pleasure reading. The pace of school make it difficult for me to make the time to really enjoy a good read on a regular basis during the school year, so summer reading is a luxurious treat. I bet I am not alone in my thinking and reading.

Sure, I read every day, but it’s mostly education or child development, nonfiction, and occasionally a novel.  Vacations provided the time to detach from reality in more than one way, reading is one of my favorite ways!

Last week alone, I’ve plowed through half as many novels than I’ve read to date in 2010 – Rigged (Ben Mezerich), Life is Short But Wide (J. California Cooper), The Late, Lamented Molly Marx (Sally Koslow) and The Help (Kathryn Stockett).
The contrast of this passion with the reluctance many children have towards summer reading has weighed heavily on my mind recently. Perhaps it’s because I have one child who reads one or more books a week and another who would prefer to be rolling and moving; books don’t generally offer that action.  It keeps me on my toes and  I know I’m not alone on this one, either.

So  my inner-geek went hunting for some reminders of the hard data behind the importance of summer reading, the real – not just marketing message – behind “summer slump.” I was on a mission to locate some more lists of recommended books and to find something that really excites and invites my adolescents to read. Not that I was going to actually find books on this isolated paradise we were on, but I was searching more for reassurance that gently scheduling reading and writing each and every day this summer is the right thing to do and a compelling reason to hit the library as soon as we unpacked back home.

So consider this statement. Even if it is half-true, it’s reason for concern:

“Kids who don’t have educationally rich summers will be nearly three years behind their peers by the time they reach the end of the fifth grade… Much like we would expect an athlete or a musician’s performance to suffer if they didn’t practice regularly, the same thing is true for young people when it comes to reading performance.”
— Ron Fairchild, Founding CEO, National Summer Learning Association

Some facts on summer reading:

  • A study in the Journal of Education for Students Places at Risk (April 2004)  showed that reading four or five books during the summer can prevent the reading-achievement losses that normally occur over those months.
  • Regardless of race, socioeconomic level, or previous achievement, researcher Jimmy S. Kim found, children who read more books fared better on reading-comprehension tests in the fall than their peers who had read one or no books over the summer.
  • Better readers read more than poorer readers, supporting the importance of extensive, successful reading experiences in the development of reading proficiency.
  • Researchers Guthrie and Anderson found that there are any number of motivational and volitional factors that influence reading activity. For instance, children’s voluntary reading seems linked to past experiences as a more-successful or less-successful reader. A history of less-successful reading experiences produces a lessened interest in voluntary reading than a history of successful reading experiences.  (This makes summer reading even tougher for struggling readers… another reminder to keep it positive!)
  • A recent study by  Harris Cooper, Professor of Psychological Sciences at the University of Missouri, estimates that summer loss for all students equals about one month on a grade-level equivalent scale.

So what does this mean? It is clearly and definitively in our kids’ best interest – both for starting September on solid footing and to give them the tools and habits for life-long learning, to read over the summer. Today. Every day. All summer.
But it doesn’t have to be like brushing teeth or taking vitamins. The good news is there are gazillions of books and other materials to read that it’s really easy to keep it fun! Children, particularly boys and those for whom reading doesn’t come easily, will be more engaged in reading when it’s meaningful, relevant and provides some sense of adventure or fantasy.

Ways to Slip or Slap Reading into Summer:

  • Make it a priority. a priority to have fun with reading. remember, reading doesn’t always mean holding a book.  magazines, e-books, audio books, direction, games like Bananagrams, Scrabble, Boggle.
  • Build it into your day. Before or after a meal. during afternoon (nap or quiet time). On the way to the pool, day care, sports. Schedule a weekly library trip. Whatever works in your home, for your kids, for yourself.
  • Add some drama – act out stories, dress up, make a stage, read into a microphone, video tape read aloud (share with far-away relatives), write stories and act them out.
  • Make a list of topics, genres, authors your kid like; work together to find those titles at the library or book store (bonus: search on-line and that’s reading, too!)
  • Ask friends what they are reading and share.
  • Keep books handy – beach bags, sports bags, bathroom, porch, tree house, car, backpacks, kitchen table.
  • Pass on the traveling DVD player and opt for books on cd (or down load the mp3 files).
  • Make a paper chain for each book read. Or log in a journal, on a popsicle stick or other ways to see the cumulative effect.
  • Trade off 30 minutes of video games/screens for 30 minutes of tv. (This raises the bar in my house some days… but worth the effort!)
  • Hang hammock, set up a chair under a tree and designate that as the reading spot.
  • Take a flashlight and read under the stars or listen to a story outdoors.

These are just a handful. Bet you have more good ideas, so why not post a comment here or on Facebook to share ways your family is reading this summer?

Coming next week, the monthly newsletter and resource list for more summer reading! Until then, happy reading!