Saturday, November 20, 2010

Autism diaries XXIII: Writing what you feel

Twice this past week J came home with "daily write" assignments that he failed to complete during literacy class and therefore had to do at home. Why this had happened was clear to us as soon as we saw the writing prompts:

Write about a time when you were disappointed about something.


Have you ever visited someone in a nursing home? What was it like? How did it make you feel?

If those had been my writing prompts I, too, would have clammed up. Why should I share such feelings with my teacher, and what does this have to do with what I should be learning in English class? 

But for someone with autism who not only has no interest in sharing his feelings with others, but also may not engage in enough emotional introspection to have ready answers to these questions, or the socially "correct" feelings about the topics they cover, this assignment reads more like a diagnostic test for autism.  I.e., if you fail it, you're on the spectrum. 

Is this really how we want to treat our mainstreamed autistic students?  Can't we leave their challenges with emotional expression to a trained therapist, and get our English teachers out of the therapy business--and out of their students' psyches?

The answer we (with great effort on our part) extracted from J for the first assignment will probably be considered adequate. He wrote about the Phillies losing the World Series.  But I'm not so sure about his answer to the second one.  An excerpt:
We went to Granddaddy's 100th birthday party. There were no ceiling fans in the cafeteria. I played with the helium balloons. I had macaroni and cheese and muffins. I went back twice for muffins. 


FedUpMom said...

What is the purpose of a writing prompt? If the point is to give the kids practice at expressive writing, can't they choose their own topic? The writing is likely to be better if they actually have something to say, rather than just inventing some guff to respond to the teacher's prompt.

For the second questions, I would respond "No, I've never visited anyone in a nursing home." And then I'd be done!

Anonymous said...

Is there any way you could have changed the prompt to something more appropriate? I think that is what I would have done in your situation.

Nancy Bea Miller said...

I guess visiting someone in a nursing home made him feel hungry! Mmmm...muffins.

Linda said...

My fifth grader had to write a five paragraph essay about steak. He did get to pick the food, but did that make it less pointless? Each paragraph had to have 8 sentences. He is not learning to write. He is only learning to hate it.

Hainish said...

Others may disagree, but what I see again and again is that it all comes down to the personality type(s) selected for in the teaching profession.

If these people find it wonderful to write about their feelings, then of course they will ask their students to do so. And they will think that they are doing their students a favor.

My guess is that most new English teachers have less interest in grammar and linguistics than in the past, and are much more about self-expression and "creativity." It goes right back to the selection criteria used by schools of education.