Thursday, February 05, 2009
I wonder how many school-age children could be considered reluctant writers. I know from my own experience and from talking with hundreds of people at homeschool conferences that reluctant writers are not uncommon. It seems to occur with a higher percentage in boys, and there's a very high correlation in children with fine motor delays and attention challenges. Yet writing is such a fundamental skill for academic tasks, and not just for "official" writing curriculum that we have to help our children attain competency in this area. Students must demonstrate adequate writing skills for math calculations and to provide written responses to questions in nearly every subject area. My son, Josh, was a doodler and picture-drawing fiend from the time he could hold a pencil. That boy loved to draw, and decorated the margins of his workbooks and school pages with detailed artwork. But he hated to write letters and numbers, so the same pencil he enjoyed drawing with became the hated enemy pencil he was expected to write with for school. When you have a reluctant writer, you can end up with a resistant student. There are a few things I tried that helped us get the work done with neither of us becoming too traumatized in the process. First, I acknowledged to myself that boys tend to mature later than girls, and children with AD/HD tend to be 2-4 years LESS mature than their same-age peers without AD/HD. So when I'm working with my 7 year-old AD/HD son, I'm dealing with a maturity level of a typically developing 3-5 year-old boy. Expectations need to be adjusted to fit who you are working with so you can challenge without frustrating as you help skills be developed. The second point I tried to remember was that curriculum is a tool for teachers to measure comprehension and progress. For a handwriting curriculum, that is best assessed by actual writing samples since that is what is being targeted. For other subject areas, I can assess comprehension orally some of the time. I still have written samples of work in each subject area, but I do not need to have my child write down every answer every time when they can quickly and easily tell me their responses and I can gauge their level of understanding. This lessened frustration a great deal for Josh, who was bright and could express himself orally but struggled to form the written words. Writing was a long, laborious process for him and sustaining attention and focus for topics that weren't highly interesting to him was beyond challenging. Sometimes I let him combine his love of drawing with a writing assignment. I found paper that was lined on the lower half and left the top half blank. Josh could write his sentences on the lower half (half a page of writing was less intimidating to him) and he could illustrate his ideas on the upper half of the paper. This was far more appealing to him than writing alone, so he was less reluctant to do the writing task. Today as a young adult, my son who was an extremely reluctant writer back in elementary school has developed such a passion for writing that he has written three science fiction novels and has plans for several more books. Take heart, teachers of reluctant writers! There may yet be an author inside that child.