Over the Christmas holidays I’ve been thinking of ways to motivate the boys with their writing. Both of them are dyslexic and both find writing a bit tough. H especially has further issues so writing, at times, can make his hand hurt and also bring out self esteem issues that really interfere with his behaviour.
I also wrestled with the idea of whether I really should get them to write. This is for a couple of reasons: H is going to be trying a new dictation software called ‘Dragon’ and I’m wondering if writing is something we should just step away from and let the software help him. Another reason is that as a teacher I know that practice helps things to improve. This you can apply to playing the recorder, learning to climb and, the dreaded, writing. The more you do something the more likely it is that your brain gets it, your body gets it and everything just gets better.
I also know that the amount of writing done when I was teaching in schools seemed an awful lot. It was prescribed and definitely took ‘purpose for writing’ out of the frame. Children wrote because that’s how schools can prove to OFSTED that teaching has taken place. The writing simply become evidence and not really a tool to aid or demonstrate learning.
This was my dilemma. To get better at writing, we need to write. To contrive writing experiences (don’t forget the boys are now 7 and 9 and have had many contrived writing experiences and are very wise to them) take away the ‘purpose to write’ and this, in turn, always ends badly.
I can get the boys to write just because they need to but this hasn’t really helped them in the past and H especially has developed some fab avoidance/delaying tactics to make sure that he never finishes.
While thinking about writing, that they don’t like, I also thought about what they do like.
F is adored but all the boys which is something that is both fabulous but also useable. They like reading her bedtime stories so I thought along the lines of them writing their own story for her..?
To start with we raided F’s bookshelves in the kitchen.
We got them off the shelf and took a look at them.
They very much enjoyed looking at the books that had lots of memories for them as they remembered me and their Daddy reading them to them.
F even managed to collar T into reading her a story!
The boys noticed that all of the book were thicker than their books and that they were slightly smaller too.
We decided to concentrate on the ‘board’ books and write down the features of them. What makes a board book a board book?
They started to mind map all of their ideas.
They came up with some great ideas and wrote them on the whiteboard.
I particularly wanted them to think past the features though and not just list them. I wanted them to push their thinking and ask ‘So what?’ to what they had listed. ‘So what?’ that the books are smaller. ‘So what?’ that they have bright pictures and have repetitive features.
They understood that the target audience for these books were young children who had limited attention spans who need shorter stories, brighter pictures and things to hold their interest.
I got out one of my books to show the boys too just to add to the comparison.
I suggested that the boys could write a book for F to enjoy with them.
T thought this marvellous and immediately wanted a piece of paper to get started. H was not so happy. His mood turned very negative very quickly.
I get that he sees the mountain that he thinks he needs to climb rather than imagining the smile on his sister’s face (as there would be) as he read her his story. Some battles I do let him pass on but Hubbie and I have chatted recently and agree that he does pass on rather a lot of battles when sometimes we think he needs to join in and fight a bit more.
I sat and scribed both boys ideas to help them make sense of their thoughts. This has seemed to be a bit of a theme this week but I’ll write about that in another blog.
Once they had a rough story I helped them plot it into distinct pages. I asked them if they wanted a portrait or landscape book and they both said landscape. I think this was because most of F’s books are landscape.
This is T’s start to his book.
F joined in with some drawing.
And here they are on another day writing some more pages.
H tried very hard but did have days where it was all a bit much. We chatted about he does get the ‘wrong’ feeling when he holds the pen in his right hand. This is a huge step forward as H is mixed handed so his brain never told his body which had to write with so we had lots of swapping hands in the beginning.
We’d talked about highlighting the pictures with black ink so they stood out a bit more. We’ve been doing this in drawings for a while now so H was happy to.
I wanted both books finished and know that if H looses momentum then things can just be left not done. I wanted to set a deadline for them -Friday evening 6pm – and that if they didn’t finish by the deadline something would happen or they would miss something. Movie night seemed a good idea!
I think a deadline -rather than a sticker chart like prize – is a realistic way to get them finish whatever they are working on. In the real world declines are set and for some people (Hubbie!) deadlines can actually help you to plan your work and get it done rather than being unable to start as the timeline is vague.
Here’s H’s finished book.
The next few pages…
Here’s T’s book…
Both boys were ecstatic at having finished their books. The plan now is that I scan them in the computer and we can then make a photo book so the boys have a ‘real’ copy of their book. I will laminate the paper copies and they can then read their stories to F. She thinks all this is just awesome.
Both T and H have now written a book and that’s something they both thought they could never do. The sense of achievement at having finished by their deadline was also something they both celebrated. We talked about how it felt to have finished, how they were very pleased with themselves and how movie night was all the more fab.
It was a tough couple of weeks to produce their books but I’m so proud of them both.
Next week we’re going to look at picture books and hopefully they will start to write their own one of these too.