Something important happened in our classroom today and it didn’t happen to a student. We were working furiously to finish our novels for National Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO) as the deadline looms – Friday at midnight. Like it is for many of us, computer access is limited at my school and we only have the laptops for two days this week. My kids are trying very hard to make their word count goals and get their novels into the ‘Word Count Validator’ so they can ‘win’ at NANOWRIMO. (It sounds more complicated then it really is – actually we just write like crazy for the month of November.)
So, the kids were typing away and I was inputting all their names into Student Publishing* so they can get their books eventually published. I got up to check on their progress and noticed that one of my students had not written a word. She is very quiet and shy so I didn’t say anything right away and went to my desk so I could keep tabs on her. For several minutes she sat staring at the blank screen. I bit my tongue. More minutes passed – no typing. Finally I couldn’t stand it anymore and said, “You have to write something! Don’t you have any topics in your Writing Journal?” She pulled her Journal out of her desk (!) and gave it a cursory glance.
I admit it, I was a nanosecond away from losing it. Here she was, with this wonderful opportunity to publish her very own book and she was squandering her time! All the other kids were hard at work, what was the deal? I knew she didn’t like writing. She always had her head in a book (like I could complain about THAT!) and didn’t always pay attention.
But then it occurred to me that often what seems like opposition from a student is actually fear. Our students want to please us, they want us to like them and to show that we care. I pulled over my stool and plopped down next to her. I said, “What’s going on today? Why are you having such a hard time with this?” She just shrugged, obviously uncomfortable but I pressed on. “Let’s get out your Writing Territories and see if anything intrigues you, ok?” She pulled her Journal out again and turned to her Writing Territories. It was jampacked with story ideas. The one that jumped out at me was ‘girl doesn’t talk – afraid’. I pointed to it and said, “How about a children’s story about this girl?” That got a hint of a smile and a fairly vigorous nod.
I pulled the laptop over and typed, “Once upon a time there was a …is it a little girl or just a girl?” She said, “a girl” so I typed that. Then we were off…
Me: “What was her name?”
Student: “I want her to have the girl’s name in Lord of the Rings but I can’t remember how to spell it…”
Me: “OK – leave it blank for now and we’ll come back to it and fill it in. Where does she live – a castle, an apartment, a house?”
Student: “a treehouse in the middle of a vast forest”
Me: “Does she live alone or with other people?”
Student: “She lives alone because she has to protect everyone from the mad unicorns.”
Me: “Wow! Unicorns that are evil – I love it! Such a great twist – you think they’re going to be all rainbows and lollipops and POW!
Student: (giggle) “I know, right? And she is the CHOSEN one to defend everyone and the really bad unicorn – the most evil – is blue!”
Me: “OK – I’m going to go look up your Lord of the Rings chicka – you keep going because I want to see what happens, ok?”
So you know what happens, she typed happily away for the rest of class. (If I find out later on this was from a video game I will be very disappointed.) My lesson learned today:
Sometimes underneath the appearance of stubborness is a small voice pleading, ‘Help me, please…just help me.”
*http://www.studentpublishing.com/main.php – a great website that will publish one free paperback book for each of your students – including an ‘About the Author’ page at the end!