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.
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.