By Terri Lynn Sullivan
El Cerrito Recruitment Coordinator
For months, it was like pulling teeth just to get my coaching student to put pencil to paper and begin any essay prose. Caught in the throes of middle school madness, brilliant yet detached ideas would land on his brainstorming sheet. This would be accompanied by the proverbial pencil tapping yawn, while dreams of the video game that kept him up too late wiggled his weary mind.
Although the praiseworthy tactics of praise, question and wish worked wonders---yes! Someone says I can do this! ---the transition from pre-common core script about personal experience to the more sophisticated writing based on what he read, proved a daunting task. When asked if he will enter the upcoming Young Authors Writing Contest, he quickly shook his head “no”, intimidated by the mere thought.
But this seemed to come to an end, when his teacher came up with an idea more brilliant than those written onto the struggling writer’s template. She turned the student’s next assignment into that writing contest! Suddenly, my weary wanderer was propelled into the limelight, whether he wanted to be or not.
And what came next was a bit of a marvel. No pencil tapping, but rather….sheer enthusiasm! Inadvertently, his teacher had engaged, inspired and encouraged her students to write. He was able to choose a topic that resonated well with him, his “Dream Career”. Now, a chance to write a more personal or narrative essay which is not so “academic” within his middle school mentality. Something he is passionate, experienced and has opinions about. His favorite sport, turned into a career!
For the first time, we actually got to a point where I could truly hear his voice on paper, rather than mere stifled words on a worksheet. I told him that no matter what his dream career, he will need to know how to write. Colleagues and clients expect clear communications, patrons need feedback. If he makes it into the NBA, his loyal fans will write to him. And finally, I reiterated that he, a bright kid has a right to write!
To that, he answered “I never knew writing could be so valuable to me!” After the task of writing was connected to his innermost passion….we are talking about a kid likely to have his basketball in his backpack…the task of writing in school had been awakened.
I then remembered that silence is productive. After asking him to jot down ideas on how he might attain this career, I sat quietly filling out his worksheet. His pencil moved smoothly across the page, dancing from one idea to the next. It was a slow dance…yet not a stagnant tap dance! The pencil remained in motion, the ideas connected rhythmically to the thesis.
Since the new Common Core Standards emphasize writing across every discipline, it is essential to enlighten students to the value of amplifying their voices on paper. To draw out the wonderment that lies within. As Lucy Calkins, Founding Director of the Reading and Writing Project stated, “It’s a wake-up call that writing is important!”
The writing contest presented by the Bay Area Book Festival was the perfect carrot to dangle in front of my student, giving him an incentive to write. It gives hope in getting students to turn in assignments, in the end raising academic confidence. Now that is something to tap dance about!