* The Silent Creep

TableI’m not sure if creeps are silent, as a rule, but the kind I’m referencing is deadly quiet.  Picture our house.  We have 6 tables downstairs, which sounds a bit extravagant but it’s not.  Our sun room has two tables.  One of them i(above) s a beautiful round table set with bright mosaic tiles.  It’s tall, too, with 4 tall chairs.  The other is low, glass-topped and has a love seat and chair next to it.  When we have home group, the women often cluster around these tables to eat dinner.  (Trust me, I am going somewhere with this.  OK, I can hear my dearest widower encouraging me to get to the point).  Kitchen- 1 table.  Dining room- 1 table.  Living room and family room- one coffee table each.  There.

Now to the back story.  My dearest widower is always writing.  Nothing fun, I assure you.  He has reports and court cases and research and other official writing.  He LABORS over every piece.  For one thing, he’s a perfectionist (and I suppose he could be sued if he wrote something goofy, which is why I blog and he doesn’t).  For another, he has some word-finding issues, which is why I love playing Scrabble with him, only he won’t play anymore.  Finally, my dearest widower has some remnants of childhood magical thinking.  (Do you know what that is?  I had a young student tell me he learned to read because of a jacket he was wearing.  That was totally magical thinking.  I had worked my buns off teaching him to read.)

Signs of magical thinking: My widower has this idea that he writes best when he can see out a window.  I call it being distracted.  He has this idea that a new table will somehow create a breakthrough.  I call it materialism.  He also believes he writes best if he keeps changing rooms.  I call it wanderlust.  Finally, my widower builds up so much writing debris in one spot that he must change rooms.  I call it nasty encroachment.

I hate to say it, but my widower has the creeps.  The writing creeps.  Like kudzu or some other invasive, tangled, strangling vine, my dearest widower has contaminated all but ONE table downstairs.  Did I mention he has an office upstairs?  That we created an office so he could write without distraction, in one place, with windows, and with a whiteboard?  You have to understand that his writing is not merely confined to 6 tables, counting his office.  He spreads eraser crumbs on every inch of each table and on the floor.  Yes, he writes by hand on legal pads, keeping the paper industry in business.  Crumbled balls of paper, bits of snacks, and partly finished glasses of iced tea are all signs of his labors.  He’s “Hansel and Gretel: Writing Their Way Home.”  It’s the creeps!

Me?  I have one table.  Well, a part of the kitchen table, too.  Yes, I have commandeered two entire rooms, but I DON’T have the creeps.  I watch Hoarders occasionally to remind myself that I am NOT hoarding teaching supplies.  I am merely stockpiling for all those teachable moments.  My greatest relief is that my dearest widower’s creeps are not contagious.  I am fine.  I am perfectly fine.

* W is for writing

mudflat-hiking-57666_640Blogging A-Z: W is for writing.  As much as I enjoy writing, there’s a giant ache in my heart when I hear that word.  Why?  Because of the anguish many of my students feel when they write at school.  To what lengths do some of these kids go to avoid writing tasks which are beyond their reach?  They get out of reach themselves, going under desks or tables, leaving the class, taking an extended vacation in the bathroom, and going to the nurse’s office after throwing up.  Or they lash out, disrupting the entire class.  Seriously.  I’ve seen all of that and more.

We must change the school landscape for these kids who live in fear of writing.  I spent much of last summer desensitizing a kid who could no longer THINK about writing without overwhelming panic.  He had to cross an emotional abyss in order to attempt writing again.  His was not an isolated problem.  For twice exceptional kids, especially, this can be the daily terrain.

We know from brain research (and common sense) that some kinds of struggles are “good.”  Persevering through certain learning challenges can improve our ability to problem solve.  Succeeding when struggles are at the right level of difficulty is vital.  But writing phobias are not an outcome of “good” struggles.  This writing distress and cycle of failure begins by tasking kids with assignments for which they are not capable, plunging them into a mire from which there seems no escape.  If I were expected to write a sentence in French, even if the teacher said kindly, “All you have to do is write TWO words,” I would be at a loss.  I don’t know the letters, sounds, words, or grammar.  I would be mortified if this happened in front of my peers.  I would feel like Alice in Wonderland if my teacher assured me that I was fully capable of writing a two-word story in French.  Does she even know me?  Where would I begin?  After a few assignments like this, my anxiety would rocket when it was time for writing.  I’d start worrying about it before I got to class.  I’d feel stupid and ashamed when the teacher’s help simply didn’t help.  I would wonder what was wrong with me.  When I looked around at my colleagues, busily at work on writing tasks, I’d feel incompetent.  Maybe I’d try to copy a colleagues’s work.  Perhaps my stomach would start hurting, so I’d end up in the nurse’s office.

Changing writing phobias to writing success starts with understanding our students’ learning differences.  The website Understood has realistic videos of kids with writing struggles.  Listen to kids talk about their struggles.  Look at this supposedly simple task from their point of view.  Effective instructional change is possible.  The writing topography can be one of success.

How many of you had writing struggles as a student?  Would you share your experiences (anonymously, if you prefer)?