Thoughts and experiments within my 1-to-1 course with Nick, 15, preparing for a C2 examination.
I find handwriting quite liberating and sometimes it feels like the words know exactly where to fall, almost like my brain has nothing to do with it. Let’s not confuse me though with my wonderful learner – the exact opposite!
One of the biggest challenges we’ve faced with Nick in our 1-to-1 course is writing. Both with the ideas and the actual process of writing. He’d spend ages looking down on the blank sheet, move about and come up with all sorts of excuses, to result in saying ”I don’t know what to write. I understand what I have to discuss, but I just have no ideas”.
He’d complain about how awful handwriting was and insist on either uploading his essays on Edmodo or sending them to my email. It’s not that I have an issue with that, but we have to face the facts; he’s chosen to take a paper-based exam. And why does writing bother him so much? How can I help?
Using computer game mods was our first breakthrough; within the game context, Nick produced remarkable pieces of work, giving life to characters and their surroundings with ease and speed. He was forced to admit that the ideas were there. We just needed the key to unlock that door and let the ideas fly out.
”But, I typed them. I’ve never had a problem with typing things, I love that. When I know I have to get the pen and write things, I just don’t know what to write”.
True enough. Could there be something more then? Could something be blocking his ability to express himself in writing, in handwriting in particular?
We decided to dedicate fifteen minutes from each of our lessons to observe reactions to different kinds of writing. We tried many different pens and pencils, notepads and sheets; we wrote words, short sentences, paragraphs, essays; we drew, we painted and doodled.
I noticed quickly a distinct difference between Nick’s drawing and writing; when he draws he uses both his hands, the right being prominent and movement flows from his upper arm, while writing is a right hand job only and entails quite a lot of effort with pressure to the fingers.
This could be important. I thought we should go back to where things started and unlearn what was really frustrating for him: the grip. Let’s work those hands and fingers.
And another issue popped up (naturally!); we still need to keep our work current and interesting, so basic hand and finger exercises needed a bit of updating. The first thing that came to mind – because I’m blessed to have friends with varied tastes and vocations – was music. Nick practically lives for music and dancing, even though he doesn’t play any instruments. So, why not walk a few miles in the shoes of guitarists and drummers?
Riffs and Paradiddles
What are those exactly? Basically, they’re short musical passages, usually repeated within all kinds of songs. The main goals of such practice are the improvement of technique and hand coordination and the ”ear” training in recognizing patterns (plus they make musicians sound cool!). We’ll have some of that; but we’ll connect it to our linguistic patterns and hope for the best.
We started with tracing back the movement of our fingers. Remembering that it all starts from the top right shoulder and flows down to our wrist was really challenging but practice does work and makes perfect. We gave a rhythm to texts and mapped their flow in our head. Then repeated them, again and again.
I also have to repeat here that this is simply an experiment, I’m just working on a hunch. I don’t know if this works for all and I cannot be certain if there is actually any link between such practice and writing improvement. It’s just another of my ‘observe and address’ moments. No academic papers to back me up I’m afraid; if you know of any, please, please send them over!
With Nick, this worked better than I’d imagined and hoped. Our goal was never calligraphy, we only aimed at unblocking the idea and letting it live on our paper. We extended it to all our different activities together and it gets better and more creative every time we meet.
Nick’s Can of Words is a small source of miracles.