As mentioned in a previous post, all three of my children have a documented disability. However, they'd beaten the odds, and that's because I taught my children that when a door closes, find an open window. In our society, those who weren't born with a silver spoon in their mouth, must learn to persevere if they want to succeed in life.
Once my children graduated from college, I had something worth writing about. I wrote self-published a book about each child and how they had beaten the odds. When my oldest caught wind of it, she was furious! Even though, I didn't use her real name, she was too adamant about it and so I had her book removed. My other two children didn't seem to care, but I deleted those books, too.
I knew it was time to bury those years, that for me, had been like riding on a roller coaster. I know they went through HELL, too! My children learn to grow a thick skin and to push forward. I, too, had grown a thicker skin, deciding to follow the beat of my own drummer, when it came to the advice of some others.
My oldest, Michelle, had been labeled as mentally challenged, due to her lack of being able to communicate. Michelle, due to her ear infections, did not speak until two weeks after her third birthday. Eventually, she was diagnosed as having a central auditory processing disorder. Later on, she was targeted by the public school system as being good candidate for attending a public school for the deaf. Michelle was not deaf, nor hearing-impaired. Her medical letter, updated yearly, clearly indicated her disability and the accommodations that were needed to help her succeed at school.
My middle child, Mitch, had mild cerebral palsy. He walked with a gait and had difficulty writing on paper. Fortunately, he is quite bright and passed all of his state assessments, most with an advanced placement. Because he was smart, the school system had wanted to place him in a group of students, refer to as the 'rejects.' These handicapped students weren't given the opportunity to show what they could accomplish. They were simply taught the basic skills. However, the school administrators knew, because of him having these high scores, they would have to allow him to take the college-bound courses with him receiving classroom accommodations.
The year Mitch graduated from high school, off the record, he was the only student with a physical disability that was college-bound, and that to me, was quite sad! Mitch had made friends with some students having mobility issues and stated they were quite intelligent; they just didn't have someone to advocate for them.
As for my youngest, Marie, who has glaucoma/photophobia/visual processing disorder, it and wasn't diagnosed has having a disability until the age of ten. Before that, she had been falsely labeled as being dyslexic.
When Marie entered middle school, I was involved in earning a graduate degree in reading. I discovered how I could help my daughter in filling in the missing blanks of her learning. For one summer, she received extensive phonetic instruction in reading and in writing from me. I was able to rent a motel room at a discount, since it was only used for several hours a day, and Marie made progress. She got more involved in reading and spent a great deal of time reading the Bible. I know that if she hadn't received this intensive one-on-one instruction, she would never have been college-bound.
After Marie graduated from college, she wrote book about her disability, and she did this, because many children having difficulty in reading, might have photophobia (visual processing disorder). I believe that someone being labeled with dyslexia, actually has photophobia. Unfortunately, for one to be properly diagnosed as having photophobia, one must see a neuro-ophthalmologist, and medical insurance for children, does not cover it, unless the parent fights for it.
Marie's book, "My Curly Head Self: Living with a Visual Processing Disorder."
One of the most difficult years of my life as a classroom teacher was being placed on a plan-of-action. I had one year to show improvement. This horrible evaluation was triggered by my middle child. He attended the same school where I was employed and was having all kinds of problems. His 504 Plan was not being enforced and I don't know how many times his medical documentation was missing from his cumulative record. Most of his problems were caused by the physical education teacher, who ignored the teasing and bullying inflicted upon him by certain students, because he couldn't get his body to move like everyone else. His medical letter clearly stated the need for Adaptive P. E., and someone continued to remove that letter from his file.
I guess I was a thorn in the principal's butt and she would find a way to get rid of me. Luckily, it wasn't that easy! Over that summer, I had a hard look at my situation. First, my son needed help in his fine and gross coordination. From doing my own research, I discovered that learning to swim could help him to improve in gross mobility and learning the play the piano could help improve finger dexterity. He did show improvement and these lessons would continue for several more years, as well as helping to improve his self-esteem.
Once I figured out a plan in helping my son, that's when I decided to help myself. I needed my job! As I pondered over my situation, I knew I had to really make some startling changes in my classroom. I totally redesigned the classroom, so it would provide a shock for the principal coming in to observe. Also, I'd find a way to stand out, instead of remaining in the shadows, like a bug waiting to be stepped on.
My chance came when my spouse was deployed overseas during the Persian Gulf War. I wrote a lyrical poem. I met with the music teacher and one afternoon we came up with a piano score. One thing led to another, and we had a song that hit the national airwaves. No more being the shadows, I was placed in the limelight and by the end of that year, my plan-of-action, just disappeared, just like that!
I decided to write a book about creating this amazing song and did use my real name on the cover!
Sometimes life is full of surprises and when a curve ball is thrown, you do the best you can in catching it. I never knew in my wildest dreams I would become the mother of three children, each having a different hidden disability. I was glad I had taught for several years before getting married and raising a family, because I would need those skills to regulate through the political, educational system to help my children in succeeding.
I grew up as a shy, country girl and had to learn to play 'hardball,' when it came to becoming my children's advocate in obtaining a 504 Plan for all three! My oldest had a central auditory processing disorder, my middle child had mild cerebral palsy, while my youngest had a visual processing disorder. Back then, in order for one's child to obtain a 504 Plan, it required a medical letter. Nowadays, it's not necessary. The child study team at a school can issue a 504 Plan, without the need for medical documentation. However, without having a medical letter clearly stating the child's medical diagnosis, these 504 Plans do not really have to be enforced. Hey, I've learned something from being my children's advocate, such as communicating with a civil rights lawyer and not leaving a doctor's office without making sure a medical letter was forthcoming, and when submitting medical documentation at a child study meeting, I've kept a copy at home, and then a follow-up at the school asking to see my child's file folder. You see, sometimes documentation goes missing and then the school is not liable.
I was on a roller-coaster ride, until each of my children graduated from a university and got an entry position leading into a career path. It was hard! I can't tell how many times I was threatened and/or intimidated by school officials. In fact, I even got a death threat!
I wrote my first non-fictional book about my children's hidden disabilities involving 504 Plans, after my first child graduated from high school. I had an active email and sold a number of this self-published book under a pen name. I wrote this book to help parents. The book contained copies of my children's medical letters and 504 Plans (pertinent information blacked out).
Once I became a literacy specialist, I was shocked to see how some of the teachers conducted their classroom. Students were labeled the first week of school and were destined in falling between the cracks. I never taught like that! I came to believe they just didn't know better! It was easier to say a child was dumb, when in fact a few accommodations might just make a world of difference. So, I created a PPT and I was only given a chance to use it once in a workshop for teachers.
I took the PPT, created a book, and published it under the pen name, 'Margaret Brown.' Of course, I didn't use my children's real names. After I retired, I thought about doing workshops, perhaps PTA, but I didn't pursue it. Instead, I got into creating educational products, writing fiction, and working for my older daughter as a medical billing specialist.
If you have the writing bug and want to write something that happened in your life, you should! It doesn't have to become a money-maker. If your book can help someone, then it's worth it!
As stated in the previous blog, I met up with Mariam again. She was still hoping for a contract and had written her first chapter book for the middle-grades. Previous, her work had been picture books for children.
Well, she had her work read by several publishers who came to this retreat, and she didn't get the feedback she had wanted. Since I was revising the book about the alien girl and Joy Cowley had returned as a mentor, I wanted her input. She told me I had made great progress, but the story had some loose ends. She explained further and I was able to make those corrections.
Since I couldn't get a publisher, I self-published the book and did an author show with John Bushore (previously mentioned in another post).
At this writer's retreat, I did meet an author who really took off! She was a principal and didn't like her job. In fact, she took an aspirin every day to keep from getting a heart attack, due to stress.
In her spare time, she'd written these crazy stories involving story characters, like Snow White and Cinderella, who lived in a town. I had come across one of her stories by accident. She had left a copy of it in the printer and forgot to remove it. I had never read anything quite like it. Instead, of giving it back to her, I kept it. I guess more as a keepsake than anything else.
She had mentioned to me that she did have an agent and that there was a possibility that her stories might be adapted into a script for a television show. Well, her stories were. Have you heard of the television show, "Once Upon A Time?"
More than ten years ago, I attended my first writer's retreat sponsored by the Highlights Foundation in the Pocono Mountains. My mentor was Joy Cowley, a notable children's author from New Zealand. Joy not only wrote for children, but wrote for adults, too. It's just that her money-maker had been the children's book, "Mrs. Wishy Washy," and that sent her career as a children's author into play.
Joy was a fun person to be around. Everyone liked her and appreciated her. At that time, I began working on a short read about an alien girl (mentioned in a previous post) and learned from her that the story should be extended into a novel. Also, she emphasized that I was a science-fiction writer. Later on, I would learn I was better at writing humorous horror for the intermediate grades thru young adult.
So, I began giving some serious thought in writing my first book of science-fiction. I described it as giving birth from my brain. Completing this work, gave me a better understanding about writing a work of fiction.
It was a thrill to meet so many talented would-be authors. One in particular, Mariam Davis Pineno, a retired music teacher, who was a talent. After the retreat, we kept in touch and two years later met up again at another writer event.
Unfortunately, Mariam was never able to obtain a publishing contract and ended up self-publishing her own work and was able to promote her work through school visits.
There are many authors who do that and there's nothing wrong with that! However, it is time-consuming and quite a gamble when it comes to making a profit, especially in the fiction field.
If one is going to self-publish, the books that might sell are those in the non-fiction category.
My first book of science-fiction/humorous horror was not something I wrote for Bob Reese, under contract. It was a book I had written before ever knowing Bob. It was about a girl, part human and part alien. At that time, it was the longest book I'd ever written with a word count of 35,000 words. The character in this story came from an ongoing dream I had while a child. You see, I dreamed about being this superhero having powers and so I had always wanted to write a story about her. I have much more to share regarding this book, but for now I will finish how I got that publishing contract to write six, sci-fi chapter books for intermediate readers from Bob Reese.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I began writing educational material for Bob. Around that same time, I self-published the sci-fi book about an alien girl and was given an opportunity to have an author's event at a local shop known as, The Kindred Spirit. A week before my author's event, my budding career as a new author was published on the school district's website, inviting everyone to come to my author's signing. I was a bit embarrassed about this short blurb, because anyone who read it would think I'd been given a publishing contract, when in fact, I had self-published this work of fiction.
So, when John Bushore, a horror novelist, having a few prestigious writing awards, showed up at the door to my little room (I was a literacy specialist at the time and not a classroom teacher), he introduced himself and wanted to know more about my book. He was interested, because no one else he knew, who worked for Norfolk Public Schools was an author. John was still employed as the head of maintenance and crafted his books in his spare time. We became instant friends!
Soon after, we decided to write about the area behind Willoughby Elementary School, known as 'Monkey Bottom,' and see who could get their story published, first. Well, of course, John's story was horror-driven, while mine was more suitable for kids. Of course, since John was a talent in his field, his sold his story in no time and received a fat check. Well, that got my dander up and so I took the initiate to send my story to Bob.
Once Bob read my story, he stated it was not a fit for what his company published. About a month later, Bob contacted me by phone and changed his mind. He offered me a contract, only if I were willing to add more to the story, creating a six-book chapter series. It took five long years to get it right and having Bob as the illustrator, I truly thought this book series would become a money-maker.
The series did get some sales and Bob would have promoted it more, but his health got in the way. Currently, Bob is living in a retirement center and is limited in what he can do. He still likes to draw and is completing illustrations from my brother's chapter book, "A Ball Goes A Long Way." Warren, my brother, had completed the book before he passed away. His dream was to have Bob illustrate it. So, Bob has been working on it, off and on, since he really likes the book, and maybe, he knows someone who just might publish it.
Now, since Bob is somewhat retired, I have taken the six books I wrote, added questions, and republished them as interactive readers on Amazon Ignite.
I have more to share about my writing endeavors, such as having Joy Cowley as my mentor, as well as being the author of a song that hit national airwaves during the Persian Gulf War.
Captain Critter’s Reading Lesson for Wellington Pelican
(Grades K - 2)
Captain Critter, a humorous-fictional series, is designed to increase students’ comprehension and fluency through the use of predictable text. This supplementary reading series can be used individually, in a small group or in a whole-group approach, such as shared reading, whereupon each student has their own copy of the book.
Each book in this six-book series contains a daily lesson plan format with easy-to-follow instructions designed by a national award-winning reading specialist. These thirty-minute lessons are designed to target on specific reading standards for grades K-2 along with a writing and phonetic component. The phonetic component addressed in these set of lesson plans are the short vowel patterns with initial blends and digraphs. However, depending on the needs of the students, the phonetic component can be change by the teacher. Suggested recommended extension activities such as making words, comprehension builders, and fluency enhancement can be applied in learning lab stations.
Below is a lesson plan sample for Wellington Pelican
Subject: Shared Reading (Time: 30 minutes) Lesson One
Book: Wellington Pelican
K.RL.2: With prompting and support, retell familiar stories, including key details.
1.RL.2: Retell stories, including key details, and demonstrate understanding of their central message or lesson.
2.R.L.2: Recount stories, including fables and folktales from diverse cultures, and determine their central message, lesson, or moral.
Graphic Organizer: Beginning, Middle and Ending for Second Grade
Additional Materials: journals, dry-erase/magnetic board or Smart Board
**Suggested Activity for Making Words: The following magnetic letters are needed: b, i, g, d, f, g, j, p, r, w, e: Words made are: dig, fig, gig, jig, rig, wig, big, beg, pig, peg
*Use these letters along with adding more and place in a word making center.
Write the following vocabulary words on the board and discuss: *Wellington Pelican (have students count the number of syllables), funny, sort, front, short, skinny, beak.
Before passing out student copies, introduce the title, author and discuss the cover. Ask: What do you think this story is about? (Let students know that the story is about a pelican.)
Have students do their own picture book walk and then ask what did they discovered about the story. Explain to the students that most stories, such as this one, the focus or main idea is about the major character. If one understands what is happening to the major character, then one understands the story.
(Kindergarten): Begin with page 4 and have students read the name with you. Then discuss the pictorial details shown on both pages. Ask what the students know from these illustrations about the major and minor characters. Continue using this format to discuss the illustrations with the students, so students can understand hidden details contained within the pictures. Then read the story with the students having students point to the words.
(First grade): Implant the language going from page to page. Students are to point the designated words. Then have students count the number of times they see high frequency words such as big, little, he and is. Have students read the story as you listen in. Assist students in guiding them to read the words through pictorial clues, using context or sounding out.
In addition, while listening in, ask questions pertaining to the sequence of events. Such as what came before and what do you think will happen next.
(Second grade): Follow the same procedures listed in first grade depending on the group. Otherwise, implant the language as needed and listen in. Ask questions to determine students’ understanding of the sequence of events.
(Kindergarten): Have students take turns telling an event that happened in the story. Write these events on the board. Then have students provide feedback on the order of the events listed on the board. Have students go back in the book to verify the order.
Ask: What would you do if you were Wellington Pelican and your friends were making fun of you? What do you think Wellington Pelican meant when he said, “I think we are all a funny sort?”
Then have students do a ‘round-robin’ retelling. Refer back to the book, if necessary.
Ask: Why doesn’t Wellington Pelican get angry with his friends for making fun of him? How would you describe Wellington Pelican? What makes you think that? (Have students go back in the text to support their response.)
Then choose a student to retell the story while the other students listen to determine if any details are missing.
(K-2) Additional Activity: Read the story with the students if necessary to help with fluency.
Students may draw a picture of their favorite part of the story and write a sentence to go with it.
Students are to draw a picture about what happened at the beginning or how the story ended. They are to write a sentence for the picture.
Students are to complete a beginning, middle and ending graphic organizer. They are to draw and write a sentence for each section.
Building Words Learning Lab: Students are to use magnetic letters to create as many words as they can for the cvc patterns.
High frequency word recall: Use words from the list on cards, making an additional set, so students can play a matching game.
Sequence Learning Lab: Write sentences from the story and place on card stock. Students are to put the passages or sentences in the correct order.
Or, make copies of the illustrations and have students put the story in the correct order.
Fluency Activity: Use the alternate reader’s theatre for the book. Students may use the cut-outs mounted on wooden sticks and read the character’s part to increase fluency.
** Suggested phonetic activity for making words. An appropriate phonetic skill building activity should be determined by the use of an appropriate developmental spelling assessment.
Copy of the story, Wellington Pelican
He is a funny sort.
He is long in the front.
In the back he is short.
Little head. Big beak.
He looks funny with all those things!
I think we are all a funny sort!
(See next page for alternate version used in a play format)
An Alternative Play for Fluency
Crane, Turtle, Lobster: Wellington Pelican! He is a funny sort.
Crane: He is long in the front.
Turtle: In the back he is short.
Lobster: Skinny legs.
Crane: Big feet.
Turtle: Little head.
Lobster: Big beak.
Crane: Little eyes.
Turtle: Big wings.
Crane, Turtle, Lobster: He looks funny with all those things!
Wellington Pelican: You say I am big, little, long, short. I think we are all a funny sort!
'I had always wanted to become an author, since the age of six. The first book I fell in love with was "Thumbelina," and later, "Bambie." I loved the wholesomeness of these stories.
So, when I could, I created my own stories, but soon realized, I wasn't as talented as some other children, and had to accept being in the back seat, so to speak.
As an elementary teacher, I discovered I had a knack for creating lesson plans and designing supplementary products, and actually won some local awards. Once when I was working on a master's degree in reading, I entered Nickelodeon's Bright Orange Teacher Contest by submitting a lesson plan. I never thought I'd would win this amazing contest entered by more than 40 thousand teachers. Obviously, my gift in writing had more to do in designing lesson plans than in writing children's literature.
One day, as a literacy specialist, I came across the book, "Wellington's Pelican," written and illustrated by Bob Reese, in the discarded bin. I always liked to collect discarded books, because they were FREE for the taking. After reading this short work, I decided to create an adaptable lesson plan that could be used in three different grade levels. As a literacy specialist, I served children in grades K-3, and so for me, it was worth the effort.
Since the lesson plan was so successful, I decided to send a copy of the lesson plan to Bob Reese. Now, I wasn't sure if he would receive it or not. About two weeks later, I received a phone call from him. He was complimentary about this lesson plan and wondered if I could create some supplementary material for some of his books.
My next post will show the lesson plan that caught Bob's attention, which paved the way towards a publishing contract.