My son is bright – most concepts in the classroom he has engaged with he ‘gets’ and the questions he ask comes from a place of deep conceptual understanding of ‘who, what, where, how and above everything else, why?
Yet a large part of my past year has been about bringing him upto speed.
My son lags in one particular skill – writing large chunks of information for a large period of time.
But in the average Indian school, writing is considered a stepping stone to learning. I thought to myself, I am educated, I have done well in most of my academic pursuits, I should be able to help him get good at it. I will get my boy to write more and complete pages and pages of written material that was done in his classroom.
I would get him up to speed!
After a year of pushing, haggling, negotiating and forcing my child to develop this skill, here is what I learnt about Writing:
1. Writing is complex: When you write, you tie up so many skills together. Comprehension, grammar, punctuation, spelling are just few of them. Plus you are constantly thinking about what is being written and how the sentence flows. You are making connections, building arguments and processing information.
2. Writing is food for Imagination: We forget that one idea leads to another and one sentence ideates another. So when the mind is on a run, for a child to hold still, continue writing as they rein in those thoughts is fairly challenging.
3. Writing needs patience: You are using your mind, body and every inch of you to sit still and put together those words on to paper. Nothing but the eyes and the wrist moving for long spurts of time. It takes patience and a significant amount of will to stay put.
4. Writing brings forward different challenges for different people: If a task involves “copying from the board”, we as adults have trained our minds, over time, to separate the thinking and the doing. Many kids get there by grade 4 with the increasing levels of difficulty the classroom provides them. But some find this task either too overwhelming or too mundane.
Now if you think you have mastered that skill, ask yourself to write an essay on something that interests you. 500-750 words on anything…that is a different challenge, right?
While writing must be used judiciously, to ensure that it furthers learning, in the average classroom scenario learning is not really a requirement. It replaces learning with writing, a completely skill based activity.
What this means is that if you master the skill to write and top it with the ability to write neatly, you are considered a good student at school. If you fail, the implications are deep and disturbing.
And if you are a parent in a position like mine, here are my inputs for you:
1. Start small:Recognise the sub-skills that your child needs help with. For some it could be spelling, others, grammar or sentence construction, and for few the inability to put thoughts into exact words. And though my child is exceptional in these particular skills, he is averse to the idea of large chunks or “Wall of Text”.
2. Recognise the intention of the Task: What is the purpose of the task being undertaken? Can it be done differently to achieve the same goal? Has the child understood the text and if not how can they do so? How can they show proof of learning? You define that and build the confidence of the child so he enjoys learning rather than give up too soon.
3. Mastery is sometimes unnecessary: Not every child needs to achieve the same excellence as the other. As long as they tried, pushed themselves a little more, you have achieved your intention.
4. A Child Will If They Can: Make this the premise of any task you undertake with your child. My child started writing me notes and leaving them on my desk as soon as he picked up the alphabets. Before he was ever told to write. And when he is ready to take on large chunks, he will do them too.
5. Is there more than meets the eye? Some kids may have difficulties with certain skills or specific learning problems like dyslexia, dysgraphia or dyscalculia. The shame is not in the problem, rather in the lack of knowledge and support given to children who need it. Gift yourself and your child that awareness and ensure that the school and communities your child interacts with helps them through their struggle.
As a parent, it is hard to not force our aspirations on our kids. When we can separate the two, life and parenting becomes so much simpler.
My son is a great learner. And if me or the system pressurising him to write, takes his love for learning away, I believe it is not worth it. I would rather he writes the short sentences that he does to communicate the same idea that the half page answer in his notebook.
And I would rather help him with tiny step to larger goals than allow him to give up or feel like a failure.
Note: My son was later diagnosed with dysgraphia. There are lot of tools to help children with Learning Disabilities. If a child needs glasses to see better, we get them glasses without any qualms. Treat Learning Disabilities with the same attitude and lot more patience. Help them find support, tools and ask for Individualised Plans to cope with work.