Just Finished Reading an Amazing Book

from amazon.com

from amazon.com

Like many students, I experienced difficulties when it came to reading and especially spelling.   My parents were great in trying to get me all the help I needed (even requesting that I be tested for learning disabilities).  The assessments did not show I had a problem, but later on was discovered I had a vision issue.  I don’t remember much about how I was learning to read in 1st and 2nd, but I do remember how stressful spelling was for me from 1st grade to 5th grade.  A special, public, thank you to my family for helping me complete the evil Spelling Workbook pages each week and especially to my younger sister who would do the word finds for me.  The spelling patterns never made sense and I don’t think the teachers spent a lot of extra time teaching the patterns, or giving extra practice time in school to overlearn the patterns.  I just remember doing the workbook, usually as homework, writing my words 5xs, and using the spelling word in sentences.  But for many of my friends, spelling was easy for them and they couldn’t understand why I kept missing so many on my tests.

I wish this book was around when I was in school.  Not because Ally and I had the same struggles, we had similar struggles, and because Ally is a character I think the 12 year old Sarah would have liked. The book I’m talking about is Fish in a Tree.  Take a few minutes and go read some of the reviews on Amazon.  I think this should become required reading for anyone in a literacy program, administration program, or special education program.

Ally is a student who thinks she’s dumb because she has a hard time reading and writing and therefore has some struggles in school.  Ally is very artistic and carries a sketchbook around with her.  She calls it the Sketchbook of Impossible Things because to Ally, many of the things she has sketched seem impossible to her because of her hard time with reading.  I’m not going to give much more away because it is such a wonderful story but I will add this.  If you have a hard time reading Patricia Polacco’s Thank You, Mr. Falker, (because you start tearing up) you’re going to LOVE this story.

Please share the title of this book with anyone you know who has struggled with learning, has had thoughts of being dumb or stupid, and with all the teachers you know.  This books needs to be in the hands of many so let’s get the word out and get people reading Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt.

As a side note, October is Dyslexia Awareness Month and this would be a great read aloud for this month.

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What not to write

I came across a blog post on Two Writing Teachers (if you haven’t read this blog, you need to).  The post was a collection of tweets related to writing.  They’re great.  You really should take some time and read them.  I’m looking forward to next month’s installment.

There were a few that catch my eye. I might write about those another time but tonight I wanted to write some of my reactions to

(these really are reactions and not at all focused–I did not do an outline, Mom)  How much time do people really spend on writing things that shouldn’t be put down somewhere?  I think it depends on the purpose of the writing.  I think about the many blog posts I’ve written but never published.  Would those things be considered pieces of writing that should not have been written?  I don’t think so.  Just because I didn’t publish them doesn’t mean they didn’t fulfill their purpose–mind dumping.

After thinking about myself and the personal writing I’m doing, I start thinking about the writing that teachers are asking students to do (and I think about the writing I did as a student).  Do the teachers know what is important to write and ask their students to do that writing?  Are some teachers not sure what is important for their students to write?  I think the answer would be yes to both questions.

There is lots of excellent writing taking place in classrooms all over but then, right down the hall, there are classrooms where the students are writing what some would call things that they really don’t need to write.

I’m a big fan of Lucy Calkins and have kind of used her Units of Study in my classroom since the books came out. I say “kind of” because I really believe the lessons she has outlined in those books are really a suggestion for teachers to get started and not to be considered a scripted program.  Reggie Routman is another author I’ve use as a base for my writing workshop.  One of these wonderful women talked about when modeling stories to students, the stories need to something that the students might actually do, or have done.  I shouldn’t write about my trip to London because many of my students will never leave the country.  Instead, I should write about something that they might do–like have a HUGE black snake cross the road.  I’m asking them to write true stories that have happened to them so they are able to think about a beginning, middle, and end to their stories. I’m not asking them to rely on an imagination that is ever changing, which means there’s a greater possibility for an ever changing beginning, middle, and end.

How does this connect to the tweet?  I think we teachers ask students do write about things that are beyond their comprehension and therefore the final product is not going to what we want.  Yes there’s a place for creative writing, but students need to write memoir, reactions to the texts they are reading, options, and other informational texts.  The students have the background knowledge to write something really well instead of just relying on their imagination to write something that is just ok.

One last ramble on this tweet and then I’ll be done.  I know I was just talking about the product of writing and that is not were the focus should be in a writing classroom.  I think this tweet would be great to include on a class graffiti wall when students are revising their writing.  It is hard for any writer to think that part of their great work needs to be removed because it hurts the piece as a whole, instead of helping.  The writing is like a piece of them and removing some text is like removing an arm, leg, finger, lips…

Now it is time for me to practice what I preached and go back and revise this piece (or at least edit it).  I hope this tweet makes you think and reflect about the writing you’re doing in your classroom.  I hope it helps others think about what writing doesn’t need to happen so there’s room for the writing that needs to happen.