OK, I suppose I should start by admitting that if you are expecting to read anything about Brad Pitt or a movie you may or may not have watched around about the year 2008, you are going to be bitterly disappointed as this post has will have no further mention of either. In fact, the subject of this blog probably (definitely) isn’t even called Benjamin Button, but he could be, and this is certainly a curious case for me.
On Wednesday evening I mentioned during the #primedchat on Twitter that I was struggling with a reluctant writer. This young boy ,for arguments sake lets call him Ben (tenuous link to the film, I know!), just would not write. Now, Ben could speak for England. For a 9 year old Year 4, he is a relatively intelligent, lively and likable young student. He actively takes part in class discussions and practical activities. In fact, he is often even my banker (you know; that child you can always go to for the answer you’re looking for)! However, if you were to check his books you wouldn’t know this, as his ideas seldom see the lines of a page and years of this have had their effect on the level of his writing.
For a while I had labelled him as lazy. In my mind it was simple; he could do it, he just wouldn’t. This was certainly the assessment I was delivered by his parents. I considered if he simply harnessed a loathing of writing. During class discussions, he was ever reliable. However, during independent tasks he resembled a child mesmerised by imaginary thoughts floating in front of his eyes. If you tried to encourage him to work, he would try to engage in conversation to put off picking up a pencil. The frustration bubbled inside me on many occasions threatening to flood over into the classroom in the form of negativity and anger. Thankfully, I usually managed to suppress this as the last thing I wanted to do was disengage him further.
I tried many methods of encourage him to write:
- I chose topics that interested him.
- I set targets for him to meet in lessons.
- I told him that I expected more and knew he was able.
- I marked where I wanted him to write to on the page.
- I gave him a time limit to do work by and told him I would be back to check.
- I let him write on a computer.
- I started up an after school blogging club (with Ben in mind) and wrote about things that he wanted to write about.
- I tried to use Lend Me Your Literacy to give him an incentive and potential audience.
- I bribed him with money and power. (This one might be a lie)
Nothing worked. Everyday he would sit at play time and the beginning of lunch with me and quickly finish up. He would receive a pep talk, make promises and leave. Then the next day we would do it again. Every lesson that involved recording things ended the same way, including maths! Desperately needing advice, I turned to Twitter. In no time at all I had heaps of helpful advice rolling in.
The one piece of advice that stuck out for me came from Tim Taylor when he said:
I considered this. Although I sit with him most days, we only tend to discuss getting the work done. I had never really had an open chat with him, so I realised what I had to do.
“Ben,” I started, “we need to discuss your work. You have fantastic ideas but we find ourselves sat in this position every day.”
“Have I ever told you about the day my dad fell in the muck in the forest?” he interjected.
Not today, Ben, not today!
We chatted for a while about his work before I asked him why he thought he rarely got his ideas on paper. He didn’t have to think long before explaining that he finds himself to be forgetful. By the time he has come to write, he has completely forgotten his ideas. If I’m honest, I don’t think this is the main problem but I clung to it. We discussed how we could record the ideas to prevent them disappearing. We discussed what he wants to accomplish. We set achievable, short-term goals, and then we had a breakthrough. For the first time in months, perhaps ever in my classroom, with minimal persuasion he produced a piece of work in a short piece of time that had both quantity and decent quality. Then after lunch, the quantity of work was again significantly improved and my praise really began to flow.
Today was a step in the right direction for Benjamin and I, and although I know we will no doubt encounter bumps on the road, I know now that we will get there eventually. The way forward seems, for now at least, a little clearer: