Thursday, December 17, 2009


The 3rd grade publishing party was today. Each of the kids published their first memoir piece in the class anthology.  Oscar, my Oscar, was beside himself with excitement. Last week he nearly had a meltdown because he didn't feel his six "chapter" account of his trip to his grandparents' Lake House in Connecticut this summer was complete. He wanted to add three more chapters ("Breakfast at the Lake House", "Swimming in the Pool", and "Getting Babysitted by Lynn and Emily").  I finally convinced him that the six chapter version was perfect for the class anthology and that he and I could work on the expanded nine chapter version with photos over the winter break. Thankfully he agreed to that plan.

This is only earthshattering because Oscar has so much trouble writing. The blank page is overwhelming and leads to lots of dawdling, yawning, and crying.  When he does get started he has trouble stepping back and describing the bigger picture.  His printing is tiny and he erases and erases until each word is perfect.  His executive functioning delays really get in the way of organizing paragraphs and his anxiety leads to perserveration about neatness. At one point in October his two aides (job share -- not two at a time!) were joking that Oscar had finally gotten through airport security on the way back east. He was painstakingly writing about each little detail afraid to leave anything out. But at that rate he would never get to the stories he really wanted to tell.

We finally decided to take another approach. First, Ginger (one of his wonderful aides), had him dictate one of his Lake House adventures -- the day the pig escaped at the local zoo.  She entered his dictation into the computer then deleted phrases so he could go back and fill in the details by himself.  Brilliant! This provided a framework and got Oscar excited about writing. Next, I divided the whole trip into six separate adventures or "chapters" and typed out questions to accompany each chapter.  By answering the questions Oscar was writing the story of his vacation. When we removed the questions, the chapters stood alone as separate stories in a larger piece. Oscar then went back, with our help, and expanded and added sensory details.  With all of this scaffolding he fell in love with writing and developed confidence in himself as a writer. 

So today he proudly sat next to his piece as parents and classmates circulated around the class reading and writing comments to the authors.  About halfway through the hour he left his post to recruit more readers.  A couple of times I saw him approach one of the other parents and say "So have you read my piece? It's right over there!"  Lovely parents that they are, they smiled and headed towards Oscar's piece to read and leave him a comment.

I love the enthusiasm. Just love it.

Here he is, smiling proudly with Ginger.


  1. Oh Mary! Oscar is so handsome!

    Congratulations, Oscar, on your publication! This is wonderful!

    Mary, I thought it genius how you and Ginger gave structure to Oscar to write in. Anyone can get overwhelmed with a blank page (when I used to paint I'd sometimes walk away from a blank canvas a thousand times until I began thumbnail sketches of what I wanted to do...)!

    Mary, I hope you and your family have a wonderful and joyful Christmas!

  2. How wonderful and I'd add the old adage that the apple doesn't fall from the tree! He is so darn cute I can't stand it.

  3. Thanks to you both -- he is kinda cute. We so have to tickle him to get him to smile naturally, but it's worth it.

    Lianna -- the scaffolding ideas came from the behavior specialist who has been consulting with us since Kindergarten. We just kept adapting her ideas till it worked for O. One thing I forgot to mention -- I put "memory words" at the bottom of each page that jar his memory and also keep him from getting caught up on spelling. The goal is for him to work as independently as possible so we're always striving to achieve the right challenge. Also, whenever he gets stuck writing anything (a card to a teacher, friend etc) we brainstorm. He talks and I write catch phrases that he then refers to in constructing his sentences. He has started to say to me "let's brainstorm" instead of melting down. HUGE.

    And thanks Elizabeth! I have been telling him FOR YEARS that a writer is someone with ideas they want to share and it doesn't matter how those ideas get to the paper. I call HIM a writer all the time, so at some point I should admit/believe I am one too.

  4. What a beautiful account of excellent teaching, and its happy results. I love seeing his smile!

  5. This is so wonderful! Congratulations, Oscar!