Reading Struggles (again) in 4th Grade


The lack of phonics knowledge came back to haunt Kieran in 4th grade.

He showed no growth as a reader from November until the end of the year.

He was still “too high” a reader to qualify for support.

He started to abandon independent reading because what he was interested in had too many words he didn’t know.

Thank goodness for graphic novels.

Thank goodness for The One and Only Ivan.

Thank goodness for my training in phonics, so that I could sneak lessons in over the summer.

Thank goodness that he ultimately didn’t give up and also discovered Rick Riordan’s books.

I became a renewed advocate for a balanced literacy approach for all students.



I’ve been playing the clarinet since fourth grade.

I thought it would be a good choice for me since I played the recorder in third grade and earned a black belt in “Recorder Karate.”

I was one of the first in my grade to do this.

By the end, everyone had a black belt.

That was nice.

I really enjoyed playing clarinet in fourth grade.

I also played the cello.

I didn’t like the cello as much.

I didn’t want to practice.

I practiced the clarinet more.

Sometimes, I would just go into my room and play ahead in my clarinet book.

I taught myself the notes.

My dad helped too.

He played clarinet when he was in school.

I chose not to play the cello in fifth grade.

So, my mom wanted me to play the alto sax so I could be in the brass jazz band when I was older.

Clarinets cannot play in this band because they are woodwind instruments.

But I didn’t really like playing the saxophone.

I understood the notes.

It took a lot of air to play it and I always felt tired afterward.

One good effect was that it helped me with my clarinet playing.

I played stronger.

I like playing trills.

I learned how to play them from You Tube.

I just searched how to play them, and there were lots of videos to show me how.

In the beginning of sixth grade, we had to practice scales all of the time.

I liked doing this.

It made me think about math.

I love math.

I am the only boy who plays the clarinet.

Another boy plays the bass clarinet.

That’s a different instrument.

I don’t mind that I am the only boy.

I think that I am good at playing the clarinet and I like it.

That is what matters most.



Of all the writing I have to do in school, I like poetry the most.

I like it because I can write exactly what’s on my mind about the topic.

I don’t need to have to plan out everything, like in a narrative.

I don’t need to do research before I write, like in information or argument writing.

Here are some examples of poems I have written:

Fat Cat

Leaping up to the windowsill,

The fat, fluffy cat chases the fly,

As the bright sun warms her fur.


Prancing across the dining room,

She continues to pursue her prey

As she looks up and bats

like a boxer.


She won’t care if someone comes,

Because she’s determined to catch the buzzing bug

(For a snack).


Poet Tree

What grows on a poet tree?

Poets or poems?

I assume the only way to find out would be to plant one.

But nothing would grow if you planted poetry

Or a poet tree (probably because they don’t exist).


Tennessee Hike

We went on a hike in Tennessee.

Many misty mountains around the path—

which was 5 miles.

The trail was tiring, though it was paved.

Hiking up to Clingman’s dome

one and a quarter miles of the ground

way above the evergreens.

The height made a great view

of the Smokies

far away in the distance.


Kieran was far up ahead

then Mea followed by Dad—

while I was in back with Mom.

The coiled snake we passed

and other wildlife were in view

while we enjoyed the hike.

The feeling of love

when you’re with your family,

seeing things you can’t at home,

on a hike, on a vacation in Tennessee.



Arrival at the chess table

Waiting for an opponent.

He comes and sits down.

The chess match begins.

My pawn out two spaces.

His knight, ahead two, over one.

The match continues.

Capturing a pawn.

Opponent takes my knight

Without noticing the bishop in the corner

that ambushes his piece.

Minutes pass.

Down to my king

against a king—

and a rook,

as well as the smashed bishop.

11 moves until an tie is forced.

But as I think that I am forced to lose,

My opponent makes a huge blunder

And a stalemate ends the game.



I don’t love holidays.

It’s not that I don’t love my family – I do very much.

But holidays are usually days when I have to interact with more people than normal – people who I don’t know very well.

People who don’t “get” me.

Thanksgiving Day started out okay, except for the fact that, for some unknown reason, I wasn’t allowed to play video games much.

Something about family and being thankful.

I’m very thankful for video games.

They help my mind stay busy and keep me entertained.

I’m really good at video games and feel a lot of pride in being able to beat levels.

I don’t get upset when I lose because I enjoy facing the challenge of solving a problem to beat the level.

I know that there’s no point in arguing with my parents though, at least not today.

Oh well, at least I’m allowed to watch tv.

Somehow, this is more “socially acceptable.”

We had to drive a long way.

I wasn’t allowed to play video games in the car, so it was a really boring ride.

I fell asleep, which helped to pass the time, but napping is bad because it usually means that I will have trouble falling asleep later on.

I had a snack, as it was almost lunchtime.

I’m not sure why on holidays we eat at different times than the regular times.

This is not a very good idea, as when I don’t eat at regular intervals throughout the day, my blood sugar drops and I get very upset.

Did I mention that I had to wear my socks ALL DAY?

They really itch!!

And our dog was slobbering on me the whole way in the car – gross!

When we got to my Grammie’s house, I had to work hard to remember what I practice in speech and in social skills about how to be interested in who I was talking to.

The tv was on, which was great, but it made concentrating on the people talking to people a bit more difficult.

My mom kept pestering me to stop laying down on the couch.

I don’t understand why I couldn’t lay down on Thanksgiving.

Holidays have a lot of rules that are not that fun.

Can you believe we never ate lunch?

I had another snack, but that’s not the same.

By the time we all sat down to eat dinner, I felt agitated.

It did not help at all that I was told that turkey was on my plate.


I hate turkey!

Why are we eating turkey?

I didn’t like much of the other food either.

The potatoes were okay, but then my mom tried to give me more – seriously?

I often just eat bread at holiday meals.

Why doesn’t anyone serve what I like to eat?

It was good that my mom let me chill out in one of the bedrooms with a tv after dinner.

But then my brother came in and took the remote from me.

I called for my mom and he called me a tattle-tale.

I don’t know why I get in trouble for telling when someone else is doing something wrong.

That doesn’t make sense.

And then it was time to go.

I didn’t get to watch all of “The Incredibles,” but I don’t get upset like I did when I was younger when things I’m doing get interrupted.

It used to be so hard to stop what I was doing, what I was enjoying, without any warning.

Then came more saying good bye and “eye contact” with relatives.

Finally, it was back in the car.

This time our dog slept.

I understand that holidays are important.

I understand that my family is important.

I love my family.

It’s just that on a day like today, I have to work so much harder to act “expectedly.”

It takes a lot out of me.

I hope that everyone knows that I held it together as much as possible because I love them.



The hallways in middle school are unpredictable.

One time, a boy came out of nowhere from around a corner and hugged me.

Then he ran away.

I don’t think that I knew him.

Another time, I was on my way to math class.

I dropped all of my books onto the floor.

I was upset, so I sort of let out a cry of frustration.

Three kids were also in the hallway.

One of them said to me, “Can you make that noise again?

I’m not being sarcastic.”

The problem is I think he was being sarcastic.

They didn’t offer to help me with my books that were all over the hallway.

Instead, they laughed and then the one made that comment.

I wasn’t bothering them, so I am not sure why he had to say anything to me at all.

I became even more upset.

Mostly though, students are nice in the hallways.

They smile or let me walk with them in the morning.

I walk with different people each morning.

I hope I don’t run into that hugger or that sarcastic kid again.



I was in fifth grade chorus last year.

It was fun and at the end of the year, I got a solo.

I was very nervous because I don’t like to be famous or have too many people notice me.

I did very well in my fifth grade solo at the end of the year.

When sixth grade started, I had to try out for chorus, but I think everyone who tried out made it.

There are about 80 students in sixth grade chorus.

Most of the people are really nice in chorus.

I only attend chorus once a rotation because I have band and seminar during that same block of the day as well.

I go to chorus with other students in band who sing the same part that I do.

One day, I was running up and down on the bleachers.

A student there said that I should stop and bumped me hard after he said it.

I got very upset.

I don’t understand why he couldn’t just ask me to stop.

I would have.

Why did he have to bump into me too?

Then, he said to me, “Bet you $20 that you are going to tell on me now.”

Why did he say that?

I have to admit that I probably was going to tell because he bumped into me which was completely unnecessary.

I think that makes it a good reason to tell.

I’ve learned that I can’t always tell the teacher what is going on.

Some kids make fun of me about that.

Sometimes it makes it worse to tell.

Other times, it’s very important to tell.

I thought that this was one of those times.

So I told anyway.

I don’t think I will have to give him $20 because I didn’t shake on the bet.

When I told the chorus director, she said that I did the right thing.

I actually had to talk to the guidance counselor too.

I don’t stand near that boy on the risers anymore.

He leaves me alone.

And I learned that maybe I shouldn’t run up and down the risers because it might bother other people.



Last year, I learned about Scratch.

It’s a computer programming website.

It taught me the basics of programming.

I’ve made lots of games on Scratch.

I’ve made a Mario game.

An Angry Birds game.

And a bunch of other games.

When I was younger, in fourth grade, I always wanted to learn how to make video games.

Now I know how.

Some people have played my games.

One person favorited my Mario game.

I like doing Scratch in my free time.

It’s more fun than just playing video games because I get to decide how to create it.

I have a say in every detail that goes into the game.

I found out that Scratch was made by this college called MIT.

My mom said that this is a great college.

I might want to go there to meet the people who made Scratch – I think it’s that great.

Breakfast in First Grade


Mea loved first grade.

She was at school all day.

She had four times the friends to play with than she had in Kindergarten.

She switched classes to be able to have each of the other first grade teachers for guided reading at some point throughout the year.

She loved it!

She also loved going to the cafeteria to get a second breakfast, because I didn’t think to send in a note to say that she shouldn’t eat a second breakfast.

I didn’t even think this was something I needed to share.

Mea went because 1) she could; 2) it was a place where she could socialize and not have to get her morning work done.

She only started going around December.

I’m sure the thought got into her head somehow like this:

Friend: You should come to breakfast.

Mea: Okay.

I was visiting classrooms one morning, just poking my head into Mea’s classroom, more than observing.

Me: Where’s Mea? (Having just put her on the bus an hour ago.)

Kids: Breakfast.

Maybe you can imagine the look on her face when I walked down to the cafeteria – busted!

At home, we explained how she already had a good breakfast each morning before she went to school, and how her choice in the cafeteria (sugary cereal), was a bad one for her teeth. We made sure to give her a little bit more to eat in the morning.

I also had to share with her teacher and the cafeteria aide that she was not to go to breakfast anymore.

It was one of a series of things that happened in first grade that let us know we needed to provide her with clear guidelines and boundaries, as she wasn’t ready to maintain them on her own.

She was just a first grader, after all.

Show Review – Atypical


I watched this new show on Netflix and have been wanting to write about it, as it definitely affected me as a mom of a child on the autism spectrum.

I cannot “recommend” the show per se. First, it’s Netflix, so there’s tons of language and references to… let’s just say, Netflix wouldn’t get great “family friendly” ratings on Plugged In.

I also read a few reviews and have to say that I do agree that the main character, Sam, who has autism, is made to be the target of the audience’s laughter, which is not helpful in understanding how he is feeling but perpetuating stereotypes.

Additionally, I was honestly disappointed when I found out that only one character on the entire show, and not Sam, the main character, has autism. This was a strong criticism in the reviews.

Nevertheless, I was drawn into the story.

Here’s why:

  1. Sam – Pretty much every episode showed something that resonated with me as a mom and I wound up laughing with, cheering for, or crying about something that was portrayed about Sam’s situation, that centered around his autism.
  2. Doug (the dad) – I loved how the father/son relationship grew over the course of the episodes. It was revealed that he didn’t always feel a connection with Sam, which is something that I see in our own family. They start connecting during Sam’s senior year (over Sam’s desire to date), in a poignant way.
  3. Casey (the sister) – If you do watch, there will be no way you will not love this character, both for how she looks out for her big brother and for how she’s a little lost in the family. This definitely reminded me of Cynthia Lord’s Rules.
  4. Paige (the “girlfriend”) – The critics felt that she was patronizing to Sam in many ways. I saw her (maybe naively) having some social awkwardness herself, and therefore adorable as she tried to navigate being in a relationship with Sam.

Things that really turned me off:

  1. The mom – I know that parents can lose their identity, so to speak, in being a caregiver to a special needs child. But I could not condone or even understand her choices throughout the episodes.
  2. Inconsistencies and generalities with many, many aspects of knowing someone with ASD.

This is not a show that I can watch with the kids, despite how much I wanted to ask Liam what he thought about less “Netflixy” scenes. I also tried to watch with my husband. He laughed a few times, but I will not ask him to watch again unless he brings it up. I started to think about the stereotypes and if he felt put off by some of what he saw in the first episode.

Like I said, I would never recommend you to watch this show without being forewarned that there are many issues with its production.

But if you did watch, what did you think?


I always seem to get teachers who really love to assign vocabulary.

In fourth grade, I had to look up each vocabulary word, write the definition, and draw a picture.

That was a lot of work.

I liked drawing the pictures though.

Sometimes I made them funny.

Last year, my teacher gave us Latin and Greek affixes and roots.

These words were hard.

Sometimes I didn’t really study.

When my mom found out that I wasn’t really studying and not doing well on quizzes, she started putting the words online so I could play games while I learned them.

This made learning the words more fun.

I started to do better on my quizzes too.

This year, I have more Latin and Greek affixes and roots.

I have choices how to study the words.

I can write a story with the words in them.

This is hard for me because I am not good at writing creatively.

I can choose to create a crossword puzzle on line.

This is a better choice.

I love puzzles and games.

I can also make a word sort.

I can choose to write the words in sentences.

This is boring.

I like putting my vocabulary words into a comic strip the best.

My mom says that this is creative writing.

She doesn’t understand.

It is creative drawing and captioning.

This is very different from writing a story.

The best one I did was called the “Ject-plane.”



I like it when I can make my own choice on how I study vocabulary.