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Isabell Cardonick

Harvey Daniels

Ellin Oliver Keene

Barry Lane

Below are the transcripts from my live chats, on October 15th and August 19th, 1999, with Isabell Cardonick, author of Kid Writing. If you'd like to join our reading group, send an email to me at readinglady1@yahoo.com.
Isabell Cardonick and
Eileen Feldgus
OCTOBER 15, 1999
Laura: I looped my class to second grade. How can I adapt your program to use with my class? I can't wait to go back to first and start fresh next year.

Isabell: The program is very consistent with Lucy Calkins writers workshop. You would simply modify your mini-lessons to fit the skills of your group. The ideas in the Writing Across the Curriculum chapter are all suitable for 2nd grade. There would also be differences in the way you would do the adult writing. Because your second graders' writing will be so much longer, you will not be able to underwrite everything, as we do with the K children. So, you would have to simply do adult writing under the specific words. The skills that you focus on during mini-lessons depend upon the needs of the children, at any grade level.

Pat: I am having trouble getting adult volunteers. I was thinking of trying upper grade students. Have you done this? How successful is it?

Isabell: Yes, I do it every year and it is highly successful.

Pat: What grade level?

Isabell: You will need to train them, however. With so much emphasis on service learning projects, you should have the cooperation of the upper grade teachers as well. I've done it with 4th graders through 7th graders. It is so beneficial to both groups of children. I would train them, then float around the room to offer suggestions.

Laura: Isabell - there is some debate about the correcting of students work.

Isabell: Yes, I'm aware of that.

Laura: How does your adult writing portion differ from correcting their work? I personally like your way of doing it, but wonder about those who don't want to correct at all.

Isabell: The fact that we distinguish between adult writing and kid writing is one of the differences. We tell them that their Kid Writing is absolutely wonderful. Then we say, here's how it looks in adult writing. Also, the children's writing takes primacy. The adult writing is done in pencil and kept small. The children don't mind at all. They are excited because you're pointing out ways that the kid writing is like the adult writing.

Laura: Why pencil Isabell?

Isabell: The purpose for the adult writing is for instruction only. Therefore pencil is adequate. We want the children to know that we value their kid writing.

Pat: Can you explain the "training" you do with your parent(or student)volunteers? What is involved? Do you send home info? Hold a class? Or demonstrate with a child?

Isabell: I do a parent workshop every September, before the children actually begin. I explain the Kid Writing philosophy and show them lots of samples from previous classes. I give them the steps for writing workshop. This is provided in the Kid Writing appendix.

Laura: Which I just used for a workshop - great handouts. photocopy the stages of writing onto overhead transparencies and show them.

Isabell: When they come in to volunteer, I have them observe me writing with a few students before they begin. This seems to work well.

Kathy: Our K teacher thinks you need prompts how can I convince her we don't need?

Isabell: I have found that children are stifled when you tell them what to write.

Kathy: She says they just keep writing about rainbows.

Isabell: Tell her to try saying that "today is the last day for rainbows." She should also model different genres using her own journal.

Bnew: I teach first. After conference/edit, I find that when the children go to publish, they often change the whole piece. They start all over again!

Isabell: I think that's OK. They shouldn't be locked in to a piece of writing. And they shouldn't be publishing every piece.

Bnew: Do they publish what they now call their finished piece.... we publish about 1 of 5 that piece is unedited.

Isabell: Sounds like you need to do a mini-lesson on the publishing process. Explain to them what your expectations are for publication.

Roe: We are trying to write every day...very difficult in the half day kindergarten!! So much to do...so little time!!

Isabell: Yes, Roelight. But literacy is a priority. What can you eliminate to create more time?

Roe: I have stopped going out to recess...snack is very short..10 minutes! I am doing interactive writing almost every day

Isabell: How about incorporating snack into your choice time. Just let them help themselves?

Roe: That's a great idea, Isabell..I think I will try that.

Isabell: How much time are you spending on calendar activities? Weather, etc?

Roe: That is part of our opening...I have cut that down to about 7 minutes!!

Isabell: I really had to think about why I was doing everything I was doing...Did the children really need that? I realized that my 5 year olds didn't need me to tell them that it was raining.

Laura: Isabell - do you publish for the children, or do they recopy to publish. if they recopy and make many new mistakes, do you just fix yourself or go through the edit process again?

Isabell: In kindergarten the children do not recopy anything. The work is published as is - with the adult writing. In first grade, the children do begin to recopy. There are always going to be mistakes. Children make correct the ones they've edited, but make new ones. Just keep showing them what you want through your mini-lessons.

Kathy: If you don't have volunteers on a particular day or days, How many can you expect to help and should you always go for the most needy?

Isabell: Kathy, this depends on the skills of your children. I find that, at this point in the year, I am able to get to 7 or 8 children each day. I also have an assistant who works with another 7 or so.

Karen: I do Cunningham's Four Blocks Literacy, and the Writer's Workshop block scares me. Do first graders revise and edit???

Isabell: Again, I think you need to look at each class individually - then decide whether they are ready to revise. I do think that first graders can learn to revise, generally.

Pat: Isabell, any plans for an instructional video? Will you be leading workshops on the West Coast anytime soon? I have been pleased with the results I am seeing as a result of what I have tried from your wonderful book, but figure I could benefit from seeing you do it!

Isabell: Pat, you have an invitation to visit my classroom any time! Eileen Feldgus, co-author and my wonderful mentor can probably do a workshop on the west coast. Send me an e-mail (KTeachMSC @aol.com) and give me the info - I'll pass it on to Eileen.

Roe: Hi Isabell. It's me..Rosemary from RI!! I just wonder how much of my 2 1/2 hour day, should be spent writing?

Isabell: The Wright Group may want to do a video. We need to talk with them about it. I think you need to give writing at least 45 minutes a day. I can't think of anything more important! That's in addition to all of the modeled and shared writing that you do. This is part of a balanced literacy approach!

ITeach: Do you have any tricks that keep the noise level down. Also my kids are so helpful for each other, and sometimes my slow thinkers don't get to make the connections themselves. Any suggestions

Isabell: If your room is noisy, you're on the right track! I keep a bell with me and just give it a ring when it gets so loud that I can't hear myself think. The slow thinkers will learn from the other children. But you may want to have a volunteer take them by themselves if this is happening too often. Also, the children must be reading or writing during writers workshop. The playhouse is closed at that time. That helps keep the noise down.

Kathy: How do you suggest the 45 minutes be spent how much time for mini lesson how much time for writing and how much for sharing?

Isabell: You need 15 minutes daily for sharing/mini-lessons. The amount of time spent on writers workshop depends on the number of children, the number of volunteers and the skills of the students. In addition to scheduling considerations. I usually take about 45 minutes for writing and 15 for sharing.

Kathy: So you really need an hour?

Isabell: I don't spend time on letter a week. I find that I don't need to with this approach. Yes, I do take a full hour. But if time is really limited, you can do it in 45 minutes. The progress of your children is really a function of the amount of time and attention you give to them.

Roe: Love your KING of ing and WIZ of is. Do you have any more?!

Isabell: Yes! I just made a crown with a heart on it and called it the love of "of". Don't forget the star of "are" and the fuzz of "was"

ITeach: What motivating thing can you say to your youngest little boy in the group that everyday colors the whole page one color. He may tell about his picture one time out of 5?

Isabell: During a mini-lesson, I would model the drawing phase. Show him how to use lots of colors in his drawing. When children shrug their shoulders, I point to a particular part of the drawing and ask them to tell me about it.

ITeach: I mean literally colors the whole page in with one color.

Isabell: Tell him that he's really good at the color purple (or whatever the color is). But you'll need to model for this child during the mini-lesson. And, you need to praise the children who are using lots of colors and doing more sophisticated drawings. Talk to them about details in drawings, etc. The mini-lessons are not just for phonics.

Bnew: It takes a while to find the exact journal the children want. It is a large class and if someone wants a journal it seems to be the one on the bottom. Any ideas?

Isabell: I use a color coding system that helps me find the children's journals quickly. The children are heterogenously grouped: red, yellow and blue groups. The folders are colored accordingly.

ITeach: Would it be too late((as in age) to start a second grader that is dyslexic in Kid Writing?

Isabell: I think that many children are labeled dyslexic who are not. True dyslexia is very rare.

ITeach: He has been identified by two independent sources.

Isabell: I have found Kid Writing to help children that many believed were beyond help, so I would say, NO - it's not too late!

Pat: Do you use a word wall?

Isabell: Yes! It works well. Just make sure you use only high freq. words and that is doesn't get too cluttered.

Roe: How many words would you expect a kindergartener to have by the end of the year?

Isabell: I'll have to look up the number for you, Roe. I can tell you that my childen have about 200 words in their word banks by the end ot the year, but, of course, I would not put that many on the wall!

Pat: Do you use other four-blocks componants in kinder? In CA, we are becoming very academic! What has worked for you?

Isabell: My understanding is that 4 blocks is another name for balanced literacy. Yes, we are very balanced. Reading/writing to, with, by.

Pat: Do you do Guided Reading in ability groups?

Isabell: Yes. During literacy center time. Flexible grouping. But, I find that I spend most of my time with the slower children, because, frankly, the top children are reading 2 years above grade level. The shared reading and the writing seem to be enough for those top children.

Laura: Isabell - in reading recovery during the lesson they do something somewhat similar to your ideas, except the final step is to make the child recopy the sentence correctly on the same page. Do you think there is a reason to do or not do this step?

Isabell: Yes, Laura. I believe that recopying is not the best use of time for kindergarten children. Reading recovery is used with children having problems. I don't believe that most children need this step.

Roe: Love your 'Star Story Reporter' certificates in the appendix. Is this some sort of take-home activity? or is it done in the classroom? They seem to be all fairy/folk tales, and I was just wondering how you use them.

Isabell: They are used as incentive certificates for writing in response to literature. When a child writes in the story journal, he receives a certificate. The children want to collect all ten. Like happy meal prizes.

Cathy: Where are the "Star Story Reporter Certificates? What appendix?

Isabell: We are talking about the book Kid Writing, DMNairn. For more info on the book, go to www.wrightgroup.com. Look under professional books.

Roe: Isabell, do you give any seminars in the New England area?

Isabell: Rosemary. That is a possibility. If I can't do it, Eileen Feldgus probably can. Roe, just e-mail me and we'll set something up.

Roe: Are you still teaching full time?

Isabell: Yes!

Laura: For those of you who have not yet ordered the book it is great. the books were on back order, but they are now ready to be shipped from Wright Group.

Roe: I will attest to the fact that this is the BEST book ever written about emergent literacy skills.

Isabell: The Wright Group's phone number is 800-523-2371. Just ask for the Kid Writing book.

Laura: Are you working on another?

Isabell: Eileen and I have been discussing several new ideas, but haven't really gotten them off the ground yet. We are just very committed to emergent literacy and believe in Kid Writing with our hearts and souls.

ITeach: Could you suggest any resources that you find exceptionally good for getting started in guided reading?

Isabell: Have you read Guided Reading by Fountas and Pinnell? I would say that is the best resource to date. I also suggest that you join the International Reading Assn and subscribe to Reading Teacher.

Laura: Isabell thanks again for your time.

Isabell: You are very welcome. It was a pleasure, Laura. Does everyone know about my folder at the ESH? It's for AOL members only, unfortunately. Start with AOL's channels: research and learn. From there go to resources for educators, Electronic Schoolhouse, ESH Message Boards, and Issues and Ideas. You'll find Kid Writing there.

Laura: Thank you all for coming. I hope you found this to be as informative as I did. See you all on the rings. Goodnight Isabell and thanks for a wonderful resource for early childhood teachers.

AUGUST 19, 1999

Laura: Isabell- welcome and thank you so much for joining us tonight. Would you care to make an opening statement.

Isabell: I'd like to start by saying "God Bless Cyberspace".

Laura: Would you tell us briefly about your new book Kid Writing?

Isabell: Eileen and I wrote the book because of the successes we were having in our classrooms with early literacy.

Laura: Do you and Eileen work together and what grades do you teach?

Isabell: For the past 4 years we've been facilitating an emergent literacy support group in the Philadelphia School District.

Laura: Is there a site to obtain information about the group?

Isabell: The group is based in Philadelphia. Anyone interested should E-mail me at KTeachMSC@aol.com. Anyway, we were urged to write the book by members of our group.

MOM3KDG: What is your opinion of beginning writing in K classes?

Isabell: We believe in beginning journal writing on the very first day of school. The window of opportunity is wide open at this time. We want to take advantage of this "prime brain time". We start by building confidence. We call the children's writing "Kid Writing" and all Kid Writing is wonderful! This is how we create a risk-free environment.

NEWKT: Do you use whole group or small groups?

Isabell: We work with the entire class at once.

GAILSARA: What suggestions do you have for starting on the first day in a first grade class with children with limited writing and English ability?

Isabell: We use the same process in first grade that we do in kindergarten, if the children come in as beginners.

GAILSARA: Which is?

Isabell: This could take hours to explain. It's what the book is all about, but I'll try. You remember I said that we start by building confidence. We let the kids know that they are already writers. We show them the many different kinds of writing. Loopy, squiggly, etc. We give the children a tool called a "magic line". That is a placeholder that the children use when they don't have any idea of the sounds or letters in a word. It frees them to keep going. The idea is that, for every spoken word, something needs to be written down.

KELLMOOR: Could you help me out with a response to the frequent " But I don't know how!" that I battle for the first few weeks of journaling with my Pre-K's especially.

Isabell: Yes! We show them how! We model the process with a demonstration journal. The procedure is as follows:

1) The children first draw a picture. This of course is their pre-writing organizer.
2) Then, we ask them to tell a story about the picture. One thing we do not do is tell them to go off and write by themselves. We help them every step of the way.
3) We help the children to stretch out the words. It's really important not to distort the words, though. We don't sound out letter by letter. In the beginning, we teach them how to do it "Watch my mouth" and we emphasize the sound we're up to in the word. If a child wanted to write the word sky, but wrote ski, we'd praise that as a thoughtful spelling and then show the correct spelling, and just say, "really tricky".
4) After the kid writing is done, we do underwriting . We call it adult writing. This is where direct teaching comes in.
5) We also do mini-lessons based on the children's work.

There is much more to say, but that's why we wrote the book.

KELLMOOR: Do you find children copy your demonstration journal instead of creating a story of their own?

Isabell: No. I put the journal away. Also, we talk to the children about their stories before they begin to write.

NEWKT Is this done daily and do you find that it is better in the a.m. or p.m.?

Isabell: Very important that this is done daily!

NEWKT Do you, or can you start the journal writing lesson with a story?

Isabell: It's important to say, we don't give the kids topics or sentence starters. We let them write about whatever is on their minds. We don't have any problem with kids saying "I don't know what to write" when we do this.

SOCMOM: How do we begin with non readers in first grade?

Isabell: None of my kinders come in as readers. They learn to read through the whole journal writing process. I would teach first grade exactly the same way.

I did talk a bit about the procedure for any non-reader. We start with the journal writing, progress to book writing, and keep adding new writing options through the year. By mid-year, we have a full-blown writing workshop. The book explains many ideas for writing across the curriculum. It is such an exciting time for the kids and for us!

KELLMOOR: How do you help each child with their writing individually when they are working in a large group (25) and there is only one teacher? Do you mini-conference to do the adult writing portion?

Isabell: I actually have 30 students. I train parents, older students (4th grade), and senior citizen volunteers. I also invite college students to do field work in my classroom.

We all sit around on the floor. It's important to have at least one other adult in the room if the children are beginning writers. We sit together on the floor, so that when I'm helping one child, many other children are tuned in. So, even if I'm not working with a particular child, that child is still learning.

SOCMOM: Unfortunately we do not have that luxury It would be just me to start the writing process.

Isabell: I'd like to address the question about environmental print, if I may. It's important to create the environment with the children. So, I don't have a lot of commercial materials on displayed when the children come in September. The children see the writing as it's created, participate in the process, and understand the purposes for the writing. We also use a "Wiz of is" hat, a Star of are hat and a King of ing hat. These are illustrated in the book.

KELLMOOR: You've just encouraged me to create labels for things like doors, windows, computers, etc. with the children, instead of having them already labeled when they come in. Thanks so much!

Isabelle: Let me discourage you from labeling doors and windows. I don't think I've ever had a child write about a window or door.

KELLMOOR: Hmmm..good point...but the more print the better was my original thinking.

Isabell: The words that we make available to the children (i.e.: word wall words) are high frequency words that the kids need for their writing. Make the most of the space you have.

MAD359: Do you use Dolch words?

Isabell: You certainly can use them.

HENRIKSENT: What words do you use?

Isabell: I use the words that I find my children use most often in their writing. Words like the, and, is, a, etc. As I notice that a word is being used frequently, I add it to the wall. I don't have a set number of words.

NEWKT: How much time (approximate) do you allot for a class of 25 with a parent helper?

Isabell: In Philadelphia, we advocate a 150 minute literacy block.. That includes balanced reading and balance writing.

MAD359: Do you have full day K there or half day?

Isabell: I now have a full day class, but I did this with a half day class for several years. In fact, children in a half-day program wrote most of the samples of kid's work in the book. I usually spend about 45 minutes daily on writing workshop - including mini-lessons.

To the person who didn't have help - please try to recruit people. It is so worth it when you see the results you get. The children become confident, skilled writers who love writing! And they learn to read through the writing.

SOCMOM: Thank you for that response. It is more difficult than it appears. Most of the parents are non-English speaking. We do have two paras but their job is to pull out the children for reading when they are assigned to our room.

Isabell: You've got to talk to your administration about the pullouts. I believe the writing workshop would be a much more productive use of their time. The whole process of helping the kids sound out words is reading instruction.

SOCMOM: Thanks for the advice This pullout is our project read time in NYC. Some schools have it after school, we have it both during the day as well as after school so we cannot deviate from the prescription.

Isabell: Teachers need to find a way to fight for what they know is educationally sound! I realize that it's not easy. Can you bring in senior volunteers.

SOCMOM: We try hard Sometimes we can get what we want at other times we must go with the flow. Thank you for your input.

MAD359: When do you train these people to help you?

Isabell: I do a training session before the children start in September. All of the parents are invited. I want parents to understand not only the procedure, but also the philosophy. Even parents who can't volunteer benefit. We want the parents to understand that kids should not get caught up in "correct spelling" and to understand why.

KELLMOOR: Are the training guidelines for volunteers available in the book?

Isabell: Yes! We have a list of steps for volunteers in the appendix.

NEWKT: Do you use a book or individual pages for the children to write on?

Isabell: We make up journals in advance using 30 sheets of blank paper. It's important that it be unlined! We date stamp one page to show the children where to do their drawing. We explain in detail all of the classroom management issues. I need to interrupt this train of thought for just a moment to say that I'll need to say goodbye shortly. But I'd like to invite anyone with questions to e-mail me.

KELLMOOR: Do you accept drawings only, or do you insist on an accompanying "story" , squiggles, etc.

Isabell: Every child draws and writes every day, and they love it! It is such a joyful environment!

ITEACHK: What do you do with the child who wants to repeatedly finish the journal everyday? Maybe this method will take care of this problem, but in the past I have busy little boys that are in competition to be the first one done with their whole journal not caring what is in it.

Isabell: We don't let the children write on their own until they are ready to be independent. The book will show you that we create an atmosphere that fosters cooperation, not competition.

ITEACHK: How do you stop them?

Isabell: The children become very involved in their stories. The story is their purpose for writing, not to finish first.

ITEACHK: They draw their pictures on their own but wait until they are with an adult to do all the writing.

Isabell: Yes, what you said is correct.

Laura: That's the last question Isabelle. You may make a closing statement and please include your email address again.

Isabell: I'd like to mention that Eileen Feldgus was my mentor and I'm honored to have written this book with her. It's extremely exciting to see what the children are capable of doing with this approach. Children who come to school not knowing the alphabet are fluent readers and writers by the end of the year, and they have so much confidence! We show how we apply all of the best research to our classroom practices. My e-mail address is KTeachMSC@aol.com.

Laura: If you haven't ordered the book Kid Writing, it is available only through the Wright Group. Information is available at http://www.wrightgroup.com. Isabelle - thank you so much for coming in tonight to discuss your book. We hope you will come again for another session. There is still so much to discuss and hopefully we will all have our books by then.

Isabell: Please feel free to write. Thank you. It was a pleasure!

Laura: Goodnight and thanks again for coming

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