Nurturing a Reading/Writing Lifestyle at Home and in the School
Author: Debby Zigenis-Lowery
I am an author, speaker, and high school writing teacher/librarian. I love to read, write, and encourage others.
I write poetry, retell folktales, and pen folkloric and historical fantasy novels for both middle grade readers and adults. My mission is to write entertaining fiction full of magic and heart, and to encourage my readers to wonder, marvel, and follow their dreams.
An avid reader of fantasy--for all ages, I also love historical fiction, and my latest favorite genre is historical mystery, although I could never imagine trying to write one!
Here at Literate Lives, I blog about many aspects of pursuing a literate lifestyle in our high speed world. I hope, in my own small way, I can help parents, teachers, and writers nurture a reading/writing lifestyle in both home and school.
One of the wonderful things about the holiday season is that it is—wonderful: a celebration of family and friendship, magic and awe, and contains feast days of many faiths, including mine, which commemorates the season for the birth of our Savior.
Another wonderful thing about the holiday season is that it goes away. It sweeps like a joyous madness from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, and then it is gone until next November.
I don’t know about you, but I am looking forward to resuming normal life this January, and that includes a normal, for me, reading and writing life. (As you can see by the delay in this post, full “normal” has not yet been achieved.)
Here are some practices and links to articles I am looking forward to reading this month.
During the holiday season I enjoy reading holiday novels, and now that it’s over, it is with pleasure I resume my regular reading rotation (after I finish reading the gift book, The Fifth Heart by Dan Simmons, which my husband received for Christmas—I know, his book. Yeah, that’s another story.) What’s next?
a Celtic fantasy—whichever one is next in line on the shelf
“The Inner/Outer Balance,” by Donald Maass. Maass is a literary agent and a fabulous writing teacher. I devour everything he writes. He is a regular contributor at Writer Unboxed, a blog I have been following for many years.
“Botched Beginnings—Common First-Page Killers,” by Kristen Lamb. Lamb is one of my favorite bloggers. She is both incredibly knowledgeable about crafting fiction and building an author platform and with the added bonus that she often makes me laugh out loud.
Rather than make a rash New Year’s resolution, I plan to use the month of January to reflect on:
my practices from the past year
changes I want to implement
and maybe craft a personal mission statement.
I look forward to reading the following posts to aid me in the process.
I also look forward to resuming the final editing of The Swallow’s Spring, my folkloric fantasy novel. Last August, before I came down with the sinus infection from #*%%, I was down to the last half of the last chapter to complete edits on and run through my writers’ group. Due to both illness—three solid months and then recuperation—and the resulting depression I did not trust myself to do my best work. And then, of course, the holidays…
When my husband, a teacher returns to work next week, I will, too. At last, I am looking forward to it.
For more great reading, check out the following applicable Pinterest Boards:
A Literate Lifestyle
A New Year!
How does the joyous, crazy holiday season impact your literate lifestyle?
What practices do you look forward to resuming this month?
Please share your thoughts in the comments box below. Let’s encourage one another!
Carol Riggs is my longtime writing conference buddy and the author of YA fantasy and Science Fiction novels including: The Body Institute, Bottled, TheLying Planet, and the Junction 2020 series. The Junction 2020 books are set on New Year’s Eve, and so I thought it might be fun to consider spending your New Year’s Eve with Carol and her novels: hence, this Junction 2020 interview with Carol Riggs.
What was your inspiration for the Junction 2020 trilogy?
I think it was because in the 1990s I read a cool trilogy by L.J. Smith, The Forbidden Game series: The Hunter, The Chase, and The Kill. It’s like a paranormal romance with Jumanji elements—the characters get sucked into a board game, and in one part of the book, they have to face what they’re afraid of to get out of that world.
Why did you choose New Year’s Eve to kick off the novels?
New Year’s Eve always feels momentous, a whole new timeline getting ready for new possibilities and fresh beginnings. It’s a nice, dramatic way to kick off a novel. And later I developed it so that New Year’s Eve tied in with what activates the portals (a significant event in the cosmos).
What theme/s play an important role in the trilogy?
I would say facing your fears. Acting brave in the face of danger—and caring for other people as a motivation to jumpstart that courage.
Who is your favorite viewpoint character and why?
Mari, from Book 1, might be my favorite, partly because she started out the whole series, but also because I identify with many of her dreams and fears; there’s a lot of me in her. For instance, I included one of my favorite painters, Maxfield Parrish. I added gross black spiders, hooded Executioners, lack of plumbing or modern conveniences, etc.
How is writing a series different from writing a stand-alone novel?
With a series, some of the character development and the plot elements get stretched out over the course of the books. I’ve also had to keep a detailed document of clothing, personalities, pet phrases, world building specifics, hair and eye color, etc., in order to maintain consistency between the books. Unlike a lot of other authors, I start out each book from the viewpoint of a different character; this feels more fresh to me, enabling me to work on new character arcs.
Of the other novels you have written, do you have a favorite? Why?
I’ve written 3 other published books, as well as over a dozen that aren’t published. Choosing a favorite is like choosing a favorite child (impossible!) but The Body Institute is very special to me because it was my very first published novel. It went through extensive revisions with my agent and Entangled Teen, such as turning it from third person [she, Morgan] to first person [I, me] and from past tense to present tense. I worked hard on it, and I’m pleased with the end result.
Describe your writing routine.
I finish my shower, breakfast, email, and social media, then set to work. All I need is a glass of water and my current novel document opened. I re-read 3-4 pages to get into the flow, making minor changes to what I wrote the day before. Then I continue with new stuff, writing anywhere from half a page (when research or plotting or real life slows me down), to 5 pages on a super productive day. I highlight words or phrases I’m not sure about in red, saving those to deal with later so my flow isn’t interrupted. I use a rough but not strict outline, to allow for “happy accidents” that spring up more organically to the characters and plot.
What’s on your “want to read next” pile?
Goodreads is an excellent way to keep track of books I want to read, such as Crown of Feathers by Nikki Pau Preto, Perfect Ruin by Lauren DeStefano, and Rewind by Carolyn O’Doherty.
What ideas intrigue you and just might show up in future work/s?
I have at least one idea tickling my brain right now, a YA fantasy twist on a classic late 1800’s story, but I don’t publicly tell people details about my future novels because, well, I’m just secretive that way! My ideas are usually weird twists of real life, since I write fantasy and sci-fi.
How can Literate Lives readers help you get the word out about the Junction 2020 Trilogy?
Any exposure is great. Just having people become aware of a book is important, especially with the rise of self-publishing and so many new books appearing on the market. Thank you for inviting me to your blog and interviewing me, Debby!
Thank you, Carol, for joining us here at Literate Lives!
If you would like to learn more about Carol and her novels visit her on her website.
What is an interesting book you have read this holiday season?
Could you recommend a novel that also deals with facing our fears?
Please post the title and author for either response in the comment box below so others can find and enjoy your recommendations. Let’s encourage one another in our reading/writing lives.
One beloved feature of the holiday season is the familiar stories we tell. It is framed by songs, books, movies, religious practices, and the unique family stories we cherish. And every one of these centers on a character or group of characters.
Understanding characters is central to comprehending fiction and much of non-fiction. It is so central, it is included in the common core standards and many of the state standards that preceded these.
As a fiction author, I do not have a viable story idea until I have envisioned a character. In fact, much of my fiction comes to me in the form of a character first.
Here is a Language Arts Lesson to help you teach this important skill.
Character Analysis Exercise: Discuss and Instruct
For this exercise, instruct your students to think of a favorite holiday character, from any form of media. There’s Rudolf and Frosty from songs, Ebenezer Scrooge from classic literature and movies, and the iconic figures of the religious practices in which the holiday season is rooted. Many of the characters appear in multiple stories. Invite your students to share, and honor the choices of every one
Discuss the ways creators help their audiences understand the characters that make their stories meaningful.
How the character looks—both the basics of the physical appearance we are born with and the things we have control of, like hair style, clothing, and accessories, reveals character. However, like the old adage about books and covers, a character cannot be fully understood by appearance alone.
What the character does—our behavior reveals far more about us than does our appearance. How does a character carry herself? How does he relate to others? What does she like to do? What does he hate to do? How does this character choose to invest his or her time?
What the character says—what we say reveals far more than the information we want to convey. It can reveal where we are from, our degree of interest, our attitudes, our moods, how we feel about the people we are interacting with and more. Even what a character doesn’t say can be revealing.
As we move “inward,” the character tells become more and more significant.
How a character thinks—our thought patterns, like what we say and do, reveals a great deal about us, and in characterization, this is where things can get really interesting. A character can speak and act one way, while carrying on an inner thought process that can stray so far as to even be contradictory. Our thoughts also reveal our general attitudes toward life—optimistic, pessimistic, cynical, enthusiastic—which in turn colors what we do and say. So, too, with characters.
How a character feels—this one is two-pronged. How does the character feel, physically, and how does the character feel, emotionally? Is she fit and healthy? Has he been injured, or does he experience a chronic illness? Our responses to how we feel color what we say or do and impact our overall attitude.
How a character feels emotionally—a fully rounded character experiences joys and sorrows, trials and challenges and has done so during the phases of their “lives” that occurred outside the framework of their story. These, too, impact behavior and choices. An intriguing or beloved character is never perfect. Furthermore, characters rarely live in a vacuum. As they work their stories out, they interact with others. They have good days, bad days, and many people in their lives. Who do they love? Who do they tolerate? Who do they loathe? This impacts how they react to and treat secondary characters. It also reveals who they are as a person.
Discuss a character from a story previously read by the class to analyze each of the above features and list class findings on the board as they come up.
Pass out the handout.
Instruct your students to give an example (or two or three—whatever you feel your students are ready for) for each of the ways creators make their characters seem real.
Another way to use the handout is to have the students work in small groups or pairs. If this approach is chosen, you could have each group present their finished analysis to the class using the document camera. This would allow you to assess for speaking standards as well.
A Step Farther
Use this character handout for the springboard to a creative writing assignment. Instruct students create a character, and then assign a short story written about this character.
Who is one of your favorite holiday characters? What qualities or traits make you love him or her?
I am so excited for this Advent season (the Christian church calendar’s four Sundays plus remaining days before Christmas) to begin!
Why? Because I am finally going to doodle one of Sybil Macbeth’s Advent calendars, and my mom, daughter, and granddaughter are going to do it too! We’re going to share our Advent creations Christmas Eve! (Please forgive the excess exclamation points; I truly am excited.)
Who is Sybil Macbeth?
If you are new to following Literate Lives, you may not be familiar with Macbeth and her book and blog, Praying in Color.
Reading Praying in Color revolutionized my prayer life. What Macbeth teaches and practices is prayer through drawing, writing, and coloring—essentially, mindful doodling.
For me, this practice has helped me to pray when I have more feelings than words to speak. Her drawing, coloring, writing practice has also helped me pray for longer amounts of time, stay focused, and pray with greater depth.
What is Sybil Macbeth’s Advent Practice?
At its most basic, Macbeth’s practice for the season of Advent is to doodle/meditate/pray each day through the three-plus weeks before Christmas.
She has developed a variety of creative grids that have a spot for each day’s prayer/meditation, which she shares, for free, on her site https://prayingincolor.com/handouts. My family and I have all chosen to do the Christmas tree template, but there are several others—including calendar-style rectangles and a “stained glass window” baby Jesus.
Macbeth also recommends multiple ways for using the Advent grids each day:
Write the name of a loved one in a space and pray exclusively for them.
If you are using a devotional book, choose a word from your reading upon which to pray and meditate.
Because Advent is a season of hope, you might use each space to doodle what you hope for, not just tangible items, but hopes and dreams for yourself and others as well.
Since Christmas is the holiday that celebrates Christ’s birth, you could use each space to reflect on one of the many names for Jesus—wonderful counselor, prince of peace…
Last year, Macbeth shared an article she’d written for The Living Church, “Year-round Advent,” in which one of her suggestions was to make a list of words you associate with the Advent season and select one to doodle in the day’s space. I was excited to try this strategy. Macbeth and The Living Church provided a list of words and quickly brainstormed some more:
I planned to use an index card for each day, but got derailed very early in the season by illness. Here is one of the cards I did make:
(Sorry for the crooked scan, at the time, I never thought I’d be sharing it.) A new Advent word list is posted on the Building Faith website, here.
For my Advent Tree, I want to doodle prayers for loved ones and some Advent vocabulary. I’m planning to alternate from one to the other each day.
How do you celebrate Advent or count down to your family’s holiday? Please use the comment box, below, to share your favorite practices. Let’s celebrate a December filled with love and goodwill, and of course, let’s ever continue to encourage one another!
P.S. Our schedule at Literate Lives will be a little different this upcoming month. In order to bypass Christmas, instead of blogging on the first and third Thursdays of the month, Literate Lives will come to your inbox on the second and fourth. Have a wonderful holiday season!
It’s time for Thanksgiving, and I have enjoyed reading a variety of blog posts I’d saved just for this holiday month. Here are a few nibbles from each. Just click through the title links if you want to read the entire article.
“Be thankful for growing older. Not everyone gets this opportunity. Aging with health and grace is a rare and beautiful gift.”
“Be thankful that you can read these words. It is a very sad thing that many people do not have the ability to read.” This second one is definitely a favorite of mine. The ability to read and write has enriched my life in so many ways—helping me to learn, express myself, enjoy myself, even work at a job I loved–helping students build their reading and writing skills.
And last, this suggestion, particularly poignant since my dad died just a year and a half ago: “When your parents are telling you how to run your life, be thankful that you still have them around.”
“If you’ve ever dealt with a serious or chronic illness you know how important your health is. Being with someone who will care for you if you ever have a physical crisis gives you a powerful sense of well-being.”
After enduring several consecutive seasons of prolonged illness, I know how one’s health truly is. I also know, without the love and support of my husband, this time of nearly 100% rest would have been unbearable for this recovering-perfectionist overachiever. Early on, especially, depression hovered at the periphery of my days, and I am still learning how to live well when not feeling well.
Gratitude is Good for You
In, “Gratitude and Giving Thanks: Being thankful is not just part of a holiday, it’s good for your mental health,” Samantha Smith, Psy.D. points out that negativity bias, a propensity for focusing on what’s going wrong, comes naturally to human beings and shares studies indicating the practice of gratitude “can have a powerfully positive effect on our lives.” Studies indicate that nurturing gratitude can lead to better health, increased optimism, greater satisfaction in both your familial and social relationships, and enhanced academic achievement.
She then lists a number of ways to maintain a grateful perspective. The first, keeping a gratitude journal, is something I have benefited from greatly. She lists five other practices, some I would never have thought of, that are worth taking a look at as well.
So, how do you want to practice Thanksgiving this year? I have two suggestions to consider. First, cut out one paper leaf using a variety of autumnal colors, for each person who will be attending Thanksgiving dinner. Place one leaf at each place setting and scatter pens /pencils across the table. Rather than ask each person to tell what they are thankful for this year, ask them to write it down on their leaf. After dinner, either collect the leaves and make a Thanksgiving wreath by taping them onto a pre-cut cardboard ring. Other options could be to have the children who are present tape the leaves to the ring, or have each individual tape his or her own leaf on the ring. When done, hang the wreath somewhere everyone can enjoy it.
Option Two? Consider making a Thanksgiving time capsule. For this you will need slips of paper, pens/pencils, and a jar. If you wish, decorate the jar ahead of time or ask someone crafty (or a kid) to do so. This time, instead of asking Thanksgiving diners to share what they are grateful for, ask them to write it down on a slip of paper, sign their name, and place the slip in the jar. Wait a year, and on Thanksgiving 2019, as you sit down to dinner, open the jar and enjoy reading aloud what people were thankful for last years. Discussing what you were grateful for in the past can be a great conversation starter for reflecting what you are thankful for in the new year.
In either case, you can still add the step of sharing, verbally, what you’ve written.
More Things to be Thankful For
If you would like more suggestions for sharing gratitude with your friends and family this season, check out “Thanksgiving Conversation Starters,” a post from Literate Lives’ Thanksgiving past:
How do you and your family express gratitude at your Thanksgiving gatherings?
What kinds of questions do you ask to help loved ones focus on what they are grateful for this season?
Today I would like to introduce you to my friend, Gretchen McLellan, author of I’m Done, as well as Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3 and, coming soon, Button and Bundle. Gretchen has been a friend of mine through SCBWI (that’s the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Oregon Chapter for many years. I hope you’ll enjoy her and her writing as much as I do.
LL: What was your inspiration for I’m Done?
Gretchen: Kids! In my former life I was a reading specialist in elementary schools. I heard, “I’m Done!” over and over and over again, but the children making this very public announcement rarely understood what being done meant.
I knew that I wanted to write a book with that title, and one day after work I decided to give it a try. I still only had a title, or so I thought. I said to myself, I’ll try this out as an animal story. (I usually write human characters.) Pick an animal, any animal. It was no stroke of genius that a beaver popped into my mind. Then my pen started moving, and this story poured out of me like water breaking through a proverbial dam.
But the unconscious inspiration for this story is much deeper. “I’m Done” is a deceptively simple phrase. Said with joy, frustration, or despair it takes on many meanings, all that resonate with me in the process of writing and in the journey toward publication and beyond.
LL: Describe I’m Done in 5 words:
Gretchen: a joyful celebration of perseverance
LL: What theme/s play an important role in I’m Done?
Gretchen: Perseverance. I am the poster child of perseverance. My journey to publication was as lengthy and arduous as an epic tale. At one point, I thought I was done. Finished. I was quitting writing, abandoning my dream. I knew I could not show up at another conference or retreat unpublished, ever again. I didn’t want to be an object of pity. But at the eleventh hour, I signed up for an SCBWI retreat for the last time, partially lured by the last-day-of-the-early-bird-discount email and the news that there was still a critique slot left with an agent, and partly because I wanted to see my friends.
It turns out I wasn’t done yet.
In that critique slot, I met my wonderful agent. I have two published picture books with three more on the calendar.
I didn’t give up and neither does Little Beaver.
LL: What is it about I’m Done that has turned out to be the most meaningful to you?
Gretchen: Definitely the relationships I’ve made in the making of the book, first with my editor, second with my illustrator.
Working with my editor was a joy. We had several rounds of written revisions that made the story better and better. Finally, the story was ready for the art. Then the f&gs (the folded and gathered pages of the printed but unbound book) arrived, and we had a phone meeting to discuss them. Sometime during the nearly two hours we spent on the phone together, I stopped and said, “Can you believe that we get to do this for work! This is so much fun!” Revising with her was a peak experience.
Next, the unexpected relationship with my illustrator, Catherine Lazar Odell, has been meaningful as well. Authors and illustrators rarely communicate. I have never written or spoken directly with any of my four illustrators during the process of making our books. If I’m invited to comment on the illustrations, my comments are filtered by the editor and art director, and rightfully so. I respect this process. Maybe it’s because Catherine’s and my editor realized how close we lived to each other that she broke protocol. But after the book had gone to press, she asked us if we’d like to exchange emails. We both did. What came next was up to us. Now I have the pleasure of gushing in person about how wonderful her artwork is and doing events together.
LL: What is the most fun you’ve had with I’m Done since its release?
Gretchen: Doing story times at bookstores with an audience of families. I love creating all the adjunct activities that go with my books for story times. My story times involve puppets, fingerplays, chants and crafts, and are always under revision as I try to improve each time. Sharing the stage doing Little Beaver’s voice and not only reading aloud with Catherine but watching her draw Little Beaver with kids is fantastic.
LL: Which of your picture books was easiest to write? Why?
Gretchen: I think I’m Done!, probably because it had been incubating, unbeknownst to me, for a long time. When I sat down to write, it came to me whole with a nibble, nibble, snap. Naturally, I made lots of changes to the first draft, and after the book sold (to Holiday House) made a lot more, before and after the art was in. But the story was there from the beginning.
But being “done” with a manuscript is often defined by the deadline to get the book to print so it can make its release date😊. I’d still like to make a change or two.
LL: Which of your picture books is your favorite?
Gretchen: I’m working with one of my editors on a picture book named I Hate Favorites! Does that answer your question?
LL: Funny! …on to the next question– How does your training as a reading specialist influence your writing?
Gretchen: I have shared a lot of books with a lot of children. I know the spell a good story can cast. Those that speak beautifully to children’s curiosity and hearts and honor who they are and their current developmental challenges are received with a quiet, active listening that is magic during a read-aloud. I try to write so that magic can occur. That involves knowing where kids are in their development as readers and as little human beings.
When I use repetition, rhyme, assonance and word play, I know I am writing in a way that is both pleasing to the ear, but also developing phonemic awareness, a necessary skill in becoming a reader. The nibble nibble snap, scoop scoop pat repetition and onomatopoeia of flish flish swish and wing wing zing in I’m Done! are examples.
When I use an unfamiliar word (for the picture book set) I know I am adding to their vocabulary, sometimes giving children a word at the center of an experience that they don’t yet have a name for. For example, in Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3, I explore the word bittersweet. The story is about the bittersweet of saying good-bye to a beloved teacher at the end of the school year. In the story Mrs. McBee explains the word to her class with a simile. “It’s like a swirly ice-cream cone with sad and happy twisted together.”
I am intentional about my word choice, aware of the role of picture books in building vocabulary. I don’t write down to the picture book audience, but I also try not to overload them with too many new vocabulary words either. In the reading field we talk about concept load. I can remember having too many new vocabulary terms loaded on me in school. It made me feel both ignorant and like screaming. I don’t want to make this mistake with my readers.
I am very aware that children’s background knowledge, or schema, influences their comprehension of a text. I ask myself what I can reasonably assume that a child knows about the topic (including vocabulary) and this influences what I state directly and what I can leave to the reader to infer. This is important in fiction and nonfiction texts. Reading builds schema, which improves future comprehension. Furthermore, illustrations in picture books do lots of heavy lifting in providing visual information that aids comprehension. I write with the illustrations in mind too.
LL: Describe your early life as a reader/writer.
Gretchen:One of my most precious memories of school is my teacher reading Charlotte’s Web aloud. I couldn’t wait to go to school every day to hear more of that book. I can’t separate my early life as a reader/writer from my life as a listener. I still love the spoken word and listen regularly to books on CD.
I became a letter writer early, because I moved so much. Back in the days before instant communication, if I didn’t write the friends I had to leave behind, these friendships would die. I lived overseas and making international calls was too expensive. So I wrote letters.
My dreams of being a writer came much later when I discovered picture books as a mom.
LL: Describe your “literate lifestyle” now.
Gretchen: On the back flap of I’m Done! is the following:
Gretchen Brandenburg McLellan writes everywhere she can–in barns and bookstores, bathtubs and beds, cars and coffeehouses. She has yet to write in a beaver lodge.
That about says it all. I write where ever I can with whatever time I have, and I try to write every day. I have several projects going at once, setting one aside to gain the perspective of distance and shifting to another. Since publication, I have been doing a lot of business and promotional writing. This kind of writing doesn’t exactly feed my soul. But it is an unanticipated necessity in the life of an author. I need to write fiction to feel balanced.
LL: What are you presently working on, and what’s next for you?
Gretchen: I am revising several picture books and a couple middle-grade novels. I’m always open to the rush of a new idea and honor ideas when they come, because they come with their tanks full. I’ve got a lot of projects stuck in a long line at the pumps.
LL: How can Literate Lives readers help you get the word out about I’m Done?
Gretchen: If readers are willing, requesting the book at their local library is always helpful. Libraries usually honor patrons’ requests, and it’s easy to make one from the comfort of your favorite chair and computer.
Reviewing books on Amazon and Goodreads is helpful as well. This can be as simple as rating the book with the number of stars it deserves for you or writing a quick review that could guide readers to the book.
I think I’m Done! is right for many audiences for many reasons.
For children it’s an entertaining and humorous story about the value of perseverance/persistence and the joy of completing a task that you are proud of.
For parents and teachers, it’s a story that can lead to discussions about what it means to be done and what it takes to stick with something.
It’s a story that promotes social and emotional development. How many of us were criticized for not doing something well when no one ever defined what the job at hand entailed in the first place? I’m hoping that at home and at school, the story will help adults help children understand expectations more clearly and experience success more regularly.
If Literate Lives readers have Preschool-2nd grade teachers in their lives, a recommendation would be fantastic. Every teacher has heard “I’m Done!” and every teacher is looking for texts that promote emotional intelligence, reading development, community, and the value of perseverance.
In addition, I have resources available on gretchenmclellan.com for teachers to download e.g. a Readers’ Theatre adaptation of the story, chants, and blackline masters for crafts.
It wasn’t until I held the f&gs for I’m Done! that I realized the story is a metaphor for writing—and so much more. How do you know when you’re done with a novel? How do you develop the internal guide that tells you to stop writing or painting or carving before it’s too late? I think this book speaks to young and old alike in so many ways. It speaks about the support we need in our creative work, how comradery can be so important to completing a project (and a distraction too!) and how we must develop an inner sense of quality, form, and beauty to know when we are done. So this book is for you too!
LL: Thank you, Gretchen! It is so interesting to learn about I’m Done! in particular, and how you craft your books to help build early literacy skills in young readers. Little Beaver’s story, and your own, are both so encouraging.
I don’t know about my readers, but I most definitely have a little one on my Christmas list who I think might be receiving a copy of I’m Done! this December.
Gretchen’s story about her first book sale continues to inspire me as I seek publication for my own novels.
Have you ever felt, after a lot of hard work, that you were “done” before life surprised you with a wonderful opportunity? Please use the comment box below to share your story.
I love reading response questions and exercises. As a teacher, they served as a means for building my students’ reading skills with self-selected reading; as a parent, they provide valuable conversations starters and opportunities to nurture my kids’ literacy skills (whether reading is done together or side by side); and as a reader, I enjoy how they propel deeper thought about what I am reading, and their usefulness when thinking about writing a review—which helps both authors and fellow readers.
What follows are six reading response questions/exercises to prompt writing or conversations. Before you or your student uses them, however, be sure to read either a whole picture book or for 15 to 20 minutes in a novel
Put on your newspaper reporters hat. Answer the 5 W’s (Who? What? When? Where? Why?) You can even throw in #6—How? Support your answer to each question by including a detail for each from the text.
Play teacher. Write three questions about what was just read: 1) A factual question, a question someone can find written in the text, 2) An inferential question, a question that can only be answered using clues within the text, 3) A critical question, a question that asks for an opinion or conclusion based on evidence in the text. Have fun sharing your questions and answers.
Compare and contrast. How does what was just read compare to a previous book read or movie/TV show viewed? How are they similar? How are they different? Was one enjoyed more than the other? Why?
Be the judge. Pick a character and list three things he or she has done. Pick one of these actions and explain why you think it was a good or bad thing to do.
Make a simple prediction. What do you think will happen next or result from a plan made in your reading? What in the text makes you think this? What do you think will be the consequences of this action or event?
Be a time tripper. How would being set in a different time period effect what you are reading. For example, if the story is set in the past, how would happening now change it. You can choose to jump forward or backward in time. Explain how the change in time period would effect what has happened so far in your reading and might impact the outcome.
There you have it—6 ways to have fun with your and your kids’ reading and improve reading/thinking skills.
Which exercise did you like best? Did you or your student/s write one you’d like to share (be sure to let us know the title and author of the book it’s based on, in case we are intrigued and want to read it.
Or, do you have particular reading response exercise you enjoy using? How about sharing it here? Just use the comment box below.
*Background for graphic: Depositphotos_135562_original
Homework. Any kid will tell you they hate it. What might be more surprising is that many a parent and teacher may say the same, especially for students at the elementary level.
My Relationship with Homework
When I was an elementary student, very little homework was assigned, and that which was usually entailed work on a long-term project, 4th -6th grade level, that we were also working on in class. So, imagine my astonishment when my firstborn child came home from kindergarten with homework.
My firstborn is as stubborn—uh, I mean persistent, as I am, so getting homework done each night was at a minimum a pure, half-hour of agony. To this day, I firmly believe kindergartners should not have homework (nor should they have to attend a full day of school, but that’s a different conversation…).
Keeping track of homework for my elementary age children was at the least a headache, at the worst a long, drawn out drama.
Teaching & Homework
While I have only student-taught at the elementary level, I believe I could say with confidence that had I been hired at that level, my principal would have had to require me to assign homework before I ever would.
The situation gets a little different in middle school and high school. At these levels, students are ready to begin acting more autonomously, and in the case of high school students, must be prepared to function independently in the career or college world; managing homework helps with this.
When I earned my MAT, the recommendation for middle school students was ten minutes/day/class, and for high school an additional 5 minutes more/grade level (although this seemed pretty excessive to me as students approach 12th grade). However, 10 minutes per day seemed pretty reasonable, and I strove to use it as my guide. As a Language Arts Teacher, for homework I usually assigned reading any book of choice for 10-15 minutes and responding, in 3-5 sentences to a reading response question, two or three days a week.
Beyond that, I tried to allow plenty of time in class to complete assignments (for which the requirements were differentiated according to student needs). Those students who did not complete their assignments during class time, were expected to complete it that night and turn it in the next day.
One final, and what I feel was the most important, part of my policy was if students worked for ten minutes at the homework task, they could request their parents write a note explaining they had done so. With that assurance, I would excuse or make other arrangements for any incomplete work. With my students busy sports and extracurricular activities, it always saddened me that parents did not utilize this option more frequently.
So Why Am I So Down on Homework?
Again, this mostly applies to elementary level students, but some thought should be given to middle and high school students’ schedules as well. Students spend a lot of structured time in school and with extra-curricular activities (again, another topic for another time). Furthermore, in high school, they might even have jobs. With homework added in, that may be all they have time for in their lives, and perhaps not even enough time for healthy sleep.
Family time and unstructured play time or down time are often what are lost. I think this is a terrible disservice to our kids. Students need time to invest in and develop relationships both within their families and with their peers. Furthermore, they need time to play, explore their interests, and engage in spontaneous creativity. As Marie Montessori says, “Play is the work of the child.”
What Got Me Reflecting on This Subject?
First, it is the beginning of a new school year when teachers are crafting and cementing their policies. This is a good time to think about homework.
Second, reading the article, “If Elementary Schools Say No to Homework, What Takes Its Place?” by Tim Walker, got me thinking. Walker’s article looks at how many schools are rethinking the value of homework, explains some good reasons for it, like opportunities for additional practice of skills, and some good reasons for eliminating it, like the stress many students feel trying to learn at home.
Finally, reading Conn McQuinn’s article, “https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=brain-science-of-making “The Brain Science of Making,” got me thinking both about the important role practice plays in learning and the benefits of downtime and play. McQuinn points out that “tinkering” time is crucial for acquiring the executive functioning skills that ultimately make one able to function in adult life, and that downtime also relieves stress, an excess of which impedes learning.
This is a big topic, much larger than my blog and these two articles cited. Schools and teachers have so many expectations placed upon them; this is in no way a call to bash teachers who do or do not embrace homework. Rather, I want to invite conversation. Parents, teachers, what do you think? What do you suggest? Please use the comment box to share your responses. And remember, let’s encourage one another!