Lucy Calkins sometimes tells students that they can write like a curmudgeon or write like the words are gold. Today, I had my second tutoring session with a student who is determined to be a curmudgeon. He says that he hates writing because he doesn’t like to share. Well, in a 1:1 setting, would sharing be so bad?

First tutoring session:

Me: So, T—, what did your mom tell you about why we are working together?

T—: (with a sneer) Nothing.

Me: What did she tell you about the work we did together last week?

T—: (with a louder sneer) Nothing.

I proceeded to point out many of the strengths I observed while doing initial assessments. And then, I mentioned that his mom and I felt that perhaps some work on writing would be fun. This student was on a computer for virtual school all year. He hasn’t had a real workshop experience in over a year. He’s an avid reader. He’s a great speller, and he has made it clear that he’s not buying what I’m hoping to sell.

Trying not to be intimidated by an 8-year old, I pressed on. In my teaching, I have often used the 5-minute quick write to build a bank of writing and to build writing stamina. I thought this would be an easy invitation to writing with the open topic, “Summer.” We talked a few minutes to prime the pump and I set the timer. We began and I wrote, too.

My writing took me back to fun summer evenings of my childhood and memories of neighborhood kids gathered for games of Hide-and-Seek, S.P.U.D., and jump rope. I could hear the ringing bells of the “Popsicle Man,” and could feel the stickiness of popsicles dripping down my arm. I remembered the bikes, wagons, and roller skates we shared and being chased by neighborhood dogs. I loved getting to stay outside until dark when it might be cool enough in our un-airconditioned house to sleep. It all came back in just 5 short minutes of writing. “I love writing,” I thought to myself.

T— wrote 38 words in the 5 minutes. He wrote something to the effect that summer should be for fun and other activities and “not this annoying writing thingy my mom is making me do.” I thanked him for his honesty, even though inside, I was wondering, “Am I annoying?”

Second tutoring session:

I hoped our second session would improve. Today, I gave him a choice of prompts for the quick write. (Choice is motivating, right?) He checked the box. Again, I wrote, hoping to model what “write the whole time” looks like. He wrote 9 words, 7 of which were the words of the prompt. My heart sank as I wondered what would help turn this relationship in a more positive direction. One voice tells me to discontinue–it’s been a hard year and this student will be successful when he returns to school. Another voice asks, could some writing support now help him be more confident when he returns to school?

What would you do?

15 thoughts on “Curmudgeon

  1. Sounds like a challenge. I think it was a great idea to offer more choice even if it didn’t result in the writing you hoped. I’m curious what exactly about writing is annoying for him.

  2. Wow, that sounds tough, especially seeing how the student seems to be harbouring some secondhand grudge against you through his mum. Wishing you all the best!

  3. Ohhh, that’s a hard one. When the student doesn’t want to be tutored, there really is only so much you can do.

    One thing I have found is that sometimes just having something “game-like” will help. Are you familiar with “Story Cubes”? They might actually work quite well in this situation. Rolling the dice and seeing what prompts come up might pique the curiosity enough to get T a bit more involved. Perhaps you could write the first story together using the cubes, and then each do a separate one?

  4. Oh boy. This is so familiar, Marilyn. My go-to resource for students who struggle with getting started with young writers is Matt Glover. He talks about how the key is to offer various entry points to writing. Here are some workshop handouts that might be useful. The most appropriate begin around page 8. Have you tried a soft start with a book? There is a list here that might get things going. Let us know how it goes! https://schools.archmil.org/CentersofExcellence/DOCsPDFs/Learning-Support-Teams/LST-Resources-2014-15/ConnectingReadingandWritingHandoutsEarlyChildhood.pdf

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughts and resources, too! I have tried the soft start with a book, but I think he might view picture books as “babyish.” I got no response. I’m thinking about cutting out words from magazines and having him find a poem. Or maybe going outside and not sitting at his “school” table.

  5. That is a hard situation! It seems that he is resentful and not feeling heard. I wonder if it would be beneficial to just take a session or two to get to know him and build some rapport? Make a list of his likes/dislikes/accomplishments and point to the list as a form of writing. Ask him to draw a picture of him doing his favorite activity and then have him add a little narrative to it. There you have a precursor to a future comic or graphic novel.

    1. I like this idea too! Starting with what he loves is a good entry point. Part of me also wonders if dictation / oral conversation would also be another place to start for a couple of reasons: first, it allows him to see that he actually DOES have something worthwhile to say. Next, it might give you the chance to spot-check specifically where things are breaking down. Does he have trouble coming up with ideas? Is it organizing them? Does he lose track of his thinking in the time it takes to write or type them?

      1. Thank you for this thoughtful response, Lainie. I think I jumped too fast and forgot to go slow to go fast. A humbling reminder that each child is unique and what the teacher likes isn’t what’s important.

      1. Perhaps his mom could give you a list of his interests. You could open your next meeting by engaging him in a conversation about one of the items on the list.

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