Keep Calm and Teach On | W.O.R.D. Ink
Vanessa captured the essence of what I wanted to relay on my site without sounding trite, unlike my experience with previous writers.Martin Pugh, Musician
The writing skills my daughter, now excelling in ninth grade English Honors, left Vanessa’s class with continue to be an invaluable set of resources.Betsy Leva
Vanessa is a true master of her craft. She is a blast to work with, completely trustworthy and utterly authentic. To work with Vanessa is a privilege; you just want to soak up all her talent, and bottle it up for yourself! She is an inspiration.Sarina Fierro, Head of Lower Elementary, Curtis School
Ms. Vanessa has challenged me to stretch my writing and I am excited for what I will do next.Evan, 3rd Grade
What our daughter values most about her time in Vanessa's class is being inspired to become an organized writer who could convey her thoughts in a meaningful manner.Laurie and Chris Harbert
Vanessa’s greatest ability is to help each student realize his or her own untapped potential. It’s the stuff that changes lives!Jacqueline Frohlich
Vanessa is truly a one-of-a-kind teacher. She’s extremely organized, communicates ideas effectively, helps motivate, and has a lively, engaging teaching style that brings out the best efforts in all of her students.Howard Tager
Ms. Ziff is definitely not just my teacher and tutor; she is my mentor.Lexi 7th Grade, Harvard Westlake
Vanessa Ziff Lasdon possesses the dynamic combination of an incisive intellect and boundless passion when it comes to teaching her craft and sharing skills with her students.MaryLynn Richmond
I learned as much from teaching with Vanessa as any of her students under her guidance. Where so many others fall back on old tricks, Vanessa taps into her extensive experience to invent new methodologies for each and every one of her clients.Patrick Kieffer, Fifth Grade – English & History, The Packer Collegiate Institute
Ms. Ziff’s friendly demeanor and enthusiasm made communicating easy and learning exciting. She taught us to understand and appreciate the material, and have fun in the process.Alivia 8th Grade, Harvard Westlake
Ms. Ziff always pushed me to do my best, and never let me slack off.  She introduced me to my love of writing and gave me the confidence I needed both academically and in myself.Georgia 9th Grade, The Buckley School
Vanessa got my 8-year old son excited and intrigued to dig deeper into his experiences and bring his thoughts to life. Now Evan’s words dance and sing, which makes me want to dance and sing!Sally Micelotta
Vanessa’s vast skills, complete dedication, and clear purpose construct a solid core for every student she teaches. Her passionate nature produces both a fun and rewarding learning experience.Michele Noble, Director, Writer, Filmmaker
Vanessa is high-energy smarts and charm, the kind of writer and teacher who captures and captivates readers of all ages.New York Times bestselling author, Cynthia Leitich Smith
Vanessa’s methods are creative, thorough and innovative. She makes writing fun and has turned our daughter’s “like” of writing into a true “LOVE”.The Altmans
Vanessa has a gift for inspiring even the most reluctant writer and her passion for writing is infectious. She is a favorite workshop leader at our Young Writers’ Conferences.Julie Moore & Rena Svetic, Young Writers’ Conference Founders
While we continue to be impressed by Vanessa’s many attributes, it is her high energy level, extraordinary patience, and passion for what she does that make her truly unique.Melissa and Rob Weiler
Having an eight-year old highly gifted boy was not enough to make him put all those brilliant ideas on paper. Daniel feels constantly challenged by Vanessa and that ignites him.Liliana Benitez
Ms. Ziff maintains a good balance of knowing when to give more help and when to insist that you rise to the challenge of the learning situation. She instills confidence, honors excellence, and respects effort.Kenneth 8th Grade, Harvard Westlake
It's obvious that Vanessa is a wordsmith: "Write. Observe. Revise. Discover...W.O.R.D."  These are the four essential ingredients for becoming a writer; two of them about the work (writing and revising) and two of them about the joy (observing and discovering.) Vanessa accomplishes it all.  Julie Larios, award-winning poet and children’s author
Vanessa transformed our son Josh from a decent writer into an excellent writer.  We wholeheartedly recommend Vanessa and her ability to draw out the best in your child’s writing ability.Jill and Larry Krutchik
Ms. Ziff is always organized, resourceful, and ready for anything. She believes in a process, [...] the best of all being the Ms. Ziff approach, which makes her spectacular.Kenneth 8th Grade, Harvard Westlake
I know that the many fun and challenging lessons I’ve learned from Ms. Ziff will help me achieve my goal of one day being a professional writer and filmmaker.Jaren S. 7th Grade, The Buckley School
Ms. Ziff set the foundation for my analytical, constructive, and creative skills. Whether writing a sonnet or writing an essay, I still have her lessons in my mind.Kenneth 8th Grade, Harvard Westlake
The skills Vanessa taught my son--particularly the value of revising many times […] attention to detail, and high standards—are still with Nico several years later.Liz McNicoll, Attorney, Paramount Pictures
All of us remember teachers who inspired us to greater heights and who influenced our lives. Vanessa Ziff Lasdon has played this role in my daughters' lives.Jack Tauber, M.D.
Whether it’s teaching a student to become a more vivid creative writer, a more effective analytical writer, or a more selective business writer, Vanessa can do it all.Meli and Stephen Rose
My son learned more about writing and literary appreciation from Ms. Ziff in fifth grade than in any other year of school. I wish all teachers had Vanessa’s passion for teaching and inspiring!Kim Ford

Vanessa is an outstanding writer and a joy to work with.

Aimee Trudeau, Web Developer,
I honestly don’t know what kind of a writer and reader I would be without the tools I learned with Ms. Ziff. She was always a very understanding, rigorous, and involved teacher, and an incredible mentor.Maddie 9th Grade, Marlborough School

Keep Calm and Teach On

Keep Calm and Read On. That’s the theme for this year’s California Association of Teachers of English (CATE) Convention, taking place February 8 – 10 in Santa Clara. W.O.R.D. Ink is devoting our week’s blog post to considering this theme, with a slight variation extended to all learning:

Why is it important for a teacher to keep calm and teach on?


Write: Because all learning and teaching is a process built upon regular practice. It is a craft and an art, a discipline and a joy.

Observe: Because teachers must discipline themselves to swat away distractions and remain in the moment, open to observing this process of practice in themselves and their students, observing what each is learning and teaching the other daily, understanding how it is that we are building our art.

Revise: Because to revise our practice, strengthen our process, and embolden our personal art requires quiet, calm reflection time.

Discover: Because in the midst of a messy moment, when our senses are intensified and a lesson is on the brink of chaos, we must trust our intuition to lead us to unexpected discovery, a way through.


crownBut How To Keep Calm?

I am not a veteran teacher, but in my eleven years in the world of education, most of them spent on the front lines, there are have been countless books, articles, conferences, summer courses, speeches, films, and other professional development opportunities that have stirred my thinking about teaching — influences that challenged me to change my practice and be a better teacher, and others that reminded me I was already doing a pretty good job. Spending two years earning my MFA in Writing for Children immediately comes to mind as a pivotal growth experience. Learning to build digital storytelling and tabletop moviemaking workshops, too. These are events that I’ve added to an ever-growing mix of influences, ones I draw upon for inspiration, guidance and courage time and again.

Teachers, like students, have their specialties and obsessions, just as we have our challenges. Obsessed with teaching my students to appreciate the learning process and to grow in their practice of how to read and write, I sought guidance from what others had experimented with and discovered. For this particular post, I returned to resources I’ve marked up the most. Books and sheets where I’ve said, YES! YES! on every page. These are resources for everyone – teachers, librarians, parents, writers – word lovers of all kinds. And let me tell you, you educators who teach our children, you parents who raise them, you adults who write for and about them — it is never too late to Keep Calm and Teach, Raise, Read, Write On.


Learning to Teach How to Appreciate Reading

the reading zone Nancy Atwell, author of In the Middle and The Reading Zone, has a unique way of helping students become “joyfully literate.” She’s the one who first showed me that there are two distinct modes of reading: efferent versus aesthetic. When we’re in efferent mode, we are reading in order to carry away meaning. In aesthetic mode, we are reading for pure pleasure, and a teacher can learn a great deal (arguably even more) in this latter mode about the way his or her students read. The Reading Zone argues that it is hard to be both engaged and distracted (aesthetic + efferent) at once, and that more time needs to be given to the aesthetic. In particular, Atwell shows us how to immerse ourselves in language, and to resurface so that we may construct personal relevance from the experience and learn about our preferences, “the foundation for anyone who will make of reading a personal art.” There are no rewards, no projects or discussion questions involved with aesthetic reading. There are, however, booktalks, read alouds, conversations, time, silence, comfort, and a voluminous library.


“For kids who know reading as a personal art, every day is a transfusion. Every day they engage with literature that enables them to know things, feel things, imagine things, hope for things, become people they never could have dreamed without the transforming power of books, books, books.”

Atwell makes a solid case for reading as being a student’s most important homework, and I would have to agree. The highest achieving students – yes, even in math and science — are those who devote leisure time to reading. In fact, the single most important predictor of academic success is the amount of time children spend reading books, more important than even economic or social status.


Learning to Teach How to Appreciate Writing

The blank page can be enticing for some, but it is truly scary for most. Often, it’s not until we have a page full of ideas that we believe we have places to go. Writer’s block builds on a blank page. Perhaps we think we have nothing to say. Perhaps we have so much to say, we just don’t know how to begin arranging.

notebook know how Notebook Know How and Notebook Connections
These books by Aimee Buckner taught me strategies for how to help kids keep ideas safe, organized, and purposeful by using Writers’ Notebooks. The notebook represents a portfolio of thinking and a daily reference guide. It can be physical or virtual, but the point is that it honors the process of idea collection and supports students in the research, pre-writing, and drafting processes, for both narrative and nonfiction writing. No matter what type of genre, a Writer’s Notebook can jumpstart our thinking, help us find angles in our stories, and allow us to reflect on how grammar works. These notebooks set a foundation of independence and fluency of thought, so that students move on from our class no longer needing us to constantly reassure them when to write or how. The Writer’s Notebook develops a student’s writing endurance through constant practice. It is also a brilliant way to prepare kids for how to talk about literature.


sentence composing Sentence Composing and Sentence Grammar for Elementary School  (also available for Middle School and High School)
I sang hallelujah when I found Don and Jenny Killgallon’s workbooks on how to teach what makes a sentence work. As one who obsesses over the minute details in order to create a winning big picture, I could not wait to share what I’d discovered within the pages of these reference texts. I teach students that every sentence has a Base (subject + predicate) and that the parts around that base are different types of Tools (words, phrases, or dependent clauses) that can be positioned at the opening, closing, or split between the subject and predicate. Basically, I say, contained within every sentence is a single story and you can manipulate that story by adding content and style, with a few punctuation rules. Lightbulbs! I absolutely love to show students what this looks like in the pages of their favorite books – and we imitate authors’ styles, trying on their sentences with our own content to get a feel for the small stuff: rhythm, sound, length, punctuation effects, arrangement, tone. This is when they finally get that Voice comes from every single decision we make on the page, and those decisions start with each sentence on a page. If we can write one great sentence, we can write the next, until we have a paragraph, until we have a page.


  • 6+1 Traits of Writing for Grades 3 and Up
  • Traits of Writing: The Complete Guide for Middle School
  • Using Picture Books to Teach Writing with the Traits
  • Using Mentor Texts to Teach Writing with the Traits: Middle School
mentor texts Ruth Culham is a genius at identifying techniques and processes that teachers need to effectively teach the writing process and the skills contained within. Within her reference texts, she shows us how to weave the 6+1 most essential writing traits (Ideas, Organization, Voice, Word Choice, Sentence Fluency, Conventions, and Presentation) through the writing process. Culham was also the first person I discovered who validated that it was perfectly fine – no, in fact perfection — to use picture books as mentor texts, no matter whether with a kindergartener or a high school senior. The picture book experience just makes sense for kids; they are accessible to everyone, avid and struggling readers alike.


discovering voice Discovering VoiceLessons for Middle and High School
My LAWP 2009 Institute colleague Ami Sczerense (speaking at CATE on the Common Core Standards!) pointed me toward Nancy Dean’s brilliant workbook. It is another affirmation that Voice is in every single decision we make on the page. (Within our diction, details, figurative language, imagery, syntax, and tone.) Through this workbook, Dean breaks down the elusive quality of voice that makes reading interesting and writing distinctive.

“Voice is central to all communication,” says Dean. “It is the expression of who we are, the fingerprint of our language. Studying voice gives students an appreciation for the richness of words and a deep insight into reading. Indeed, voice study helps students be not functionally literate but fully literate.”

Amen, sister.

Screen Shot 2013-01-28 at 11.24.24 PM Okay, so here’s your challenge, straight from CATE 2013: Keep Calm and…

Browse On

Stay privy to new titles, peruse libraries and bookstores, read reviews, ask your kids about their favorites. Pay special attention to genres you’re not familiar with. (For me, it was manga and anime.)

word_ink_logo Write, Observe, Revise, Discover On
We educators, parents, writers and word lovers base our teaching of reading and writing in what we know as practitioners of these personal arts. But if teaching, writing for, and raising children have shown us anything, it’s that we, too must commit to being lifelong students, not only of our personal art, but also of our audience. We must surrender, young grasshoppers, to this process, this journey, which builds both discipline and joy.


And now, a brief list of other favorites sitting on the shelf behind me that you’ll enjoy:


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