When my niece was 5 years old and beginning Kindergarten, her first day of school was the main focus of the extended family. We all had high hopes for her, knowing as we did that she was gifted and precocious, it was just a matter of time before the rest of the world discovered what we already knew - that she was the next leader of the free world.
She did impress her teacher and the other teachers in the school fell in love with her just as we had. But that didn't mean everything was peaches and cream. She'd ruled the roost for so long that following other's rules were a little hard for her to understand. After getting in trouble one too many times for not following directions, my brother sat her down and asked her why the teacher was having to redirect her so much.
"I like school and all," she said, "but really I just want to do what I want to do!" That comment stuck with us and has become an inside joke anytime one of us wants to be headstrong. Isn't that what we all want? Just to do what we want to do?
That comment came back to my thoughts again today when I worked with a second-language first grader during writing workshop. His teacher was concerned that he might be dyslexic because when rereading his writing his words were all over the place. It was almost as if he tossed them up and they stuck where they landed.
So, when Bryan said, "Miss, I've finished my book!" I went over to see, surprised and excited that he'd spent the time and energy to complete an entire story. Sure enough, he had written a story about playing soccer, and the words were scattered about. The cover said I play with friends my but when he read it to me, he read it correctly. He pointed to each word and simply pointed to my and then went back to friends. The same with the next page, which said: game the Me and Ernesto started which he read as Me and Ernesto started the game .
When I talked to him about it, and pointed out how it looked to me, he corrected me: "No, this is how you read it."
"I can see that, Bryan," I said, "but someone else reading it will get confused. You need to write it from top to bottom, just like other books in the library are written. Let's fix it and then see if Ernesto can read the page about him." Bryan erased and rewrote the words correctly, and when Ernesto successfully read his page back to him, his face lit up with a huge smile. Ernesto had read his book!
I think until that particular moment, Bryan had his own personal system of writing. He knew what he wanted to say and how he would write it. He just wanted to do what he wanted to do, by gosh! The thought had never crossed his mind that someone else might want to read what he wrote.
However, when they did, suddenly he was an author. An author with words that others would be interested in. And what we'd thought might be dyslexia simply became what it was - a misunderstanding about the purpose and intent of writing.
I wonder how many kids in our schools misbehave or have misconceptions about school simply because they want to do what they want to do. Kids like this need a certain element of choice in their day. They need to feel empowered. They just need help directing that empowerment in the right direction. Who knows...they might be the next leaders of the free world.