The Boy does not like writing. In particular his teachers struggle to get him to write. There is no problem with his reading, which is excellent (including his comprehension). There is no problem in his understanding and there is certainly no problem in getting him to talk on a subject, he is very expressive vocally (in fact the problem is getting him to shut up!). However, getting him to write is another matter entirely.
In year 1 (age 6) it his writing was painfully slow and the slightest mistake would make him rub out the whole sentence. His wrote no more than a few words in an assessed piece of writing, a story because he could tell that “biskit” (biscuit) was not a correct spelling so would go no further. His teacher was not allowed to help him (as it was going to be assessed) and the fact that the powers that be think it perfectly acceptable for a 6 year old to write biskit made no difference, he was reading a lot and he knew it was wrong, so he couldn’t proceed until it was fixed, end of story.
In year 2 (age 7) they taught him joined up handwriting. I was so annoyed and frustrated by this, it was the worse thing for him. He focused even more on how his writing looked, which slowed him further and exacerbating his trouble getting any kind of “flow” going in his writing. He reminded me of a medieval monk, huddled over his manuscript, making painstakingly slow progress. The fact that his teacher thought he only needed to practice his writing in his handwriting class and not in his literacy class was frankly irrelevant, to the Boy, if something is important then it’s important, it’s not just important on Thursday afternoon but not on Friday morning. It was around this time that he told me that he didn’t understand why school kept trying to get him to write down things that he already knew when he could use the time better learning new things (after all, school is where you go to learn things right?). It was also one of his year 2 teachers who first suggested he might have Aspergers and thus started the process of trying to get a diagnosis and lots of reading on my part. He did see a educational psychologist, who suggested that writing tasks were “chunked up” into managable sized pieces for him but I have no idea what was implemented of this at the time as it was nearly at the end of the school year and I simply couldn’t get them to write anything in a plan form.
Year 3 saw a move to the junior school across the road. Despite reassurances from the infant school that they would do lots of things to help him with his transition (which for them seemed to mean familiarisation with the new school building), it soon became apparent that his new teacher was unprepared for him (I’m still cross that no plan was in place to get handed over to her) and my fears were realised, fears that the gap between him and his peers would widen as expectation rose (which had been my worry all along, misinterpreted by the SENCO as fears about the change of schools). I remember his class teacher asking me how I got him to do anything. I said something at the time, but upon later reflection realised that the options are a) get him on side by reasoning, b) decide to give up or postpone the task and c) stand over him repeating what you want him to do over and over again – which works (for simple things anyway) but at a huge cost to both of you in terms of stress and the meltdown will probably follow.
In writing terms, I remember vividly early on in the year collecting him one day to come home for lunch (as he was doing once a week at his request at the time) and having to go and find him in his classroom. The teacher explained that he had written basically nothing all morning in literacy (possibly 3 words or so, I can’t remember exactly, it wouldn’t surprise me if he wasn’t kept in at break time too) and so she asked me to take the work home with me and get him to write at lunchtime. By the time we finished talking and I had signed him out I had 45 mins to get him home, feed him, get him to do some work and get him back to school (only a 5 min walk each way but still!). I did get him to do some writing, but I basically use method c and the cost was enormous, he was in tears and I felt awful. When I got back to school I showed the teacher the 2 lines I’d got out of him and she was disappointed! I pointed out the time restraints, I should’ve pointed out as well that she was a professional and I wasn’t and she’d had him all morning and got far less out of him. After I got home again I felt awful and after that I told them that I would not be doing writing with him at lunchtimes.
At one point I had a circular conversation from the teacher that went along the lines of, he doesn’t need help with his writing because he’s in the top group, but he doesn’t do any writing unless he’s helped, however when he’s helped his writing standard is very good, so therefore he doesn’t need any help.
At some point during year 3 I remembered the Ed Psych report, dug out my copy, photocopied it and gave it to the new SENCO, I don’t think she’d seen it. Anyway, he managed to train his year 3 teacher up a little and she used to agree with him how much writing he was going to do and write in the margins, one table point if you get to here, one house point if you get to here etc. It was also noted that he finds the more factual pieces of work easier and the more free form creative stuff harder.
We toyed with the idea of using speech recognition software to let him dictate, but it would mean taking our tablet to school (which I’m fine with, it’s just complicated) and I worked out it only works when connected to the wifi (which I’m guessing could be an issue at school, as if he had an internet enabled tablet he’d be quite easily distracted) and when we tried it at home he got frustrated that it didn’t understand him properly and also distracted by the software, so that one kind of fizzled out. They also had him dictate to a teaching assistant some of the time.
At the start of year 4 (age 9) he had a young teacher who liked him and seemed to think he was doing fine, would sit to do his writing, would do an ok amount, was now writing his own titles and objectives. Over the summer I’d bought I Hate To Write, but it seemed more appropriate for teachers than parents, so I lent it to her. I have no idea if she looked at it or used it, I never got it back when she left the school either. (I also bought this book, but it seems to be for secondary kids, so it’s sitting on my shelf a while) Then we had the nose dive over Christmas, followed by moving classrooms due to a rebuild and the teacher leaving at Easter and I have no idea what her thoughts were on his writing.
Oh and it was early on in year 4 that he came home with some homework that he really struggled with. It was clearly meant to be fun and engaging and there were several options of things to write about to choose from. That was our first problem (he struggles with choices). I sat there trying to talk through the options with them. Many of them were dismissed (for instance, one about magic, because it’s “not real”). Eventually he conceded he would consider one option if it was altered. But that was a problem (for him) because then he wasn’t doing the homework that had been set. I told him that his teacher would surely prefer some writing to none, and I manage to get him to talk through a plan which I sketched down in as similar manner to the one they used at school as I could. So far, half an hour of intense one on one parent input had produced nothing written by him whatsoever. So I tried to get him to write down a first sentence. I managed, but we fell into good old method c again and he was in tears by the end (and I was nearly too). 45 minutes and a lot of stress for 1 sentence of a piece of homework that was supposed to take 10 minutes. The teacher agreed with me that wasn’t the idea when we explained and we eased off on the homework after that (which was only once a week anyway).
Now we have the second of the temporary teachers since the original year 4 teacher left at Easter. This one already knew him and I have a lot of respect for her. She is no nonsense, fairly strict, but fair, understands what he has difficulties with, doesn’t make him stressed, but does have high expectations of him. We had a review meeting last week, her me and the SENCO, and it was clear that she doesn’t think his writing is up to scratch, he hasn’t completed enough of any of his assessed pieces of work for them to be assess-able. She puts him at Secure Level Three (whatever that means) in maths, reading and science, but still Developing Level Two in literacy, because of his writing (reading wise he’s fine). She talked about him avoiding writing, coming up with excuses, talking to the group she’s helping instead of doing his own work.
So now I’m not sure what to believe. Well, I kind of am, I know that his writing lags behind the other areas of the curriculum, it has done for the 4 years he’s been expected to write much more than his name at school. That is clear. It’s also clear that there is a problem there. There seems to be some sort of block in his brain between the ideas and the page. He can think things, he can talk about them, but writing them down is clearly very hard and stressful for him. Part of the problem is motivation, he just simply doesn’t see the point of writing something down to prove that he knows it, he knows he knows it. Part of the problem is not knowing where to start, so he avoids getting started, so he’s not started, etc. Another part seems to be that he sets the standard so very high. I’m pretty sure half the time at school the teacher doesn’t care what kind of boring “the cat sat on the hat” type sentence they write, they just want them to write something that meets today’s learning objective, be it correct use of speech marks or subjunctive clauses or whatever. But he simply cannot write just any old thing, if he’s going to write something down then it has to be a perfectly formed, interesting sentence, of a standard a booker award winning novelist might write. Which of course ups the pressure and makes the whole thing more complicated, which makes it harder to start. And then there’s the contrary (oppositional defiance was mentioned last week) part of him that simply will not use an idea suggested to him by someone else. Making it very hard to help him, as when you try and narrow things down you’re actually crossing things off the potentials list.
But what about the discrpancy between the teacher at the beginning of the year who was happy with his writing and the teacher now, who isn’t. Have his standards dropped? Does he write less for this teacher? Or are their expectations different? If so, who do I believe?
I must admit I’m quite worried at the moment about how his writing is going to impact on him at secondary school, where there is a lot of writing expected across the curriculum. Currently, I cannot envisage him getting a grade C at GCSE English, which is needed for pretty much anything. I’m pretty sure he’d be alright in maths and probably science, but I’m less convinced I can see him managing essay questions for history or geography say.
I’m frustrated at the way our school system is set up, where you’re either “bright” or “struggling” (my words, not theirs), and the help is focused at getting the struggling kids up to scratch. The system just doesn’t seem to cope with a bright kid who needs help in one area.
I’m also unclear what their current strategy is to help him. Or what it should be. Because I’m not an education specialist. I also don’t know what I can do to help that might actually work and not just make the two of us both more stressed.
Anyway, that doesn’t stop me thinking. I might not be an expert in education but I am a world expert in him. I’ve had a couple of small ideas, and that was what this post was going to be about, but I seem to need to thresh out the extent of the problem tonight, so I shall write more about my ideas soon.