Friday, May 29, 2015

The Written Tale: Presume Competence

A few years ago we sat in an IEP meeting where we were asked which letters of the alphabet we wanted Caden to know.  The specialist running the meeting just couldn’t grasp that we might think he could learn A-L-L the letters of the alphabet.  If left to her own devices, I still wonder which letters she would have picked as the important ones.  What we all did agree on though was that he needed to focus on printing because the straight lines made more sense to his logical brain than the spirals of cursive.

Fast forward a few years and onto another school.  We knew cursive writing would be introduced in 2nd grade in this particular program.  We have been dreading it and worrying about it since we learned this information last year.  We have debated several times writing cursive into his IEP but kept thinking we still had time to make that decision.

Then the day came where we opened the lessons for the day and an introduction to cursive writing was on the day’s lesson agenda.  We cautiously mentioned this to Caden and he was adamant that he wanted to try.  In fact he was convinced that he could handle cursive writing this year.  We weren’t as equally convinced because our memories were a bit more vivid in how frustrating cursive had been for him a few years ago and just exactly how long it had taken him to learn the printed letters.  We didn’t really want to argue with Caden though so behind the scenes we talked to his teacher.  The teacher assured us they didn’t really expect much out of the students in relationship to cursive in 2nd grade so if he wanted to try it, there really wouldn’t be any negative grade impact.

With a lot of parental nerves and anxiety, we jumped into cursive.  It began as something new and exciting for Caden and then over the course of the semester became the bane of his existence with him asking every-single-day if it was a writing day.  His final portfolio of the year required writing an entire paragraph in cursiveI have to say the tears and fear over this assignment were real from all of us.  We were ready to call in the IEP team if this went south and mentally walked ourselves through the mental recovery process we would employ if Caden’s confidence was shattered.

Then today this happened:

Of course it isn't perfect; I don't even know what grade he is going to earn on it.  Honestly I don't care.  The lesson learned is priceless--and it isn't one that Caden had to learn.  The real lesson was that as parents we always need to presume competence.  We would be the first to defend Caden if anyone else questioned his ability but that's exactly what we did in our attempt to "protect" him.  We tried to use a "regular" measurement for his ability when he is extraordinarily his own unique self. This is clearly an indication that it is time to start including him in these conversations and let him participate and add input when he feels comfortable doing so.

 Although we'll never be too far behind,  it is time for us to start letting Caden take the lead in this journey.  Instead of thinking in terms of what he can't do, we need to presume competence and then figure out how to outfit him with the tools to set his own goals, timelines, and ways to reach his idea of success.  This is after all his tale to write.