Your Kid Is Not Lazy

by Melissa on April 11, 2010

I had a boy in my class a few years ago, a really smart boy, great storyteller. He would have kids and adults hanging on his every word. But he was a puzzle.

He hated writing.

It kind of drove me nuts, because he was such a good storyteller, but every time he turned in a paper, I could barely read his  chicken-scratch!

I tried all my tricks, but none work. So I hurriedly brought one of his papers to a colleague, a really smart cookie, to ask for advice when none of them worked.

The teacher could barely read it. His diagnosis: laziness. His advice: hand back the paper and make him re-write it. With a hasty good-bye, I dashed from his classroom and ran to my car. There were a lot of questions and self-doubts racing through my mind.

I shuddered at the thought of following this colleague’s advice.  I was hoping I could find a way to help my kiddo get his amazing stories down on paper, and didn’t understand how making him do something he already hated doing over again would instill this desire. But I also left wondering if my gentle approach was holding him back, if my gut was wrong.

I felt confused, and didn’t know what to do.

So, I did what I often do when I’m trying to make sense of something. I sat in bed, pouring over all of the books I had, trying to find a story about a kid like mine.

Late Saturday, I found what I was looking for in a book by Mel Levine. Beth and Jo were great, but I’d kill to have Levine for a sidekick. He’s the only one Patrick and Queenie’d have to be worried about. Levine’s the amazing author of All Kinds of Minds and The Myth of Laziness. The reason I love him so much is that he believes that all people want to succeed and do their best work.

Levine believes that when kids are struggling in school, it is almost always caused by a neurodevelopmental dysfunction.*

*which means something in their brain’s stopping them from creating what they want to, not their “laziness.”

Well, I finally came across a case study of a boy that was having the same problem. I read about Russell, and realized that he held his pencil like my student. Because of how his brain works, it takes so much effort for him to control the muscles in his hand that it can’t keep up with his flow of ideas.

Startling Revelations

And then I read that the same part of the brain that controls the small muscles in the hand are the ones that control the small muscles in the tongue. My kiddo had a stutter. I had figured it out!

It’s crazy. When you get to the root of the problem, when you figure out the “why,” the steps for helping a kid seem kind of easy,

A Happy Finale

He tested out a bunch of different types of pens, we got him in a typing program (the up and down typing movements are easier to manage than the complex movements it takes to write manually), and he was on his way to feeling successful. The most exciting part was that he felt so much relief that the problem wasn’t his fault. He started looking at writing in a totally different way.

Takeaway Tip: If your kid is struggling with something, and you’re not sure why, I think you’ll find so much comfort in the work and research of Mel Levine. He’s brilliant, and writes in a way that is easy to understand. More importantly, he’s on your side.

Or, I guess he’s on the side of everyone. Because he believes that everyone is trying to do their best, and sometimes they get stuck and it’s not their fault. Or there’s this really easy fix for a really big, hard problem. He believes that your kid can and will succeed.

I think we need more people like that in the world.

Melissa is the founder of Tandem Teaching and teaches in the inner-city. She blogs weekly about tips parents can implement to enhance their connection with their children and ways to bring out their children’s inherent gifts. Contact her for a private consulting session.


Megan April 11, 2010 at 11:25 pm

Man oh man! I love this –

“didn’t understand how making him do something he already hated doing over again would instill this desire.”

Your colleague’s bad advice reminds me of all the stories I have heard of people catching a kid smoking cigarettes and making them smoke the whole pack to induce revulsion.

I think you and Mel could totally partner up to solve mysteries. You could get a motorcycle and he can ride in the sidecar.
.-= Megan´s last blog ..Spring Chickens are Hatching | Take Your Cameras Out =-.

Jim April 12, 2010 at 6:36 pm

I too am a good stoyteller but struggle with writing. It’s such a blessing when teachers target the problem and attack it as opposed to dismissing it to make things easier for themselves. Interesting fact about the muscles!

jimmyjimmy April 13, 2010 at 10:50 am

OH MY GOD! This sounds like the story of my early school years!! I was always telling stories but hated writing, in fact, I remember being constantly scolded for my poor penmanship.

This is such a great story of a dedicated teacher who wouldn’t settle for the easy answer, but kept her eyes open and operated at the top of her intelligence and probably ended up changing the entire course of this students life.

But that is what great teachers do. What we need to do is study this teacher to find out how we can make more like her! I can’t wait to share this blog with my teaching friends!

Bmagness April 14, 2010 at 4:14 pm

I remember in 5th grade we were all given superlatives and they were actually mean looking back as an adult- I was voted Worst Penmanship! Oh how it hurt my feelings and I was constantly asked to rewrite things! Too bad computers were not as popular when I was younger.

Margarita April 19, 2010 at 2:20 pm

I loved this story Melissa, specially the way that you handled the situation. With almost 10 years of teaching experience I’m convinced that our children problems are not because of laziness ( that doesn’t mean that we don’t have to push them !! you know better than me! ) I will buy Levine’s book, I’ve never heard about him before.

Melissa April 19, 2010 at 5:54 pm

You are going to love all of his books! He guides me to the most amazing breakthroughs with kids. A couple happened last week! I’ll email you about them. I would love to get your take.

Leslie April 25, 2010 at 1:41 pm

Yes!!! Mel Levine has saved so many kids from falling through the cracks that he should be required reading for all teachers. I went to one of his lectures and he said that interviewing was a skill left out of his medical school curriculum. So when he meets a kid who is having a problem in school, he just asks the kid to tell him what the problem is. Lots of times the child really can describe the problem, and if he or she can’t, you have at least shown them that you really are interested in your student. Great work, Melissa.

Melissa April 26, 2010 at 4:58 am

It really is too bad. It could have made such a difference. Good thing it didn’t kill your creativity . . . but it still stings!

Melissa April 26, 2010 at 5:05 am

Thanks for sharing, Leslie. This is an important thing for parents and teachers to think about.