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When I Couldn’t Write

Stacy Rosenblum

"Remember when I couldn't write?"  - Mylo

"You never couldn't write, we just had to figure out a way to get the ideas out of your head and onto the paper." - Stacy

It was tough to figure out why Mylo, in his words, “couldn’t write.” When faced with a blank piece of paper or screen, the bright, inquisitive, silly, articulate Mylo went numb.  He couldn’t explain it, except to say, “I know what I want to say, I just can’t figure out how.”  We had to find the words inside of him, extract them, and help him put them together until they accurately represented his ideas.

            It would have been easier to simply give Mylo the words, and translate his ideas into a coherent written form.  Although the given assignment would be completed, this wouldn’t help him become a better writer.  We needed to find a way for him to write independently.  In less than a year, he would be headed to high school, and it was critical that Mylo be a proficient writer by that time.

For students that struggle with writing, progress comes slowly and can be very frustrating.  In my years as a learning specialist, I have observed that many students approach the essay as one enormous task, instead of many smaller tasks that come together to form a well-developed, organized essay.

            Mylo’s first success came in using graphic organizers, in which a student uses a set of graphical images to help classify ideas hierarchically.  The next step was translation of the graphic organizer into a into a written outline, and finally into paragraphs and essays.  This was a laborious process, and it took two weeks or more for him Mylo to complete a five-paragraph essay.  Given the demands of school, it was essential to streamline this process. 

The crucial step seemed to be the outline.  After creating a thorough outline, Mylo was able to translate his ideas into writing with relative easeBecause the  ideation and organization steps had been completed with the outline, it allowed him to focus completely on word choice and clear communication of his ideas.  We saved grammar, spelling, and written conventions for the editing and revising stage.  

We outlined every story, paragraph, short answer response, and essay.   I didn’t allow Mylo to begin writing until his ideas were represented, in an organized form.  Initially, Mylo brainstormed all of his ideas about a given topic, collected quotes, and dictated his outlines to me.  Then, he began to use a template on the computer to record and organize his ideas and information from text.  The “Ah-ha!” moment came when Mylo realized that if he wrote a great outline, with ample details, quality quotations and citations, thoughtful analysis of each topic and transition sentences – then his essay developed with ease. 

Over time, Mylo developed a strategy of gathering ideas and organizing his outline. Then he removes the headings from his outline, and his essay takes shape immediately.  He was following the traditional “process” of writing, with success!  He found the secret –  and it was in good planning – and Mylo could write!

             

-Stacy Rosenblum, Learning Specialist