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.
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.