Writing - Throwing the Child in the Deep End of the Pool

April 24, 2013

Let’s say you have a little child, perhaps five or six years of age.  He doesn’t know how to swim, so you decide it’s time to give him lessons.  What if the swim instructor said something like, “You know we have strict standards for six year olds and we have determined that they need to start swimming in the six foot water instead of the shallow end of the pool.”  You would probably be heading for the exit as fast as you possibly can.

Let’s switch to a different activity – writing.  Take young Franklin, age six, a firs grade student who is showing signs of early struggling.  Franklin knows a small number of sight words and he can write his name.  In a somewhat discernible scribble, Frankin can write letters from A – Z.   (Well, maybe he misses a couple of letters.)

On a recent report card, here’s what Franklin’s teacher stated about his writing:

Franklin requires adult assistance completing various writing tasks including writing narratives and informational texts.”

Narratives?  Informational text?

Franklin could no sooner write, “I got a new puppy” or “We went to the zoo,” then put together a narrative.

What am I missing here?  Why talk about narrative text when the child is in the equivalent of the three foot water of the pool?  Wouldn’t a better point on the report card say something like, “We are targeting Franklin’s awareness of simple sentences.”

To borrow another image, before playing pieces of music you need to learn how to play simple notes and simple chords.  The same is true of writing.  Before asking a child to write narratives or journals asking for connected information, he needs to master very simple sentences.

Increasingly,  I am seeing  children (especially the boys)  who haven’t the foggiest idea how to  express themselves in writing.   They have no sense of sentence awareness or paragraph structure.  The simple fact is that asking them to write a paragraph and to perform open-ended writing tasks such as “Write about your weekend,” may simply be too much.  Asking them to do so is misguided, placing them in situations of sheer frustration.

Takeaway Point:

Keep talking to the teacher.  Let her know that your child can’t do what he is being asked.  Help to get him out of the deep end as quickly as possible.

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All comments (6)
  • Cindy
    July 05, 2019 at 5:54 pm

    Yes! You are right on spot as usual! They are still required to do the work that the teacher knows they can not do, very […] Read MoreYes! You are right on spot as usual! They are still required to do the work that the teacher knows they can not do, very frustrating. Very helpless feeling all around. Read Less

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  • […] You can find the original article at http://shutdownlearner.com/writing-throwing-the-child-in-the-deep-end-of-the-pool/ […]

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  • Renee Bannister
    July 16, 2019 at 3:10 pm

    Excellent point Dr. Selznick (as usual)! I am a reading specialist/"interventionist" in a public school district. I see this situation consistently. I am […] Read MoreExcellent point Dr. Selznick (as usual)! I am a reading specialist/"interventionist" in a public school district. I see this situation consistently. I am often frustrated by the "curriculum requirements" that the struggling readers and writers are expected to reach. Teachers are told that requirements cannot be modified for students who do not have IEPs. Although the students that I work with are not special education classified, they often perform as low or lower than many of the students with classifications. My suggestion to parents is that they understand that teachers are required to teach to the Grade - level Standards (although varied approaches can be used ), then ask what short term goals or interventions can be developed in addition to that, to help their child on the way. If parents offer to reinforce/practice skills at home with consistency in order to support the in-school plan, it often has a significant positive affect on growth. Read Less

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    • Thanks, Renee. Great suggestions for parents - I agree completely. I just don't understand how the schools continue to not face the reality […] Read MoreThanks, Renee. Great suggestions for parents - I agree completely. I just don't understand how the schools continue to not face the reality of a kid's ability/inability to manage the tasks given to them. If I am in the 25th %ile (and not classified) pretending I am in the 60th+ %ile to meet some curriculum demands, is beyond my comprehension. Thanks for the nice words, too. Read Less

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