Early morning, March 2nd, I met a delightful young author. The student has muscular dystrophy and prior to this year, has been limited by this physical handicap - laborious letter formation, resulting in forgotten story lines and exhausted physical energy.
After 4 years of public school, parents and teachers are concerned by the limitations his disability imposes on his writing. The school system has assigned him a full time ed tech who assists him, scribing his stories.
This morning, while waiting for him to arrive, I interview the teacher and ed tech. What touches me deeply is the commitment they both have to this child. The teacher has worked in this small district for a long time and is friends - related to some - with parents (sometimes second generation) and faculty. There is a level of trust and respect that exists between parent and teacher and they work as a team. Sadly, the ed tech, has lost a child with multiple handicaps and has returned to the school system to turn the experience to good use, working with other children who have similar learning challenges. The "team" reminds me of a SWAT team - dedicated to helping this child and willing to do whatever it takes for him to become an independent, self directed learner - unlocking the latent talent trapped by his physical ability.
Beginning in the fall, the student has been using Mac Speech. This program prints out what the speaker says - verbatim. At this point in the year, our young author has been setting up his program and using it independently for sometime - starting in a separate room, but quickly moving into the regular classroom. The computer has now learned to block out background noise and recognize his voice.
So how does it work? His teacher explains he can write small phrases without slowing down his thinking process or tiring him too much. She shares the following four square he is completing in class.
Next, I want to know how this works with longer pieces. She explains he dictates and writes, prints it out, and then revises and edits by hand - dictating the final piece. Pulling his writing folder, she shares the pieces he has worked on. The folder is like any other child's in the classroom, containing pre-writing pieces, graphic organizers, rough drafts, final drafts, and 6+1 rubrics. If I did not know this child's handicap, I would not know it from his writing folder. Following is a final copy - he dictated, revised and edited by hand, and then dictated.
Our young author arrives - in a wheel chair. He is intelligent and thoughtful, pausing before he speaks, then answering with adult sentences and higher level vocabulary - used correctly!
When asked if he would recommend the use of Mac Speak he replies yes and continues to explain it helps his process because once he sees the text on his computer screen, he sometimes revises on the spot - either word or phrase. This is a big plus for him, (he tells me ) because when he has someone scribe for him or tries to write on his own, he often looses the thought due to the lag between his thinking and writing - detailing his frustration in the earlier grades when he could not get his thoughts down on paper.
However, he patiently explains the system still has some bugs and makes mistakes as he dictates due to the similarity of words he uses to others. He is explicit as he delves into the computer glitch. I am impressed with his depth of understanding of such a complex process.
Always an avid reader, a short conversation hints at the stories he has to tell. He loves Stephen King and has just finished Eyes of the Dragon, a book King wrote for his own daughter when she was younger. He enjoyed the book (one of my favorites to teach at the middle school level) and we discuss it together. This kid really gets it and looks at it as an author as well!
At the end of the interview, I ask him what plans he has for the future. He nonchalantly responds, he is working on a quartet of books, similar to King's Gun Slinger, but more kid friendly - less gory details. His main character is going to be a "reasonably normal fellow" with black hair, blue eyes, about 16-17. He has already located a publisher and promises to e-mail me a copy!
My only comment? Stephen King, thank you - and - look out! He is on his way!