"Intellectual distinction is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for election to a Rhodes Scholarship. Selection committees are charged to seek excellence in qualities of mind and in qualities of person which, in combination, offer the promise of effective service to the world in the decades ahead. The Rhodes Scholarships, in short, are investments in individuals rather than in project proposals..."

Monday, January 7, 2013

Dysgraphia and Creative Writing

Dysgraphia is a learning disability in which writing is difficult.  This is more than just the inability too legibly create letters and words.  It extends to the inability to spell and properly organize thoughts on paper. A child that is dysgraphic gets hung up so much on how to form the letters, that their brain often loses track of what they were trying to spell or write. 

Here's a picture of the process for the visual learners...

When my son was diagnosed with dysgraphia in December, it came as no surprise to me.   I have spent much more time on handwriting, spelling and sentence building with him than with any of my other children.  When he practices a lot, his cursive is nice and legible, but it requires so much work and effort on his part, he is unable to write spontaneously.  He can do copy work very well.  He can't easily write what he thinks. 

I have always encouraged my son to type assignments.  He has had his own laptop since he was 10 because of the difficulties he has always had with writing.  He is not a proficient writer, but he types faster than he writes.  He has also learned to rely on the spelling and grammar checking, and I am okay with that.

Obviously because of his difficulties, I will not give up on teaching him the elements of writing (five paragraph essays, in particular), formatting (MLA mostly), and grammar (via intense Latin study and an extremely rigorous grammar program).  We've also come up with an editing process that I found out is used often...just didn't know it already existed.  It's called the power method and it uses an acronym which makes the process easy to remember:
Now, that may seem obvious, but it is not to an ADHD kid, especially one who hates the writing process.  I have always tried to get my kids to plan out what they are doing BEFORE they write.  They have begrudgingly done it, sort of...however, it wasn't until we were working through Essay Voyages by Michael Clay Thompson last year that they saw the power of the outline.  I gave the four kids I was working with an assignment.  Within the book, there was an outline of an essay.  Their job was to write their own essay, using all the things they had learned thus far from that outline.  They were all astounded at how easy it was when they had a good outline!  From there, the editing and revising was actually easy.  Handwriting aside, the process seemed easier.

However, I had never spent much time on story writing.  I didn't feel I needed to because my kids have always been good, not only at narration, but at making up their own imaginative stories.
One babysitter told us, after watching my children play, that my eldest son would make a good scriptwriter and director.  He would orchestrate elaborate stories into their play sessions.  Not only would he tell everyone what to do, but also what to say.  All the kids would follow his instructions because his stories, created on the fly, were fantastic.  Somehow, it occurred to me last year that my son needed to work and further develop that skill. 

One thing I have learned (listen up curriculum developers) is that the assignments need to be engaging  The premise behind TJeD is to let kids follow their interests and they will learn what they need to learn.  Inside my kid is a story teller without a way to get it out.  I decided that I needed to take things into my own hands and figure out a way to get him writing creatively.  So, given his interests - Star Wars, weapons, adventure stories, games and role playing (although he'd never played an official RPG), I took a lesson from Joseph Campbell and great ideas from George Lucas, a student of Campbell, and put them all together.

Last year, the idea started niggling and I bought some Star Wars books to thumb through.  Of course, my son thought that was divine.   Then, I had to take some time and learn what RPG was all about.  I guess I hadn't realized that Dungeons and Dragons (DnD) is a role playing game.  I never played it, but my friends in high school (yes, almost 30 years ago) did play it.  So I did have exposure, just not experience.

What I ended up with was a writing class for reluctant writers based on the Star Wars universe using role playing games as a way to a create the story.  While I wrote the class for my son, I knew he would not be interested in doing it by himself.  That is where the RPG comes into play.  I knew that if he had to share the story with others and that others would be involved in the story with him, he would work hard.  What an incentive!  So, we invited 11 of his friends to join us.  I used Joseph Campbell's The Hero With a Thousand Faces to teach the boys what makes a good myth.   One young man dropped out, but the older brother of another participant requested to join when he saw how much fun it could be.  These young men, aged 11-14 voluntarily joined us six weeks over the summer to write five 8-10 page stories.  And yes, my son came up with five 10 page stories.  I typed much of it for him because his ideas came so fast, he couldn't capture them all.  We're now working on using Dragon Dictation so he can hand it by himself.

Here is what I found.  The boys loved the themes, character development and structure.  But I think I was the big winners because I learned so much in those six weeks about boys, the writing process, RPG, Star Wars (did I really need to know more???) but most importantly  I also got to know these 11 young men much better.  It was especially funny to see how they would include each other or me in their stories, either by killing them off (not me) or buttering them up (most often me) so that others would include them in their stories.

My daughters, age 9 and 12 at the time, sat in hiding close to our school room enraptured as they listened in as the boys told their stories.  I am now working on the same process for girls, but the story lines will be much different.  In fact, we're toying with either a time travel element or putting the entire story in a particular period of time...not sure yet about that one.  Perhaps...

So, I'm curious.  Would it make sense to run the Star Wars class again?  Would there be interest?  I know the boys that took it enjoyed it, but I don't know if they will join us again.  By the way, I only charge for the cost of materials for these classes.  I am not interested in making money on it.  Last year, the boys paid $30, which covered all the class costs as well as snacks, materials, books, etc.  Let me know if you have someone interested.  My son would be...


AmyRobynne said...

Can you wait and run it again when my 3rd and 1st graders are old enough? They would LOVE it!

Marybeth said...

Conall would love it in a year or two if there was a way we could make Skype work.... Unless we get to move back :)

Marybeth said...

Conall would LOVE this next year if we can make Skype work, or move back there :)