I have a student who told me on the first day of our writing class that he has ADD and has a really hard time writing. And, since then, I have watched him carefully.
Almost every class meeting includes some on the spot writing – our “10 minute write.” We always engage in some whole or small group discussion first; sometimes some brainstorming or even outlining. I do this so we can begin to organize our thoughts. After the discussion, I give them a specific question to write about, based on the discussion we’ve had. They all lean over notebooks or laptops and begin to write, and I watch Ron.
Ron begins by carefully lining his notebook up to be parallel with the top edge of his desk. Then he smooths out the paper. The paper’s not wrinkled in any way, but he has to perform this action before he can start. He chooses one of the three pens lined up along the top of the desk and begins to write.
It is my custom to announce when we reach the half-way mark in our ten minutes, and usually I include an important reminder like “check to make sure you’ve used specific examples from the text.” However, lately, I look at the writing clock, then I look at Ron. If he is mid-sentence, I hold off and wait until I see him straightening out the row of pens or smoothing his paper down again, before I make the announcement. I don’t want to throw him off; interrupt the idea I know it took him great effort to organize. Sometimes, this means that I don’t alert the group until there are only 4 minutes left to the writing time, but everyone still seems to have the time they need.
I first started watching Ron, but now I look more carefully around the room. If I see some folks sitting back, clearly finished, I add a hint to my announcement that suggests they look at organization or add a concluding sentence. If some look like they are struggling, I throw out a lifeline from the discussion.
And, I write, too. If some aspect of the prompt trips me up, I know it might be frustrating others. If I can answer the question completely, while watching Ron, I figure they manage a decent answer. Usually, they prove me right.