Week of May 15—Writing Lessons My Students Taught Me
Thursday, May 19—Perseverance—Kiona, Hammond, and Caine
Today I want to introduce you to three young writers who taught me about perseverance.
Kiona is one of those kids who is relatively quiet and well behaved and who can blend into the background. Each time I brought her name up in meetings as someone who might need to be screened for learning needs, people said: “You mean she’s not serviced? Are you sure? It seems like we’ve talked about her before.” People have talked about and worried about Kiona for a long time.
Kiona has been an average writing student this year. Trying her best most days. I remember one day when we spent over an hour together revising a paper, trying to discover how to stay on a topic and add details. Kiona was making progress, but not fast enough. She didn’t receive a passing score on her state writing assessment.
As she buried her face in my shoulder and cried she whispered, “I just don’t want to tell my mom.” What do you say to that? I asked Kiona to go wash her face and then sent her into her classroom to get her writing portfolio. We flipped through her papers and looked at how her writing had grown and improved during the year.
“Maybe we should show this to my mom,” she said. Yep. We should and we will, because perseverance can’t be marked by one piece of writing on one day of one’s life. Perseverance in writing takes a lifetime.
If you were casting the roles for The Tortoise and the Hare, you would definitely want to consider Hammond for the role of the tortoise. He moves slowly, he talks in a slow country twang, and he works and writes s-l-o-w-l-y. So slowly in fact that I feared he would never been able to complete a piece of timed writing. We screened him, we tested him, and ole Hammond had a perfectly normal I.Q. and no apparent learning disabilities. The kid just has a slow-running motor.
Every day in writing Hammond would write. While others finished entire papers, Hammond would still be planning. We used timers, stop watches, incentives, and rewards. Hammond got faster, but it still didn’t seem fast enough.
When I called Hammond to the hall to give him his score, I asked, “How did you do on that test?”
“I finished it. I kept workin’ ‘til it was done.”
“You not only finished, you scored a five, Hammond.”
“Well how about that? I did it.”
Simple and to the point. And he is the one who did it. We gave him some strategies, we provided some guidance, but Hammond is the one who persevered, finished his writing, and did it well.
Caine is a cool kid, with a squeaky voice, a mop of hair, and a speech impediment. I noticed Caine when I first came to the school last year. As a third grader he would get so nervous during tests that he would chew on the sleeves of the hoody he always wore. By the end of third grade, the cuffs of his hoody were in shreds.
Try as we might, his parents, teachers, the guidance counselor, school psychologist, Caine’s pediatrician, and I could not find anything that could be a diagnosis that would lead to extra time or any other accommodation for Caine.
He cried in writing some days. Shut down on other days. Then I found out about a game Caine loved to play. “That’s your secret weapon,” I told him one day. “You can take that game you love and write about it so it fits whatever you’re asked to do.” For months all Caine wrote about was that game. Last Friday when we could finally discuss scores, I asked:
“What did you write about on your test?”
“I used my secret weapon, Mr. Sanders.”
“But the prompt was about your favorite weather. How did you make that game fit into weather?”
“Good grief, you can play that game in any kind of weather. So I just made it a rainy day.”
Good grief! Why didn’t I think of that! Caine persevered until he owned the most important secret weapon a writer can possess—the knowledge to write about what you love.
It’s Your Turn!
1. Can you stick with it? Are you writer enough to hang in through the tough times, the rejection times, the bad critique times, the I-don’t-have-an-idea times? Perseverance is the key to our ultimate success.
NOTE: All names of the children in this week’s posts have been changed to protect the confidentiality of my students.