Thursday, December 17, 2009

45 Minutes of Nothing

Jack seems to have lost interest in doing his schoolwork. So have I, by this time of year, but if I'm not allowed to go into hibernation from now until January 4, neither is he.

"Where's your paper, Jack?" I asked him as his class's writing groups gathered to start peer revision.

"Uhh," he said, "here."

I looked at it. It was a paragraph, this after a week of work. "Jack," I said, "you know this was supposed to be much more substantial."

"Yyyyyeeeaaahhh," he said, slowly, as if he might in fact not have known. He looked at his tablemates' papers, all a couple of pages long.

"It would probably be better if you spent this time drafting," I suggested.

Jack agreed. Then he stared into space for ten minutes. I usually allow kids to drift and daydream for a few minutes during writing time--some people really do need that time to spool, so to speak--but ten is usually my cutoff before I make them write SOMETHING, even if it's their name.

After ten minutes had passed with nary a word, I came back to prod him. "I'm starting right now," he protested. "Here." He scratched a few words on his paper.

Shortly after that, he was poking and chatting with two of his tablemates who were still doing peer revision. By this time more than half of the period had passed. "Jack," I said sharply, "you have work to do. It looks like you've written five words all period."

"I know," he said. "I don't know what to write."

"You know what to write," I said. "You're writing about a special time in your life. A time when you were happy or sad or scared, a time that helped to make you who you are today."

Jack looked at me blankly.

"A time when you've changed," I offered.

He looked towards the ceiling.

I waited.

Finally I asked, "Maybe a time when you've changed your mind about something?"

He thought again. Then he said, "Well, I used to not like math. But now I like it."

"Okay!" I said. "So what changed your mind?"

"Well, math class in sixth grade," he said. "That was a cool class. It made me like math."

I started drawing a circle map. "Uh huh," I said. "Keep going. Who was your teacher?"

"Miss Fox," he said.

"Okay," I said. In the middle of the map I wrote, "6th GRADE MATH CLASS." Next to that I wrote, "MISS FOX." Then I gave him the map. "You keep going," I said. "Write everything you can think of about sixth grade math. People, places, things, feelings, sounds, smells...anything you can think of. Try to fill that whole circle. I'll come back in a few minutes and see how you're doing."

He nodded.

I came back in a few minutes. "How's it going?" I asked.

He didn't answer.

I looked at the paper.


What's going on here? That's a genuine question. The kid can write. He's written five-paragraph essays before. Is it just an off day? Or is it something else?