How NOT to talk to your child about your concerns about their grades, brought to you from one mom's experience (okay, yes...from MY experience)...
Things to definitely not do:
1. Wait for the right time, maybe a few hours or even a couple of days, if its a busy weekend, but then suddenly, randomly bring it up on Monday morning on the 5-minute drive to school with the sibling in the back seat, when your already a tiny bit late, and when your child is barely able to move because of the monday morning absence of magic.
2. Raise your voice back when your child gets defensive.
3. Share a brief moment of silent, sullen eye-contact as your child shuts the door and walks away toward the school, feeling even worse now that they did before...which hadn't seemed possible, but apparently is.
4. Feel like crap about yourself on the drive home. Kick yourself multiple times.
5. Pray like hell that somehow something good will happen at school to reverse your lack of wisdom and to help encourage your child. This one is actually okay to do. We are always praying for our children, aren't we?
Dad and I are in the old ford pick up. It's loud. It's green. It's got a long stick shift reaching up from the floor. Dad's driving. I'm about 14. We are smiling and talking and suddenly we begin singing "You are my Sunshine". I sing the melody. He sings the harmony. Our voices blend and I wonder for a second if I am singing harmony and he's singing melody. Afterward we laugh from the fun of it.
Dad shifts down into 3rd as we come to the 25 mile an hour section. We pass the baseball field on the right. The chain link fence raises high around the home plate. The empty bleachers. The sun. The grass. The doug firs standing guard at a respectful distance.
My youngest daughter yesterday:
1. "Mom, I just came to hug you goodnight."
It's 10pm. I am just out of the bath and wrapped in my towel. I tucked her in an hour ago. We hug.
"And there's another thing too." She hesitates. "I want to apologize."
"When you asked me if I was done with my reading, I said yes, but I actually wasn't." She gives a little smile and a sideways glance into my eyes. "I don't know why I lied about such a small thing."
"Is your reading finished now?"
"Yes. I actually read 9 pages over!" she says with expression and pride. "Sorry I lied."
"Thank you for telling me. I appreciate your honesty. I feel like I can really trust you when you tell the truth."
We hug. She is so light and spritely. A little fairy-princess-warrior-human child.
2. I find out this morning that last night she snuck two of her precious dollars into her sister's wallet, because she heard her talking about needing money for a concert t-shirt.
3. She also made a little get-well gift for her friend. She put a couple of small toy figures into a worry-doll box, tied a tiny piece of halloween candy on top...a 3-musketeers. She describes the 3-musketeers candy to me with joyful wonder, asking if I've ever had one before. "It's soft, airy chocolate surrounded by more chocolate!"
This lesson is inspired by the best grammar book I have ever found: Image Grammar: Using Grammatical Structures to Teach Writing, by Harry R. Noden.
Mini lesson (takes about 10 mins with student discussion):
Putting rhythm into any genre of writing can be easy and will instantly bring our writing to the next level. Writing is a lot like music. When it has a rhythm to it, the words and ideas flow to the reader, making it easy and enjoyable to read. It's fun to play around with rhythm in our writing.
I give this example. We read it together and discuss. Hearing the students put their observations into words is interesting...they can feel it, just like we feel the beat in a song. We have a chance to review verbs, adjectives and adverbs as well.
Then I give the following sentence frames and make-up spontaneous examples, using characters and situations from the students' stories...it lights them up when they hear their very own character or setting being used as the example. It also shows how easily this can be applied to their own writing and how quickly it makes their writing sound good.
The students get to choose one of these structures to use in their writing that day. It's up to them which one they use and where they put it, but they have to practice using rhythm somewhere in their writing during the workshop time.
Then the students choose their writing spots, and writing time begins.
Here is an example from one writer:
"The dirty, not-so-white dog trotted down the dark lonely road, through the strawberry patch, and across the rickety bridge. She lifted her nose to catch the mouthwatering scent of a turkey just taken out of Mrs. Mabel's oven. Mrs. Mabel knew how to cook a good turkey, and Daisy was determined to taste as much as she could get her teeth around. Daisy was a dog who knew what she wanted, who never gave up, and who would do whatever it took to get the job done. And thus the thanksgiving disaster began."
I am loving meeting the new and returning writers this week. The writer's workshops are off to a great start. I watch the spark of creative excitement light up one-by-one in the children's eyes as we create characters together and feel new stories taking shape. Watching that spark spread around the circle like a little fireworks show, seeing their eyes begin to shine, and then hearing the kids say, "Can we go write now?!" with such eagerness is the reason I keep teaching these classes. It makes me smile even now. :)
What makes the magic possible is the safety and freedom I establish in the group. It is not possible to fail. Spelling and punctuation matter, but not in the first write. We will fix those things later. I don't want the kids to think that spelling is what writing is about! We are up to much bigger things, and while its true that they will become better spellers and punctuators, what matters to me is that they become detail-noticers, world-creators, imagination-followers, confident storytellers who are able to engage in the creative process and not get too worried when they get stuck or when things turn out differently than they had thought.
Writing is one way to make sense of ourselves and the world around us, and I am very happy to be writing with these amazing children.