Monday, April 25, 2011

One at a time.

My ten-year-old struggles with writing.  It’s one of those deficits that kind of snuck up on us.  She exceled in everything else, and when Mrs. Φ would ask people about it, they would say, “Don’t worry; eventually she’ll suddenly catch on and there won’t be a problem.”

Except . . . she didn’t catch on, and at the end of last year, as we looked at her barely legible writing, we realized that she was now behind her age group.

So, we enrolled her in a writing class.  Here she has made hard-fought progress, although it still takes her a disproportionate amount of time to produce a handful of complete sentences.

Recently, however, I discovered among the “notes” on my iPod, which Γ borrows from time to time, a series of narratives that, it turns out, she had written just for fun!  They weren’t entirely original; she would borrow the backdrop from the books she enjoys – Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, etc. – and create, if not entirely new plot lines, at least new conversations and events.  And she was using compound sentences too, with dependent clauses and the like.  It wasn’t perfect of course, but it was still amazing what she was getting right.

Perhaps it’s just a hand-eye coordination problem associated with handwriting, not an actual inability to form a coherent sentence.  Odd, though, this doesn’t show up anywhere else; Γ taught herself origami from library books, and draws better than I ever could.  Hoping to encourage independent writing, I resolved then to get her a netbook for her next birthday present, something she call her own and use to practice both typing and composition.

Today, I received my very first email from her:

DEAR daddy, I am doing a persuasive paper.  I chose the "persuading someone to believe what I believe what I believe"  kind.   Can you give me some ideas about what to argue and which side to take.   Please respond as quickly as possible.  Γ

On one level, I know that all dads think that the sun rises and sets by everything their little girls do, no matter how modest.  But . . . yeah, I just busted out with pride at the fact my daughter could write an email like this, that she valued my input enough to ask for it, and that she was writing a persuasion paper.  When I was 10, I’m pretty sure the most complicated thing I ever wrote was a book report.

I replied:

Here's what comes to mind:

1.  Reepicheep:  valiant hero or annoying rodent?  Explain.

2.  Taylor Swift sings:  "Marry me, Juliet, you never have to be alone . . . I talked to your Dad; go pick out a white dress . . . ."  Should boys always talk to fathers before asking girls to marry them?  Why or why not?

3.  Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius said that man has the capacity to choose to follow God of his own free will.  John Calvin said that God must first regenerate a man’s will to give him that capacity.  Who is right, and why?

4.  Which is the better present to get, the Legos Hogwarts Castle or the Hello Kitty AR-15?  State your reasons.

5.  Which is better to have in our backyard:  a trampoline or a hot tub?

“I’m so ready to get rid of that trampoline,” Mrs. Φ told me over Skype later.


“I’m tired of having to lean out the back door every few minutes and yell, one at a time!  ONE AT A TIME!”

“On the other hand, it is a status booster among the neighborhood kids that don’t have one.  They’re always excited at the opportunity to come over and use it.”

“In a few years, the girls would probably rather have the hot tub.  Γ has already lost interest in the trampoline, and her little sister probably will eventually.”

“I guess a hot tub could be status booster.”

“Of course, at that age, you’ll probably still be wanting to lean out the back door yelling, one at a time!  ONE AT A TIME!”


Anonymous said...

Could your girl be dyslexic? I had a friend in medical school who struggled with exams until midway through the second year when he was assessed and it turned out he was dyslexic! All those years, he was smart enough to get by even with that disability, so he never realized he had it. Note that dyslexia is a generalized term for difficulty with reading or writing and does not necessarily mean, as most people think it does, that you “read stuff backwards”.

Anonymous said...

On one level, I know that all dads think that the sun rises and sets by everything their little girls do, no matter how modest. But . . . yeah, I just busted out with pride at the fact my daughter could write an email like this, that she valued my input enough to ask for it, and that she was writing a persuasion paper.


“Of course, at that age, you’ll probably still be wanting to lean out the back door yelling, one at a time! ONE AT A TIME!”

Har har...

There's a Hello Kitty AR-15?

Dr. Φ said...

I don't think she is dyslexic because she was such an early reader. And she doesn't seem to have a generalized problem with hand-eye coordination, since she plays the piano (a skill akin to typing, I suppose) and is very nimble with things like origami. But her handwriting is atrocious and she just seems to have difficulty coming up with words when she has to use a pencil and paper.

Click the link to see the Hello Kitty AR, but it was a custom paint job, not licensed by the Hello Kitty people or Springfield Arms.

Anonymous said...

Phi, if it makes you feel any better, I was behind in writing until about the 7-8 grade. About the time I started really using the old Apple IIe, in fact, so I think the netbook is a fantastic idea. I think that there is a different mental process with pencil and paper than typing. Typing, it's so much easier to nip-and-tuck to get exactly what you want to say. With pencil and paper, you can always erase but it's harder if you're not on the same sentence. So I find myself taking a lot longer and being a lot more conservative lest I have to make changes later.

Dr. Φ said...

Trumwill: there's hope!

In my case, it wasn't until high school that I had an English teacher that introduced the concept of the draft. Before then, I regarded the paper I started writing on as the paper I would submit. So yes, the goal was to get it right the first time, or not. But I didn't draft my math homework, right? So why should I have to do it for an essay?

The computer makes this so much easier. But since I wrote this post, the wife and I started leaning in the direction of a regular laptop. The main drawback to the netbook is that so much of her software requires a CD to be inserted (copy protection).

Anonymous said...

I would always recommend going in the direction of a laptop rather than a netbook, but the market disagrees so I just assume that there's something I am missing. If you know what to get and where to upgrade, you can get a better and more reliable used laptop for less than it costs to buy a netbook. I've made a reputation with the in-laws as the go-to-guy. I've thought about starting a little business selling $300 used laptops with technical support.

Anonymous said...

I always hated, hated, hated rough drafts. I don't like going over previously done work. Nothing blocks progress as much as when work gets lost and I have to re-do it (even though I know that the re-do will always be better than the original). Nobody likes it, but I think I particularly hate it. It's why posts and comments that get lost rarely get rewritten, even if I thought it was a work of genius.

Dr. Φ said...

Well, $300 is about what a netbook would cost. What would you recommend in the way of used hardware and upgrades?

Anonymous said...

You can get a used Thinkpad T40 for about $150 (cheaper if you hunt). Upgrade to 2GB of RAM for another $80. New battery for $20-35. WiFi card for less than $15. Depending on what you buy, some of these upgrades will be cheaper or unnecessary. These are aggressive assessments.

A Thinkpad T60 will run you about $250-300 but will more likely include the upgrades above. All of them will include WiFi, many will include either a new battery or more RAM. So factor in another $30 or so.

Contact me if you decide to go this route. I'll be glad to help you out. There's more to communicate than I have room for here, but that's the basic rundown.

dienw said...

The way I was taught to write papers:
1. Stream of consciousness to just get ideas out;
2. Organize ideas and label them with outline numbers and letters;
3. Compile these into an outline format;
4. Write rough draft;
5. make changes, corrections,etc;
6. Write final paper.
I had two failings: never wrote final paragraph until final draft: this is when all the concepts in the paper finally came together; and never tell me I cannot use loc. cit. because the class does not know how to use it.