Today, I helped some seventh grade boys with their writing after school. All four of these boys struggled to put words on the page in an organized fashion, let alone with the rich details that would have made their interview pieces sing. It was a daunting task, and I flitted about the room sitting with them one at a time for five minutes at a time, trying to answer their questions from across the room so they could keep moving.
It was an exhausting hour. But we made some teeny tiny baby steps. One student figured out that telling the story of his parents’ divorce might be an important element of writing about their marriage. Another finally changed a question into a sentence without my help. The biggest breakthrough was with Lucas, whose draft was singular sentences grouped into random paragraphs at the beginning of the hour. But by the end of the hour, he was moving his details around so they fit into some semblance of groupings. He was writing follow-up questions in his document, carefully placing them so they’d be in the right place in his paragraph.
These little writing conferences were exactly what I needed after a day of grown-up talk about data and policies in our building leadership team (full of individuals whom I respect greatly, by the way). It was just a strange juxtaposition. We spent our day talking about these boys--these children who struggle with writing--and discussing whether and how they should be penalized for showing up to class without their assignments done. They were not in detention; they were in learning lab for help. And they mostly worked away without complaining.
It just makes me think about the vast differences between the children in our classrooms and how daunting it can be to make a drop in the bucket of the differentiation that needs to occur. I’m sure these boys, who struggle to write sentences, sit alongside kids who can churn out blissful, detailed paragraphs in minutes. Yet they are in the same grade, the same class because they can learn from one another. There is no focal point to this story other than to remind myself that the work is with the individual students, every single time. There’s a book I haven’t read by a teacher whom I believe no longer teaches called There Are No Shortcuts, which is true and heartbreaking. It’s a good thing the work--when it’s working--feels so good.