Wednesday, June 3, 2015


When I was a kid, I had this philosophical problem with the idea of the teaching profession.

My rival in elementary school, Carrie Cofer, announced to our delighted teacher that she wanted to be a teacher when she grew up. Being both jealous of the teacher's praise and somewhat literal-minded, I thought about the logical implications of what could happen if everyone grew up to become a teacher. It seemed to me that teachers did not have any inherent purpose, other than to continue the system of producing people who could one day be teachers. I thought, surely there must be some important thing people should actually DO, not just teach other people to do. So it was unclear to me what teachers' purpose actually was, and I determined it was illogical to become a teacher.

Later, when I became a teacher, I encountered this term over and over and over again: "data-driven."

Just take a moment to consider that term. Form an image in your mind. Really delve into what that term means. Driven by data.

The word "drive" implies that you are commanding something to go in a particular direction. Usually, you drive a living thing to take you somewhere: You drive a car because people once drove horses to pull their carriages. You are forcing something to do as you command. In contrast, you ride a bike: you are participating as much as the bike is.

Let's continue. In the course of conversation, my husband and I recently discovered that many "dr" words have to do with manipulating objects. You drape fabric. You drop an item. You draw (pull) things out of a draw-er.  Drip. Drain. Drag. Drench. Dress (put clothing onto), dribble, drill, drum, dry, I would even argue that to drawl is to pull words slowly, as if they were objects.

The person that does these things is generally a human being who is manipulating an object or an animal. It's really a beautiful trick, to think of words this way, so that a mere combination of two sounds (juh, ruh)  conveys a concept (human manipulating object). *

So then, what does it mean for a human to be "driven"? Someone or something is cracking a whip behind us, compelling us to do something or move in a direction we would not choose on our own?

But humans are not objects or animals. Only another human can drive us and to force a human to do something he or she would not otherwise do is wrong. As a society we accept this overtly only when otherwise the person would be a danger to himself or others, such as the mentally ill, or among those who have committed a crime.

So why accept this language, "driven"? Who or what is driving? Towards where?

Some people say they are driven by God or by truth. Still, they are deciding what to be driven by, and are ultimately responsible for their choices. They are not "driven" in the true sense, of being manipulated like an object by God or by truth. Human beings make choices because we have free will, and we cannot abrogate responsibility for those choices, no matter what or who we claim was really responsible.

Did you know you should not reward a child for doing an activity that you want him to really enjoy?
If you give a child a reward when he reads a book, he will likely lose interest in reading once you wean him off of the reward system. He may become "driven" by the reward, and not by any inherent joy to be found in the activity. Similarly, I am baffled by ads that call for sales people who "MUST BE MONEY-DRIVEN." What are you going to do with the money? Just get a bunch of it and that's the purpose of your existence?

You also encounter this concept when you hear about overwhelmed parents. I am not a parent yet myself, but when I am, I don't think it would be right to let the child become my reason for living. Then what will be the child's reason for living? The hypothetical future grandchild? Life must be meaningful and enjoyable to us right now, not at some future time when we have achieved our goals.

Well, to come back to my decision to become a teacher, I discovered there was a reason for this profession. The purpose is not, as I thought then, to create future good citizens. The purpose is to enjoy learning, and to introduce others to a future that might be filled with the joy of learning.

The purpose is certainly not to train children (train is similar to the "dr" words!) to score highly on standardized tests, so that they can get into good colleges that let them get jobs which pay a lot of money. But that's a topic for another day.

*You encounter this type of etymology in other languages, like Arabic, where three consonants always signify a particular concept, and the vowels are changed to mean different versions or manipulations of the base concept. It was delightful to find that the same thing exists in English (another example we found: sn often connotes things having to do with the nose: snore, snarl, sniff, sneer).

Monday, May 11, 2015


            I love libraries.
Pop-White Library - Children's Section
            I started loving libraries when I was in elementary school. My elementary school librarian at Sea Isle, Ms. Jenkins, was wonderful. The Sea Isle library had an enormous collection of books, all very interesting to a 3rd-6th grader, like me. I checked out the limit of books every week, when we went to library. As I remember, we were allowed to check out up to 7 books a week.
            My mom promoted reading in our home, and we had an amazingly large library in our house, ourselves. It had over 500 books and those shelves lined the walls of a large room in the center of the house (aptly called, by us, "the library"). However, most of the books were old T.V. Guides carefully arranged and saved by my grandfather, my uncle's college textbooks, and Reader's Digests (this reading material does not generally appeal to a grade-schooler). My mom tried to take us to the public library often, but she worked a lot, and was too tired to take us anywhere most of the time.
My classroom library - close up view
            So having a well-stocked, beautiful, accessible school library is the reason I became a reader, and a lover of literature. It also exposed me to things I wouldn't have otherwise been exposed to: the idea of evolution, for instance. (I did live in a southern city...)
An activity: Sit in the library and read to a stuffed animal
            I went to visit Sea Isle last Friday, and couldn't pass up the chance to look at the library again. It was just as I remembered it (just a little smaller). The librarian they have now, Ms. Hefner, is just as great a librarian as Ms. Jenkins was. She is very passionate about reading, dresses up in costume to enhance her librarian activities and interest children, and was touched when I told her, "This library is what founded in me a love of reading."

An activity - read a Big Book
            It won't surprise you, then, to learn that, when I became a teacher, I spent an enormous amount of time (and, ahem, money) on my school library.
During independent reading time, kids were allowed to "read around the room"
            I was given a great start by my mother-in-law, a retiring teacher, who had at least 400 high-interest books in her second grade classroom library. I loved and am still grateful for this gift, but I did see holes in the inventory: there weren't a lot of books featuring or written by people of color, and I needed a lot more low-reading-level books for my lower grade level. So I went to Davis Kidd (now Laurelwood Booksellers) every week and spent... probably too much money, adding to my library.
You have no idea how happy this photo makes me
            This work on my classroom library was essential, because, and I hate to tell you this, the school library where I taught was not what it should have been. There were not enough books. When books were lost at home, parents in my neighborhood did not have the money to pay for them, and, to avoid losing more, the librarian did not often let children take books home. 
A popular activity in my classroom - read with a friend
            Now, I understand losing books. I lost a lot of those Sea Isle library books when I was a kid. My house was messy, and you never knew what would happen to something if you set it down. Often I didn't find a book until years later. But at the end of the year, when the librarian sent a note home telling my mom what was lost, and how much it would cost to pay for it, she did have the money to pay for it, and of course she did send a check to the school. In impoverished neighborhoods like the one where I taught, this just cannot happen, and we as a society must develop a better system to deal with this problem than just not sending books home.
To engage kids who are emergent readers - Puppet books!
            But enough of this soapbox. As a classroom teacher there in a school with (essentially) no school library, I made sure my classroom library was extra wonderful. Although I did not send books home (did I mention how much I had spent on this library?) I did let kids read whatever they wanted and gave them reading time every single day. I tried to make the library experience as appealing as possible. I modeled my library on Ms. Daniel's classroom library - this was my third grade teacher at Sea Isle. She was the first teacher I had (and maybe the only one?) who gave us privacy while we read her classroom library books, and made it look cozy for us with comfortable chairs, pillows, and lamps. It's not a coincidence that I first started reading on grade level (and above grade level) in third grade, in her classroom.
You were even allowed to read your Reading textbook - if you wanted!
 Steps for Independent Reading Time in My Classroom
  1. I would read the kids a story while they sat on the carpet
  2. We would discuss the story with my monkey puppet
  3. I would say, "Now you can go to your seats, take your book out of your seat pouch (they were allowed to keep two books from my library in their seat pouch) and read."
  4. "If you are reading quietly, I will pick you to go where you want to read" (they were allowed to read anywhere, and I told them how I love to read laying down, and they could lay down on the carpet if they wanted to)
  5. Or, "If you are reading quietly, I will give you the book I just read to the class to read if you want it"
  6. Or, (during puppet reading) "If you are reading quietly I will give you a puppet that you can read to"
  7. If you want to change books, raise your hand. (No more than two people in the library changing books at a time.)
  8. No more than 5 people laying or sitting in the library reading books at a time.
  9. I the teacher would read my own reading material during independent reading time, to show that adults like to read too
  10. People can read a book together
Some advanced readers really valued this time to read on their own, with no distractions

             It's true that at the beginning of the school year, independent reading is difficult to start. I started with telling the children they can't talk for five minutes - just read. We kept independent reading at 5 minutes for a while. At first I offered lots of rewards for on-task behavior (you get picked to read wherever you want first, you get the storybook I just read, etc). I then moved it up to 8, then 10, and finally 20. My kids got more and more interested in reading time and, more and more, they stayed on task. Sometimes we even did 25 minutes! And when we had to cut reading short for some reason (assembly or school photos, for instance), it made my heart swell with pride when my kids complained.
I love love LOVE seeing boys reading together

             I had my library organized into bins. My books had stickers on them to show them what bin they were supposed to go in when the kids put them back. But (honest talk here) first-graders and kindergartners are not capable of keeping a library straight. If my choice is reduce the number of books or have a messy classroom library, I will always choose the mess. My library was out of order, unless I stayed after school for an hour organizing it (I had a LOT of books in it to organize!). I did stay late every two or three weeks, but mostly kids asked other kids where the book they wanted was (because they had been seen reading it). And I think that's the best way, anyway -- I love the social aspect of it.
Or boys and girls - this was a story I had read to them at story time

             I tried to do a conference with kids regularly - this is when, during silent reading time, you sit with one student and ask them what they have been reading. What did they think of it? Why did they like or not like it? What do they want to read more of? And you help them find a book they would be interested in and would grow their reading level. I also tried having them keep a reading inventory of books they had read, and some of them loved to do this. I encouraged it in those who liked to do it, but didn't force it on those who wanted to spend all of their reading time reading, and not keeping an inventory.
Kids on a lower reading level are pulled up by spending library time with more advanced readers

            I have to tell you that, as simple as it sounds, my being a reader, bringing the novel I was reading to school and reading it in front of them while they were also supposed to be reading, probably did more to encourage them than a lot of these other strategies that required a lot more work!

It's the best when your kids who are most uninterested in reading finally get into it - the social aspect of a classroom library helps with them!
             I'll end with a painting I made of my class reading in my classroom library - this picture continues to fill me with joy.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Giant Hundred Chart

                     Here you can see one of the aspects of my classroom I loved the most: my giant hundred chart.

                     Most teachers have a hundred chart in their room that is a quarter the size of this one. During student teaching, I watched the students count with the teacher on it before each math lesson. I thought this was a great ritual; however, I noticed that the students couldn't actually see the numbers. So I bought four poster boards, taped them together at the back, cut them off to make them into a large square, and drew a grid of 100 squares on it. Then I got stencils (or, actually, I made my own stencils) and wrote the numbers 1-100 on it. Next, (and this was the time consuming part) I carefully "laminated" it by using packing tape. The poster was too big to be put in a traditional laminator.

                     My students loved my hundred chart. I did a lot of things with it. At the beginning of the year, I would pick a student to point to each number while the class counted. Later, I would pick a different student to count backward from 100. I added counting by 2s, 3s, 5s, 10s, always picking a different student for each type of skip counting. I also tried letting the person I picked choose the next student (from someone who had been paying attention and counting), using a can of popsicle sticks with the students' numbers on it to choose randomly. This was just a five-minute ritual we would do at the beginning of every math lesson. If I forgot to do it, someone would remind me, "Mrs. Vaziri, you forgot to count!" - probably because they hoped I would choose them to point.

                     Later in the year, I also demonstrated adding and subtracting using the hundred chart. It is laminated, so, to do the addition 5+7, I would circle 5. Then I would point to 6 and tell them to start counting. "One," they said. I pointed to 7, "two," pointed to 8, "three," and when we got to where they said "seven," I had someone call out "STOP!" and I was pointing to 12. Then I would circle 12 and write that down as the answer. I'm a visual person myself, so I'm sure my visual learners benefited from having addition shown to them in this way. (It is also auditory). And I loved feeling like we were solving a problem together - I really depended on that person to yell, "STOP" because without them I would often forget what we were doing and just keep counting.

                     I gave them blank hundred charts and had them copy it down (I also gave them individual hundred charts). When they finished copying it (which was quite an undertaking and quite an accomplishment!) I made a big deal of it and laminated it so they could follow along when we did addition problems on their personal chart (they had dry erase markers at their tables).

                     But what I most liked was sometimes when kids were between things to do, I would catch them just sitting at their seats and counting on the hundred chart, for fun. Or if I asked them a question, 6+8, they would turn around in their chair and look at the hundred chart to answer (even though they had their own little one in their notebook). That's how I know they loved my giant hundred chart.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Portrait Painting Process

                  Cedar Lorca Nordbye looked at the Memphis Artist Portraits series on my tablet before an art lecture. He said to me, "Why is it that in some of the portraits you seem to really capture their soul?" I didn't quite know how to answer.
                  Your features take on aspects of your personality, your worldview. Certainly you should not judge people by their appearance, but the fact remains that parts of your face are absolutely the result of decisions you have consciously made.

David Hall, Memphis Artist Series, 2013   
Oil on canvas
16 in x 12 in

                  In this portrait of the artist, writer, and teacher David Hall, his eyes strike the viewer as knowledgeable, but trusting of other people. This is conveyed by the lack of tension in the eyebrows as well as the expression of the lips. It is almost as if he is saying, I know maybe I shouldn't trust people (there is some tension around the mouth, the beginning of a grimace), but I do anyway.

Hamlett Dobbins, Memphis Artist Series, 2014  
Oil on canvas
16 in x 12 in

                 Now, there is tension around Hamlett's eyebrows. His eyes are overshadowed at their tops by these brows. It conveys a sense of protections that he has built up around himself - of course I am not criticizing. When I paint a portrait, I first try to find the beautiful aspects of any subject I choose to take on- and I'm not talking just about their features. In Hamlett's eyes I sense (and this is also informed by my reading of his work) a deep, hidden, truth, the "secret garden" referred to in Lolita, a metaphysical beauty all the more valuable and intense because it has been protected from random scrutiny. He won't bring it out into the light and allow it to become everyday, pedestrian. I hear him say this

Girl in White, 2013
 Oil on paper
12 in x 12 in

                  It's hard to say what you see in children, because they are ever-changing, but in the portrait of a girl in white that I painted you see absolute trust. You rarely see this type of trust anywhere, even in children - and the photo was taken the first day she came to my class, by the way, This trust is a major personality trait of hers at that time and has little to do with my abilities as a teacher. Not only does she trust you, as Dave Hall does, but her smile indicates that she thinks you will make her happy, or she is sure she will cheer you up; in any case, you and she will do fun things together.

Mary Jo Karimnia, Memphis Artist Series, 2013   
Oil on canvas
16 in x 12 in

                  Now that I am writing this, it occurs to me that one of the main themes of my portrait painting practice is trust. When I looked through all of the photos I could find of Mary Jo Karimnia, as well as the photos I had taken of her, I was very unhappy. Oh, she looked beautiful and happy in most all of them; I just couldn't find one where she trusted the photographer. I searched and searched until I found a photo taken of her on vacation by one of her children; this provided the eye expression I needed to make a great portrait, and I used other photos to paint the right lighting, posture, and hair configuration. So it occurs to me that what I define as beauty also has to do with revealing one's inner self; it is difficult or impossible to paint a great portrait of someone when you do not know what they hold dear. For Mary Jo, she holds her family close as the most precious thing.
                  I suppose the answer to Cedar's question is that sometimes I appear to have accurately interpreted a person's belief system, either because they try to make this clear (through their art or in another way), or because I have some insight into them. This is of course what I strive for in every portrait I paint. But belief systems can be fluid, and are often inexpressible in words. A truly great portrait painting is always the result of a relationship or an openness between the artist and the subject.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Painting as Therapy

                   By the end of a long school day, children often get wound up and upset about things that have happened over the course of the day. They're tired, and a lot of the time the teacher is, too. I used to follow a wonderful teaching blog, It's Not All Flowers and Sausages, that talked about just this happening and she said that often her solution for her second grade students was to let them paint at the end of the day.
                  I know a lot of teachers will think: There is no way. My kids are so active, all over the place, if I give them paint and cups of water, my room will be a disaster area. Besides, I have to teach them so many standards, I can't be responsible for the art standards, too. This is what I thought, too, until I gave it a try.
                  Preparing over the summer for my second year teaching, I was more confident in my skills and more determined to give my students a great school year. I got some watercolor paper. I did not get the cheap stuff. When I first started painting with watercolor in high school, our art teachers gave us the paper that the school board sent them. It was horrible, with this terrible texture that made everything look like fur. Of course, as a ninth grader I didn't know any better, so I just thought I hated painting.

My first watercolor portrait. Note the terrible watercolor paper.

                   You couldn't do much more to stifle a student's love of art than give them terrible supplies when they are first starting out (in my opinion). (Disclaimer: In tenth grade at least my teacher warned us that this was terrible paper and we should buy our own paper at the art store.)
                    I probably took this art supply dictum to an extreme by extending it to first grade and kindergarten students, but no matter.
                  I also spent quite a bit to make sure I had a watercolor set for every student. The crayola sets aren't too bad, but I tried to get as many Prang sets as I could afford (I do have a problem with spending too much of my money on my classroom).
                  I cut the large watercolor sheets into eighths and used masking tape to attach them to pieces of cardboard I took off of old sketchbooks and notebooks. This was important because my students did not value paper. I wanted to impress upon them that this was different paper, and they wouldn't get a new sheet if they messed up, they just had to make the painting work.
                 Whenever I announced that at the end of the day we would paint for the last hour (for a while I tried to do this every Wednesday, I think), the students looked forward to it eagerly.
                  I had lots of plastic kids' painting cups (like sippy cups with caps on them to minimize spills) and I had the kids fill them up in the water fountain in the hallway. There was one cup for every two students. I had kids' numbers on the watercolor sets (because I know it's not fun to use a set that someone has messed up all of the colors in; made the yellow brown, the red green, etc.) and I had the kids pass out the sets to the right people and pass out the watercolor brushes.
                  Before we started the first time, I showed them some of my watercolor paintings and demonstrated the basics of watercolor painting: get the brush wet, you can mix colors in the top, dip the brush in water and wipe off on the paper towel before you get a new color to keep the colors pure.
                  Now, I love painting, myself, but even I was shocked at what an effect watercolor painting had on these children. The ones who were the most anxious and unable to concentrate would focus intensely on their painting. You could feel all of the tension of the day leaving the room as the kids had fun with the paintings.
                  It was no use trying to get them paint anything realistically, though. Me being me, of course I tried that, but they just wanted to paint abstractly or paint hearts and stylized flowers. That was fine. It wasn't really about the finished product, it was about what painting was able to do for them: calm them, make them see a new world of possibilities. I was surprised (although I shouldn't have been) at how creative and open-minded my students could be about painting.
                  It was awful when we had to clean up. I tried to wait until the very last minute to call for clean up, because we were all having so much fun. But honestly, although I was always rushed (if they weren't at their dismissal posts in time I was in big trouble with my principal), sometimes the clean up process was the best part. The kids loved being put in charge of cleaning the brushes and cups in the bathroom sinks, sopping up the paint on the watercolor set tops and collecting and putting away the paint sets and brushes. They even liked being rushed and having to do everything quickly and efficiently.
                  I highly recommend that Gen Ed classroom teachers offer painting at least monthly to their elementary students. They might not be learning a reading or math standard, but they are building a community and learning skills essential to being in a great learning environment. Besides that, it is a form of therapy, and it helps them to calm down after a sometimes hectic school day. It helps all the students, and especially those with behavioral issues, see school as a calm, welcoming place.
                  Plus for one bulletin board I had them write a sentence about their painting and put the paintings and sentences up. You can bring all subjects into art if you think creatively.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters First Grade Puppet Show

              Memphis City Schools used to do something called a "Thinkshow." It was a major project each semester that was on display for members of the community to come and view. My second year teaching, I decided to do a puppet show. 
I set the puppet show stage up on my library's bookshelf
              I don't know why I suddenly became obsessed with puppets that year. My husband bought me a monkey puppet for Christmas. I named her Esmé and talked to her like she was real. And after that I've just loved all things involving puppetry.
              So I started out by making these paper bag puppets with the kids to teach them what a puppet is:
Aren't they adorable?

              I have a whole lesson plan involving that which I'll share later.
              Anyway, after that I asked them what kind of puppet they wanted to make. Many were very inventive.
              My school had decided to use the continent of Africa as a topic that year, so we had to pick a country in Africa to make a project about. We picked Zimbabwe, because they have a great storytelling tradition. I actually got pretty obsessed with Zimbabwe, reading all about the history, reading fiction about it, Lessing and another African author. Online I found some Zimbabwe stories. I memorized some of them to retell the kids. I also found lots of great videos of African storytellers and showed them to the kids in lieu of story time.
We did research on African storytellers as we worked on the project

              I also found this amazing video of a Punch and Judy puppet show. The kids couldn't stop laughing at it.

              Then we picked one of the stories to make a show out of. It was the African Cinderella Story, Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters.

After I read this story to them, I let them read it again as much as they liked

              I wrote the script out on a big piece of paper by asking them what I should write. And I assigned characters by letting them draw straws for the parts they wanted.
You can see in the script that Kacee is holding how I have color-coded the parts to make it easier for kids to know when it's their cue

              Next, we had to come up with a name for our puppet show troupe. We came up with several names and voted for the one to use. "Mrs. Vaziri's Best Class Puppet Show" was the winner (although it didn't make a lot of sense to me...). So after that I used a child's drawing of how this should look and painted it onto the cardboard stage I had made.
I made the curtains out of velvet and satin and the scenery from a pillowcase.

              So then we got to work making the puppets and practicing the script.
This kid was carefully making his crown- he was the king

              Practicing the script was very important, because it showed the children how useful being able to read is. One boy, who played Mufaro, would sometimes refuse to read, and I told him we needed him. I think it really helped him to feel needed.

In the video, at the very end, he almost makes his crown fall out by nodding the puppet head so hard! I always laugh at that part

              We recorded the children saying the script into the voice recorder.

This, the reading of the script into the recorder, was the hardest part of the process for some children.

              Then we acted out the script, nodding the puppets' heads to the words they were saying. This was an easier way of doing it than actually saying the words while manipulating the puppets, but it was still very difficult for first graders. 

This is a behind-the-scenes shot of the narrator, the owl, introducing the show

              We went through three or four recordings before we got it right.

Kacee is checking her script to make sure she knows when to come in

              On Thinkshow day, which was March 1, I had set everything up in the hall, with a TV playing our performance, and members of the community came by to see how we had done. It was a great day, and the kids felt so proud of themselves (and they had learned a lot, too).

They were very attentive to my volunteer because they wanted their puppet show to be great

I guess the part the kids enjoyed most was having people come and see their project

Here you can see the hallway filled with people looking at the projects.

She was very excited for her dad to come to see what she had made

My lovely students with their puppets

This "Firebird" was my favorite puppet because it actually moved its wings - it was a marionette

I was very lucky to have a volunteer to help the children make their puppets.

The stars and their puppeteers

These were the "Laughing Trees" of the story, so it's appropriate that they are having fun!

Here's the puppet show!

Sunday, April 26, 2015


               I had a very chatty class my first year teaching first grade. As someone who had been a very quiet student, I was taken aback by how much they could find to say to each other and how they constantly felt the need to be talking.
               At the same time, I was charged with teaching them how to read and write. So I came up with an idea.
               I obtained a classroom "mailbox" with a slot for each student. I wrote a personal letter to each student and placed it in their mailbox. I also set out some letter writing paper on each desk. At the beginning of the year, these had the date and the words "Dear" and "Sincerely" pre-written on them in the right places. Also, on the outside were written the words "To:" and "From:"

At first they would just copy what I had written to them

               In the morning when they came in, I impressed upon them that this was a quiet time. First, they were to put away their things in the cloakroom. Next, get their letter. Then, write a letter of their own - to anyone, about anything.

I never could get this child to say "she" instead of "her"

               I "delivered" these letters to the right mail slots the next letter-writing day (we did this Monday - Wednesday - Friday). I told them I would scan in the letters before I delivered them to the person they were addressed to. And I did this, too, although it took a very long time when I got home at night. It was wonderful to look at the progress they had made over the school year - from very simple letters that basically copied the letter I had written to them, to, by May, complex letters that were addressed to their friends and asked very relevant questions or said insightful things. But I did deliver the letters, and the kids were always pleased to see letters from their friends in their mailboxes. Those who did not get letters from a friend always could be sure of getting a letter from me.

You can see what they usually have their mind on - playing at each others' houses

               I was surprised to find that, especially at first, a lot of kids copied my letter word-for-word, even though it didn't make sense out of context, and my use of check boxes (Do you like candy? Check Yes or No) really caught on. I would go from student to student, encouraging them to ask and tell about things they were interested in and helping them sound out the words (or just draw a picture).

I would let them draw a picture if they couldn't spell a word. So here, the child is saying "I love stars"

               This was a great part of my pedagogy because it taught the children that reading and writing can also be social things, something I don't think they would have otherwise understood at that age.

"Why do you don't want come over my house no more? Why do you don't go to the mall with me."

               And at the end of a long school day, it really pleased me to sit down and read what the children had written to each other (again- I did warn them I would do this!), and marvel at the great strides in writing that they were making, at their creativity and the interests they would reveal in their letters. And of course I got a lot of sweet letters written to me.

This girl was very gifted and insisted I teach her cursive - she signed her name in cursive.

Steps for Implementing Letter-writing
  1. Get a mailbox or document holder with enough slots for all of your students.
  2. Number or name the slots.
  3. Write a letter to each of your students and file them in the slots.
  4. Provide letter-writing paper (perhaps with fields filled-out).
  5. Have the children write letters silently in the morning.
  6. Take up the letters and scan them at home right after writing time.
  7. Deliver the letters, plus ones you have written to fill gaps, to the slots the next letter-writing day.
If you use this activity, you can see what your kids are thinking. This was a troubled child.

               I would recommend this activity to any educator, but I want to warn you that it is a lot of work. One of my major duties every weekend was to write up to three personal letters to 24 different children- I often included sketches or doodles, since I can draw, and I was trying to hold their interest in the written word. It was important to me that I not duplicate the letters, because I can assure you that the children were comparing the letter they had gotten with their friends'. When you get tired, of course you can just make sure to write to the ones whose classmates are not writing to them, but you want everyone to get a letter from their teacher at least once a week. I would say it took at least five hours a week to write the letters, but to me, it was well worth it. It did take several more hours a week to scan all of the children's letters in, but I don't think this is necessary (it was just very important to me and assisted me in making a portfolio of each child's work).

"Do you like to read"!

You can see my use of check boxes became very popular

               If you are a teacher and you decide to adapt this activity to your classroom, I would love to hear how it turns out. I can tell you, it did not cause these chatty children to be any quieter, as a rule- but I like to think it gave them a new appreciation for what writing can do.

This was from letters I had them write before they went out of school for Christmas Break. I was very surprised to read this!