Friday, April 06, 2012

Writing Woes :-(

We have lots that we do around here for homeschool and life in general that we do well (and if you are so inclined, at levels beyond our age peers) - reading, spelling, grammar, punctuation, talking, listening, mathematics, science, music, technology, critical thinking etc etc. The other things we do reasonably well and enjoy when we do them - geography, history, art, and drama.  Physical education is done - not particularly skillfully, but then at least one of us has motor dyspraxia, so it is done as well as we can and then without tears. The one thing that is guaranteed to bring us undone around here is writing.

At first, I thought it was just a handwriting issue. And certainly, now that we know that Video Boy has motor dyspraxia, it explains a lot. We use a lot of alternatives - typing, scribing/narrating, mind-mapping, even voice recognition software. But since Kindergarten, the process of writing has caused Video Boy and then Wombat Girl angst.

At school, failing to finish written work often caused my Boy to miss recess and lunch times, as he attempted to finish off work he didn't get done in the allotted time. Rewards were no carrot and punishment no stick - neither worked. Each year, teacher after teacher recognised it as an issue and some even went so far as to say "I've been teaching for 40 years - I'll get him writing!". Great! Bring it on! Alas, they failed in their attempts. And he gained large amounts of red pen expounding him to "finish this work".

His first NAPLAN testing in Yr 3 was a resounding success - above the top band in reading, spelling, grammar and punctuation, and mathematics. The bottom of Band 1 (i.e. zero) for writing. He stubbornly refused to put pen to paper. After much discussion about this at home, complete with demonstrations of the kinds of writing which got some marks (basically scribble on a page), in Yr 5 he managed to get some output and achieve a Band 4 - huge improvement! But way below what he was achieving in the other areas.

Wombat Girl cruised along OK in her writing in the early years. Yr 3 NAPLAN showed her writing 2 bands below all her other outstanding achievements as did Yr 5 (done the next year as she skipped a grade). But her lack of progress in classroom work started to show and she was also gathering large amounts of red pen comments.

When we came home, I took it easy on the writing front for a term or two. I knew it caused anxiety in both children and they didn't have much self-belief in themselves as writers. I stumbled upon Brave Writer's Writer's Jungle. We worked through the introductory exercises - I did them too! I tried to foster an atmosphere where it was safe to try. Freewriting was a reasonable success, but both balked at reviewing any piece and editing it. Tears ensued. I backed off.

Any attempt at either persuasive or information/report writing was like pulling teeth, even using assistive technology. Much bouncing, umming, ahhing, fiddling, crying, head-banging, and out-and-out stress accompanies any attempt to do this type of work. It is doing my head in!

Perhaps I am expecting too much. I have written a lot of essays through school and university and even an honours thesis! I write my blog. I am able to sort out my thoughts, gather evidence, put it on paper/computer. Do  rough draft and then go back and edit. And it all makes sense, is humourous when I want it to be, is serious when I want it to be. Gets my ideas across succinctly and eloquently. Am I putting my expectations that I find this process easy onto them??

Am I stressing too much about the importance of writing now? Perhaps this is one of those skills that they will learn when they see a need for it, not just because Mum says "we have to write about this". Maybe they can pick it up when they require it.

Or is there something bigger at play here?

Writing is a very complex task. It requires language skills, comprehension, imagination and/or knowledge (which I know they have - tick). It requires a good working memory and processing skills - thinking of the overall concept you want to get across, planning it out, constructing each sentence, putting the words in the right order on paper or computer. It requires motor skills to keep up with the thought processes (an issue for Video Boy in particular). All these things become easier with practice - but if you refuse to/have trouble with writing, then you aren't practising.

I have read books on dyspraxia (which also means problems with organisation), underachievement, visual-spatial learners, right-brained thinkers, ADHD, and executive functioning.

I really think their issues lie with those "executive skills" of planning and carrying out. Sorting out complex thoughts. Holding ideas in your working memory whilst your little hands carry out motor tasks. Keeping your attention focussed while all this is going on.

It is something we are going to pursue professionally - at first for Video Boy whose reactions and emotions on attempting these tasks are, quite frankly, bordering on frightening. I think he frightens himself at times with the intensity of his emotions! I think something is going on to a certain extent with Wombat Girl too, but not not as strongly - however, we still frequently experience tears and inattention.

Of course, now that I've written this post, Wombat Girl has gone a fabulous job with her first blog post and is working away on a second. So, maybe there is hope. Maybe I just need time for their writing skills to blossom and maybe the writing needs to be meaningful for them.

Has anyone else experienced this? Writing is seriously our bug-bear in a bed of homeschool bliss. It is the cause of much stress and anxiety (them and me!). It is the one thing guaranteed to bring our relationship unstuck. It is something which I think they will be able to do well, but it is just not happening for us at the moment.

Writing can bring so much joy, but for us for the most part, it is only bringing tears.


9 comments:

  1. Hey Ingi, you know I'm not as far along this road as you are, but I do have a couple of ideas still. My Pokemon Boy seems to enjoy making Powerpoint presentations about his games. Today he showed dh and myself a presentation he'd been working on about how to play Star Wars III for Wii. (That counts as a 'procedure', right?) It was mostly images pulled from the internet, but it was actually structured and had a fair bit of writing in it. He even asked me how to spell some of the words!

    This term he made a poster about robots with a friend of mine (a speech and language pathologist, and, at her suggestion, included a poem he'd written. Last year he did an information report on a certain type of Pokemon.

    Apart from the Powerpoint presentations, all these tasks involved a large amount of grumbling, groaning and moaning, but he did at least complete them.

    So I do think it has to be something meaningful for them, not just a generic NAPLAN task.

    Also, I've only just seen that there are some transciption apps for the iPad - have you tried these at all? I haven't downloaded one yet but my thought was that Pokemon Boy could talk about what he wanted to write, and then move around phrases or sentences to edit and reorganise his text.

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    1. He has actually produced written output - and I do try to make it meaningful, but I guess lately I've been stressed about NAPLAN - I want to show the powers that be that my kids have got what it takes!!

      Thanks for those ideas - I'm going to try to be more flexible about the topics, the timing of when we write, the output. I will check out the iPad apps for sure!

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  2. WRITING ARRRGGGHHHHHH!!! NOOOOO!!! We have identical issues. I swear I have tried everything so this term I'm breaking my own rules and have pulled out the (virtual) whip to FORCE him to write so he can see he IS capable and SEE there will be success once he makes an effort. He is not a risk-taker so this time I am pushing him over the edge. And guess what? IT'S WORKING! OMG SHOCKING EVEN FOR ME WHO ADVOCATES POSITIVE FEEDBACK AT ALL TIMES. Not just because writing is far less painful than being banished to the bedroom without toys or books but he is starting to realise the barrier is inside his head and it ain't so hard after all. I DO NOT ADVOCATE THIS and I hope I never have to use it again but we're getting to the point where not being able to write is delaying his advancement.

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    1. It seems I'm not alone in my angst! Which in a weird way makes me feel better :-) I'm so glad your boy is seeing some results...I'm scared of the reactions if I push that hard (they are bad enough with gentle coaxing!)

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  3. This is a tricky thing. How much is actually required for each individual child is going to be a different answer. I think a lot will also depend on what career path your child is going to take, and just maybe it is something that will have to wait until they are older and discover why it is needed. good luck with it all.

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    1. Tricky indeed! I don't think I've quite the balance right yet. I will persist! And hope they don't choose careers where they need to do lots of writing. Or they may shock me and become novelists!! Never say never :-)

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    2. So true! Which is why I am pushing because I can already see Kirk will be somewhere between a tech-head and an academic both of which will demand some very long years of writing. His aversion to physical work is legendary - at 6 he had realised goalie was the best place to be for soccer. Sufficient glory for minimal input.

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  4. I have the same problem with my son. If you ever find a solution, please let me know :)

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    1. I tell you, if I ever figure it out, I'm bottling it and selling it!!!

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