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?

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