Self Advocacy, Learning Differences, Writing Rules, the Vote for Education, and a Revision Gallery | W.O.R.D. Ink
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
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
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
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
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 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’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
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
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
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
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. Vanessa has challenged me to stretch my writing and I am excited for what I will do next.Evan, 3rd Grade
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

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

Aimee Trudeau, Web Developer,
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
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 captured the essence of what I wanted to relay on my site without sounding trite, unlike my experience with previous writers.Martin Pugh, Musician
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
Ms. Ziff is definitely not just my teacher and tutor; she is my mentor.Lexi 7th Grade, Harvard Westlake
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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

Self Advocacy for Learning Differences, the Top Rule in Writing, a Revision Gallery, & The Vote for Education

A Team Ink guest blog special: Jenny on personal truths, Becky on self advocacy, a revision gallery by author Kate Messner, & Simona on CA Prop 30 versus 38. 

Thank you to my three guest bloggers from the W.O.R.D. Ink tutoring & editorial team, who participated in this special, multi-topic W.O.R.D. of the Week post! 

WRITE: ‘Rules’ for Writers, Students and Parents

Guest blog post by W.O.R.D. Ink team member, Jenny Mankerian

Several of my students recently finished reading Rules by Cynthia Lord, and each (not surprisingly) had a strikingly different response to the book, its characters, and their dramatic arc towards self-awareness. The book is a first-person account of a young girl’s experiences throughout one summer, where she and her family continue to struggle with her brother who has autism. Catherine has a love-hate relationship with David, and the many “rules” that her family creates in order to give David some structure and the ability to navigate social norms. During the summer, she and her mother take David to an occupational therapy clinic, where she meets Jason – a teenager who is confined to a wheelchair and cannot speak, but who uses a “communication book” to dialogue with others. The central internal and external conflicts are her relationship with David and her family, and her burgeoning romantic feelings for Jason – each of which are neatly resolved at the end of the book.

Unlike other books that elementary schools assign year after year, this book surprised me with its timely and personal message. As the caregiver of a disabled parent, I immediately gravitated to the core message of the book. I identified deeply with the emotional challenges Catherine faces as she tries to navigate the waters of adolescence while defining her identity as a sister, daughter and friend.

I was yearning to see the same empathy and connection from my students – but I was met largely with radio silence. Sure, they understood the plot and could give me a biographical sketch of the characters. Yet, I found that they were not emotionally connecting with Catherine, and not empathizing with David or Jason.

They were tasked with writing journal entries as they were reading, and a short book report in summation of the novel. One of the journal entries was to discuss a time when they met or had an encounter with a person who had a disability – and this is when I discovered that my initial inclination to think they’d just “get it” was somewhat misguided. They hadn’t lived or experienced enough to recognize these characters in their own life, and to apply the story they were reading to their own experiences.

For a number of years now, I have been thinking about the significance of language and the words that give us the tools to describe objects, emotions, people, and places. As we read, experience and mature, our vocabulary and the breadth of our emotions expands. We learn the difference between incredible and delightful, between revulsion and loathing, between adore and admire. We hear the word “lease” and it immediately calls to mind a series of economical and social constructs. We say the word “home,” and there’s gravitas beyond the four walls around us and the roof over our heads.

Without emotions and experiences, the distinctions and nuances among words have no meaning – and we’ll be left reading essays replete with “very,” “nice,” “sad” and “good.”

So, while Ramona Quimby may have been my childhood heroine, when I was actually the same age as the moppet, perhaps Rules resonated so much with me because of my decades’ worth of dealing with a Jason, and knowing many Davids. As profound and meaningful as the story was, with its youthful take on an issue facing many families and educators today, it didn’t seem to strike the same chord with these youngsters – and it took a lot of guided imagery and reflection to give them the emotional truth with which to write their journals and book reports.

Simply for their youth and inexperience, these students weren’t able to immediately identify with the story. But, after considerable discussion and introspection, we were able to cull some poignant responses to their journal entries and craft thoughtful book reports.

All told, it taught me the most significant rule of writing as it pertains to the words that we know: one may have a powerful vocabulary, but nothing can replace emotion and personal truth – what we know in the Traits as “the Idea” – as the foundation for a compelling essay.


OBSERVE: Writing as a Self-Awareness and Advocacy Tool for Students with Learning Differences

Guest blog post by W.O.R.D. Ink team member, Becky French

What does it mean to have a learning difference? There are as many answers to that question as there are people with learning differences. For some, numbers behave in a way that isn’t easily explained; for others, what they write on a page does not translate well from what they were thinking in their mind, or perhaps what they see in their writing, no one else can see. For those with learning differences, advocating for oneself is especially critical to personal and academic success.

Older Students (12 and up)

Self-advocacy for middle and high school students may mean taking an active role in one’s Individual Education Plan (IEP), since no one understands a student’s learning needs like the student him or herself.  They should be participating in or, if possible, leading the way for, what is included in the IEP. One first step is compiling and writing out personal academic strengths and areas of need. The first time out, a student may need a teacher or other trusted supporter to guide them through the process, helping them consider what it’s like to complete class work, homework, or follow lessons in class. After an initial self-reflection, the student can actually write out his or her goals and levels of performance, although this step is often the root of the challenge for many students with learning differences.

Younger Students (8-11 years old)

Younger students can scaffold for strengths and weaknesses by using sentence starters such as:

  • “I am good at_____.”
  • “I need help with ______.”
  • Then, students can rehearse these lines with their teacher or with someone they trust.

And what about students who struggle to get even the most basic concepts on paper?

  1. Build from your strengths.
  2. Start slowly.
  3. Find your comfort level (and then push through!)

Self-advocacy through writing an IEP may not be most beneficial for all students with special needs, but it’s a step in the right direction. When students use writing to express their needs, great shifts occur in personal understanding. Likewise, students who express themselves with writing help others understand them better, which enables a child to receive more of the support they need.

Understand your learning needs, discover who you are, and let people know!

There are many websites that offer information about how students can increase self-advocacy skills. One good place to start is

Your Published Author Revision Gallery — Happy Belated National Writing Day! 

REVISE blog post by W.O.R.D. Ink Founder & Executive Director, Vanessa Ziff Lasdon

We’re 10 days late on this news, but October 20th was National Writing Day. I happened across a 2009 blog post from prolific writer and teacher extraordinaire, Kate Messner, who put together a most fantastic revision resource for educators and students: a Slideshare, or Revision Gallery, with a collection of published authors’ revision notes from their editors, along with photos of their marked-up manuscripts.Real manuscripts from real authors! Nothing could provide for more authentic inspiration for understanding and appreciating the revision process for writers of all ages.


DISCOVER: Prop 30 or Prop 38: What Your Vote Means for Education in California

Guest blog post by W.O.R.D. Ink team member, Simona Supekar

Vote for Education on November 6th: YES on Prop 30 or Prop 38

Regardless of who wins the presidential election come November 6, in California, one thing’s for certain—the way we vote on propositions will have a massive impact on education. Two out of the eleven ballot initiatives this year specifically affect education policy: Proposition 30 and Proposition 38. Here’s a brief rundown of how each proposition will affect the lives of students, parents, and teachers.

Proposition 30: Temporary Taxes to Fund Education

Backed by Governor Jerry Brown, the California Teachers Association, and a variety of unions, the goal of Prop 30 is to raise revenue for schools by temporarily increasing personal income tax rates on those who make over $250,000—as high as 3% if you’re in the highest income bracket. Everyone, regardless of income, will also have to pay an extra quarter-cent for every dollar in sales tax. Families making under $500,000 and individuals making less than $250,000 won’t see any difference in the amount of income tax they pay.

Should Prop 30 pass, the revenue earned will be placed in a special Education Protection Account and 89% will go to schools and 11% to community colleges – that’s about $6.6 billion in increased education funding!

Important: If Prop 30 is defeated not only will schools be denied much-needed funding, a series of reductions across a variety of programs, known as “trigger cuts” will immediately go into effect.

Proposition 38: Tax for Education and Early Childhood Programs

Backed by civil rights attorney Molly Munger, Prop 38, like Prop 30, aims to increase revenue available for education spending, but in a different way. While the financial burden of Prop 30 would primarily fall on individuals making $250,000 a year or more, Prop 38 would increase the tax rate on all Californians except those in the lowest income bracket, and the rate increase would be dependent on an individual or family’s tax bracket.  Furthermore, the legislation would be mandated for a twelve-year period, meaning that should there be any misappropriation of funds or should the proposition prove ineffective, the government would be powerless to do anything about the legislation until 2024. Unlike Prop 30, where all funds go entirely to schools, Prop 38 revenue will also go toward repaying the state’s debt.

Should Prop 38 pass, 60% of funding will go directly to local schools on a per-student basis and out of the hands of Sacramento politicians, 10% to Early Childhood Education and Care, and 30% to paying state debts.

The Skinny

In short, both propositions are good for education, but only one has spending reductions (trigger cuts) associated with it should it not pass, and that’s Prop 30. Another important thing to note is that both propositions are considered conflicting, so only one can win. According to the state constitution, even if both props win, the one with more votes will actually win—meaning it could make sense to vote Yes on only the one you really believe in.

For more (and impartial) information on both propositions, read the LAO’s breakdown of the propositions or the California voting guide.

Support education and vote YES on Prop 30 or Prop 38!


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