September 30, 2011

Light Bulbs with Holes

I hear it so often, from parents, and this week's phone conversations I had with Educational Psychologists, Teachers, Tutors, and Occupational Therapists.

"They have such good ideas - but they cannot seem to get them down onto paper, or out of their head in a coherent way."

Well, that is true, most of the time. Then there is the hard truth that writing ability is directly related to verbal ability, which is is measured in part by one's receptive and expressive vocabulary. *the rest is syntax and speech flow). And vocabulary is directly tied to IQ.

So, in other words, a low IQ, or low lexicon of vocabulary words in your brain, will impair the writing process significantly. (Think: Sunday morning at 7 a.m. trying to write a coherent letter to a co-worker, with the right tone and right adjectives, and you are straining for synonyms.)

Conversely, a high IQ lubricates the writing process, and when I work with those writers, there is more teeth to sink into the page, even though their output can be an obstacle course.

Some days I want to add "detective" to my business card and website.
I feel like I am mining for information like they do on CSI and Law & Order, when students stall and shut down and even say, "I can't." This week I ran into two walls, and broke through one but not the other until I talked to his teacher.

The first is a 3rd grade girl who tends to make up stories about her life, about school, and about books she has read - she fills in blanks a lot. Well, her assignment was to write about a memorable event when she was afraid. Ouch! Hard to recall, then add all the details, and who wants to dwell on fear?

But as I drilled down into her pre-write and brainstorm (that she had spent hours on creating at school, over a week) she actually had 4 events from her life rolled into one. And then some "filling in the blanks" parts. It took me 35 minutes to uncover just that. After that I discovered, after Countless Compassionate Questions, that she could not remember the details, and seldom can, so she fills in the gaps. And here her mom thought all this time she had a tendency to lie.

This got me thinking about so many other kids who loved writing fantasy, but personal narratives were a bear. Bingo.

Her mom and I connected all this back to her assessment that came out with a low working memory score. Doh! I love my job. I can see past her frustration and frozen places about the writing process.

The other student had a mini meltdown and tears, about a poetry assignment. I mistakingly said it was like a song. Perfectionist mindset! No go. He felt it had to be like the model his teacher shared, long and detailed. So I am wondering if he is a kid on the spectrum, because he has great ideas, a huge vocabulary, but just can't seem to get his ideas down on the page.

Do I hear an echo?

September 23, 2011

Well, new school year, new (private practice) students; new parents; new assessment reports, new word retrieval issues, new IEPs, and new teacher names for me to remember when talking with each student about their daily life. And some students who are continuing, and I have worked with for awhile.

I am pausing for a Catholic moment of confession.
I raised my voice with two students in one week.
Against my nature, my ethics, my upbringing, and my morals.
Their shoulder-shrugging responses to all of my questions about their writing just sent me through the roof.
Did you use the rubric to help you with this paragraph/assignment?
Do you remember where you got stuck?
Did you use the tools in the toolkit? (our tutoring folder)
What words do you think are really good in this piece?
Does this sentence say what you want to say?
Are you determined to get out of writing anything in this hour with me?

I would not make a patient parent at moments such as these.

The ADD Brain just has a way of tuning out, sometimes, and putting absolutely zero importance on the verbage that is coming at them. These two students, at times, will just act completely apathetic about a poorly done piece of writing, or a weak report card, etc. Their parents battle with them to find a reward, or even a consequence, that works. It is like they are okay with getting nothing and living motivation-free.

"The hallmark of ADD is an automatic, unwilled "tuning out," a frustrating non-presence of mind. People suddenly find that they have heard nothing of what they have been listening to, saw nothing of what they were looking at, remember nothing of what they were trying to concentrate on."

Of course, I have my outsider perspective, and may not know the ins and outs of their other brain life. I am hired to teach them writing, so it is entirely possible that "tuning out" does not occur in certain activities, and that their motivation to build legos is worthy of a You Tube Video.

But some ADD-ers grow up to become incredible, published authors!

And not from being yelled at. But from being given a chance to express themselves.

Here are these 9-year old boys I work with who are being unfairly asked to write, for example, an argument-style essay, defending diversity and cultural variety at school. Wow. That is a hard task, to explain, in words, why sameness is not a great aspiration.

So my little guy - in this week's session - starts out by saying that with no differences, everything would be white, like at school no colors on the walls, and no petals different on flowers.

That is beautiful. But not gonna pass the expository muster.

I have put this blog post in draft format for 10 days now, awaiting the illuminatory answer to expound upon my readers about how to deal with the tuning out thing, but it has not arisen. I am sure it will come. My brain makes connections pretty fast.

My other confession is that I have joined Twitter, and have entered the dark side. I only did it a month ago because so many people said it was a way to direct traffic to my blog, but now I am stuck with "followers" that are really just marketers, and homeschoolers who repost articles I have read already. Okay, it is not that bad. I find out interesting things from about 1 out of 10 twitter links I am sent. And I read them on my laptop, not on my phone. More like reading the paper.

Can I leave the confessional booth now?