This Case Study describes how we worked with a student to improve his writing skills. Names and identifying details of the student and his family have been changed, omitted or generalized for privacy.
Andrew’s* mother contacted me in January 2020 for writing support for her son, an eighth grader at a suburban Boston public middle school with high academic expectations. Andrew, a strong reader, was a good student and loved STEM classes. In elementary school, Andrew was diagnosed with ADHD. He was receiving individualized writing support in school. Andrew’s mother told me that he especially struggled in the prewriting stage of the writing process, becoming anxious that he would be unable to complete a writing assignment. She added that Andrew had recently been assigned a creative writing story and had gotten stuck while drafting. She was seeking not only a tutor for this assignment, but also a writing coach who could provide Andrew with ongoing preparation to be a successful and confident writer in high school. I agreed to meet with Andrew weekly to support him on school assignments and, when time permitted, create enrichment writing assignments customized to his interests.
Andrew arrived at our first session somewhat anxious but receptive to working with me. Articulate and intellectually curious, Andrew began by telling me about his progress on a creative short story he was assigned in English. He had written a partial draft but had gotten stuck as to how to develop the story arc. Together we brainstormed plot ideas and suggestions for how to develop his characters more fully. We also brainstormed ideas for renaming a park that more closely reflected the foreign setting of his story. We had some fun coming up with jazzy park names. At the second session, we worked on reordering some of his sentences to improve narrative flow. We also worked on formatting (adding paragraph breaks) and word choice. In my weekly email to his mother, I wrote that Andrew told me that was pleased with his final draft, for which he later earned a B+. His mother later wrote: “Thanks. It is rare to see Andrew happy with a writing assignment. We appreciate the help!”
I continued my work with Andrew primarily on enrichment writing, now online because of Coronavirus restrictions. Based on Andrew’s interests, we read Animal Farm, Fahrenheit 451 and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. For each book, I created writing assignments based on our discussions, always asking him to think and later write more broadly and deeply about his ideas. In other enrichment assignments, I asked him to read, summarize and write about articles and graphs published in The New York Times. At times, Andrew doubted that he would be able to write a one-page response to an article we studied together. In session, I helped him write at greater length by asking him to elaborate on ideas he briefly mentioned in his initial drafts. As we moved into the revision process, I was able to help him use more precise vocabulary to make his writing more engaging and language more sophisticated. As time passed and I continued to break down writing assignments into smaller, more manageable tasks, I could see Andrew grow more confident in his abilities.
In August, Andrew’s mother asked if I could work with his younger sister, Jessica,* on enrichment writing assignments geared to her interests. Jessica was a voracious reader who loved to write and would be entering middle school in the fall. Together she and I first worked on a short story featuring picture prompts as inspiration for plot, character and setting. I was deeply impressed by Jessica’s creativity, in particular her ability to create vivid characters through dialogue. In subsequent sessions, we worked on poetry writing and opinion/argumentative pieces. We continue to work together weekly.
Toward the end of the summer Andrew, Jessica and his parents moved out of the Boston area. Andrew is performing well at his new school, and we continue to work together online on enrichment writing projects guided by his own interests. During one of our conversations in session, Andrew expressed an interest in learning more about the origins and practices of major world religions. Using this website, and this TED Ed short film, I asked Andrew to write a brief summary of what he learned. I also introduced him to Scrible, a free platform that allows users to annotate online sources. Although initially unsure that he would be able to annotate sources independently, Andrew grew more comfortable with practice each week. As we neared the end of the unit, I asked Andrew to write a reflection paragraph about what he had learned, with me offering feedback between sessions for him to revise. His work was well-written and thoughtful.
Andrew’s strong academic skills, intellectual curiosity and desire to improve have contributed to his success. He has also benefited from having ongoing opportunities to practice his writing skills and receiving specific feedback targeted to his challenge areas. In our work together, I make sure to break down each stage of the writing process into manageable tasks either in session or for homework. A critical component of Andrew’s improvement has been the calm and confidence he has developed in moving through the writing process.
In a recent weekly update to Andrew’s mother, I have noted Andrew’s progress, especially in the prewriting stages. She appreciates our weekly session reports, and wrote “we are really happy to see Andrew’s progress! We appreciate your help.”
*name has been changed to protect the student’s privacy