“I am a writer,” said Logan, an eight year-old boy in my wife’s class.
On the surface, this is a simple statement from a cute third grader, but when read in the context of his journey as a student, it is remarkable. Just three months earlier during writing time, he had sat motionless day after day staring at a blank page, pencil in hand with apparently nothing to say. My wife, Leslie, observed him and was somewhat perplexed. He enjoyed reading and was articulate in class discussions, but when it came to writing, he drew a blank.
Boy, do I know the feeling.
As a high school student, I too, sat motionless staring at blank pages. It wasn’t that I had nothing to say or didn’t know how to express myself verbally, in fact quite the opposite. I have several keepsakes safely stored in my attic that serve as mileposts in my own academic journey. There’s a stack of my elementary report cards, filled with teacher comments like, “Curt talks too much” or “Curt is always doodling” (now a badge of honor for this consultant/graphic designer). Then there’s the solitary essay from my junior year. In bright red pen at the top of the page, my favorite English teacher and mentor, Mr. Johansen, scrawled a bold letter “D” followed by these poignant words: “Great writing! It would’ve been an ‘A’ if you had turned it in on time.” Those words impacted me more than anything he ever taught in class.
It wasn’t until years later, when personal computers became accessible to the average person, that I discovered the real reason for my writing block. I was a perfectionist. With a keyboard in hand and the ability to quickly type my thoughts and instantly edit without having to scratch out my mistakes, a whole new world opened up to me. I was no longer bogged down by the mechanics of writing by hand. I actually began to enjoy it. Today, as a graphic designer and educational consultant, I use my writing and editing skills on a daily basis and I love it.
So, what’s the secret to empowering students? How can we unleash their hidden potential? While I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer this question fully, I have gleaned a few important strategies from working at Inflexion and living with a veteran teacher who is really skilled at tapping into students’ strengths.
So, how did Logan go from staring at blank pages to self identifying as a writer?
He discovered one day that the Chromebook he was using had a voice-to-text feature. He brought it to Leslie and said, “Is it okay if I use this to write my story?” Instead of saying “No. That doesn’t line up with the third grade standards.” she said, “Wow! That’s really cool. Of course you can do that! Let me know how it goes.” He excitedly went back to his seat and created an amazing story by speaking it into text and then editing. Leslie then “rode the wave” by getting his permission to read part of the story to the class. After reading the selection, she asked the class, “Wasn’t that a great beginning? Aren’t you all on the edge of your seats? Don’t you all wonder what happens next?” The class was enthusiastic and Logan was bursting with pride. Soon, he became the class voice-to-text specialist and within days finished a book that was so well received by his classmates that they cheered when he shared it and are clamoring for a second book.
When Leslie tells this story, she downplays her role because she was just doing her job. But in reality, she built a relationship with him, created a community that celebrates victories together through shared values, and highlighted things that he was already doing well.
And now… Logan is a writer.