lucy calkins · personal narrative · process log

Demonstration in Minilessons: my personal narrative

When I attended T.C., I took “The Teaching of Writing” with Lucy Calkins, who truly taught me how to write better (not to mention how to be a better teacher of writing!). We wrote personal narratives for her class in which we went through many drafts and had to keep a log of our process. At first I wasn’t so sure about the idea of keeping a process log. However, I found it to be extremely helpful to me when I was crafting my minilessons for the personal narrative unit of study.

I found these photos this morning and thought that if I placed them alongside my personal narrative, The Big Cut, then you’d almost have a visual timeline to work with as you read. Please note: Franko was not the real name of the stylist who botched-up my haircut. I wanted to try to protect the guilty party, so I completely changed his name!

“The Big Cut”

I winced as Franko retrieved his pointy scissors from the drawer. I grasped the handles of the chair as he raised his scissors towards my head to cut off my ponytail that was tied up like a roast beef. Cccchhhhhhccccttt! An instant later, it was off.
Franko presented my ponytail to me on the other side of the chair. “Uuuuuugh!” I gasped. I couldn’t muster any words. I was in shock. Franko messed-up… big time! He sliced my ponytail off above the top rubber band instead of below it! He was supposed to cut below the rubber band; I know I told him that! I thought I had been clear with him (apparently not). Ugh! How could he have fowled up so royally?!!? This is what I get for cheating on Kevin, my regular stylist, for the guy who cuts Monica Lewinsky’s hair. What was I thinking?!!?
“It’s so chic,” offered Franko.
“Really?” I asked nervously.
“Absolutely,” he replied, “short hair is in right now.”
Of course it is. Would Franko actually tell me that long hair was the trend considering he had sliced off four inches too much?
I lifted my right hand towards my head to feel my hair. My bangs felt like they still had a lot of length. Relieved, my hand slid to the nape of my neck. There was practically no hair on the back of my head! In fact, my fingertips were touching my skin that had small bits of hair stuck to the back of it.
“It’s really short,” I stated curtly. “Spin me around so I can see the back.”
Franko complied. He handed me a mirror and spun the chair around so I could inspect the back of my hair. I gasped again. “Oh Lord!” I exclaimed. It was short. Too short. Boy short.
Dori, one of my friends who accompanied me to the salon in Georgetown for the big cut, saw me panicking. “It must be a relief to have all that hair off,” Dori offered. I shot her a dirty look and then feigned a smile, purely for Franko’s sake, and replied, “Yes, I suppose it is.”
Why was I doing anything for Franko’s sake? For goodness sake, why didn’t I say, “Franko, don’t you know how to use a ruler? I said ten inches and I meant ten inches! You cut way more! I told you to cut below the top rubber band of the ponytail, not above it! WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?”
But instead, I said nothing. I couldn’t muster any words. My hair was cut. It couldn’t be reattached. Is it possible to seek justice after your hair is chopped off? What’s the point of having a war of words over something that can’t be fixed?
Loren, another friend who joined me that day, asked Franko, “Shouldn’t Stacey get her hair washed so you can style it and blow it?” (Franko was her stylist and she was the one who insisted I see him. After all, he cut Monica’s hair, which was a big deal in Washington DC back in 1998!)
“Absolutely!” Franko replied. “I’ll personally bring her back to the sinks so Joseph can wash her hair and give her a great scalp massage.”
As I was about to get up from the chair Franko extended his hand, but I didn’t take it. I didn’t want anything from him or his salon anymore, not even a scalp massage.
Reluctantly I settled into the chair and received a delightful scalp massage. My mind began to wander as the warm water ran though my short locks like a cascading waterfall. Why was I upset? I was donating my ponytail to Locks of Love, an organization that makes wigs for kids with long-term hair loss. I thought about how horrible it would be to have cancer or alopecia as a little girl. That thought brought me right back into reality. So what if Franko cut off too much hair? My hair would grow back… eventually. With that thought, I resolved to confront any bad hair days to come with a stiff upper lip.
Though it takes ten ponytails to create one child’s wig, I knew my hair would make a little girl’s life more normal again. Childhood is supposed to be about hanging upside down on jungle gyms or diving into pools with your friends. So what if my hair was boy short… at least there would be one less little girl hiding under a hat, ashamed of what she looked like, as she battled a horrible disease. No one should live like that. And now, one little girl wouldn’t have to.

Blogger’s Note: I’ve cut my hair twice for Locks of Love (1998 and 2005) and once for Wigs for Kids (2002). If you have long hair, please consider donating your ponytail, rather than just having the stylist throw it away, to one of these amazing organizations.

3 thoughts on “Demonstration in Minilessons: my personal narrative

  1. I’m taking Literacy Methods right now and was looking for a process log template when I came accross your website. I’ll be back, when student teaching isn’t so hectic 🙂


  2. Here’s what my process log looked like:

    I was collecting today in my notebook today. I used the strategy of first times. . I was trying to think about the first time I did something and came up with an idea that I think about a lot… my first Locks of Love haircut. First I sketched, then I wrote. I gave a lot of background information so that my reader would know how I came into the salon and why it was a big deal that Dori was not there to supervise the haircut.

    I decided to put my reader in the center of the action with my entry, which is what I want my kids to do, but there’s no background information in this entry. The reader has no context of why I’m cutting my hair. My reader won’t know why on earth I’m cutting my hair, who Franko is and why Monica Lewinsky is important (is she really important?). I need to rethink the way I’m going to open this personal narrative up since I feel my lead is too abrupt. I guess this is why this is called collecting. I can craft a lead later.

    I stretched out a small moment… the moment that I looked into the mirror and noticed that Franko cut my hair too short. I did this since it correlated with what I was doing in a strategy lesson with some of my kids today who are still having a tough time stretching out moments. It’s hard work. It’s definitely challenging, but I think I got something good out of it in my notebook.

    Jen Serravallo gave us a great strategy to use in the Writing Institute this past summer. She said that when you’re nurturing, you should try to write back to these two things:
    – What’s so important about…?
    – If _______ is so important, then maybe I can…

    I tried this strategy and I think that I realized that I need to let my reader in on what’s going on with regard to the reason I’m cutting my hair. It’s not because I didn’t like my hair and it’s not because I wanted to be different. It’s because I wanted to give it to a kid with cancer.

    I’m wondering if I should mention in my narrative that I’ve cut my hair for this cause two more times since 1998. Something to think about…

    I put the final touches on my first draft tonight. Using Jen’s strategy really helped me. I realized that this whole cut came out of a joke. Maybe not a joke, but they never thought I’d cut my hair for anything. I proved them wrong. I want my reader to understand that I realized I was giving up my hair for a good cause. I think I convey that in my conclusion when I tell how many people’s hair it takes to create a wig and that I’d face bad hair days with a stiff upper lip. I’m satisfied and look forward to talking with Heidi about my piece in class this week.

    I went back to my original plan of starting in the middle of the action. I feel as though opening up with “They never expected me to do it. I never expected to do it either,” just has strange undertones. I think I provided too much information for the reader in my first draft.

    I used a mentor text from the book First French Kiss. (The mentor text I’m using is “My Side of the Story.”) I am trying to work in the idea of what Franko did to me as an injustice. I don’t know if this is a strong idea or if it’ll sound lame to my reader.

    I italicized some of my internal thinking. I believe I need to be more consistent with this text feature. (This is not from my mentor text… I just thought italicizing would be helpful to my reader.)

    I shared my writing with Heidi, Kristen and Tabitha tonight. Rosemarie listened in on our chat as well. I realized that my second draft is probably better than my first since I used the mentor text, “My Side of the Story” to open up with action, which is what I originally did! (Why didn’t I trust myself from the get-go?) In fact, that might even be a good title for my personal narrative.

    While I’m more pleased with my lead, I’m still not happy with my conclusion. It’s some what of an emotional statement, with a small element of surprise, but I think it’s still pretty weak. I don’t want to come off as high and mighty for having donated my hair. After all, I’m not the first person who has cut their hair for Locks of Love!

    I’m wondering, again, if I should include something about the fact that I cut it again in 2001 and then for a third time in 2005 for donation purposes. I’m not sure. This is, after all, supposed to be a small moment. If I do that I wonder if it’ll read too much like a memoir (i.e., a life topic).

    I created an internal and external timeline this evening to help me flow between action-internal thinking-action-internal thinking. I want to remember to alternate my writing like this so that my reader can experience the event just like I did.

    I conferred with my student teacher, Christina Rodriguez, about my writing. She wanted to take a look over it before she talked to me so I sent it to her last night so she’d be ready to speak with me this morning.

    MORNING: Kristin and I did a demonstration of a peer conference in front of my class today for the minilesson. The teaching point was finding out what your story was really about. As a result, I realized that I do want my reader to feel like s/he is right there with me. I don’t know that I want to be that emotional since it will look like I’m standing on a soap box preaching for Locks of Love.

    EVENING: Heidi and I met this evening to confer with each other about our personal narrative. Heidi really liked the amount of internal thinking I used throughout my piece. She also liked the way I varied my sentence length. She did talk to me more about elaboration and making sure that all of my language is showing, instead of telling.

    I just revised my personal narrative based on Christina, Heidi and Kristin’s conferences with me. I’m now going to edit my piece tomorrow. I’m still not 100% happy with my narrative. I’m having serious doubts if it does everything I want it to do, which is to convey how I was feeling, what was happening (so that my reader feels like s/he is right there with me) and by creating awareness about Locks of Love. Oh boy. I have a lot of work ahead of me tomorrow!

    I edited my piece so it has verbs that are the engines of my sentences (a la Georgia Heard, The Revision Toolbox). I also tried to make sure I used specific nouns. I’m now satisfied with my piece since I think it is somewhat humorous, but it’s also sentimental. (I used an emotional ending… I think I earned it.)

    Also, when my kids publish at the end of this cycle of writing, I’m going to use this as my published piece (I always publish a piece with them). I’m also going to use this in my minilessons and conferences so that I can show my students the struggles I had in order to make this personal narrative work.

    Finally, I decided to call my narrative “The Big Cut,” not “My Side of the Story,” even though that’s the mentor text I used. I felt that the big cut says more about the piece since big can be thought of in two ways here after the reader finishes the narrative. First, big can mean large as in too much hair was cut off. Second, big also symbolizes the magnitude of the haircut for me as a person since this was a big deal to cut my hair and donate it to Locks of Love.


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