N was a bright 3rd grader with attention difficulties that interfered with his reading and writing progress. According to his teacher, he was a nervous wreck and distracted his neighbors. I saw a cute, sweet, tense boy who soldiered on when he read, not stopping for a period or a thought. If I spoke to him in those moments, he became rigid. From one lesson to the next, the phonics I taught him would be gone.
However, when I asked if he wanted to stretch,
he would spring up in joy. When he stretched,
it became dance— so fully did he give himself over
to his moving. I would join him then, mirroring
what he did—the shape, the intensity, the rhythm—
and later injecting a slight change. He would then mirror
my movements. Sometimes we'd bring a drum into the dance.
At each lesson, he'd ask, Is it a good time to stretch?
to which I'd reply, Anytime is good to stretch.
I learned at our first parent conference, after a month
of lessons, that he had been subjected to parental angers
when he made mistakes in his reading aloud each night.
I explained how counterproductive were such angers.
It was clear then why the child couldn't bear
to hear a voice over his shoulder
—no matter how gentle and reassuring.
Not surprisingly, it was dance that opened the door
for reading, spelling and then, for writing.
At the start, when asked to write something, he asked
if it might not be a good idea to "stretch" first—
because then he'd know what to write about.
He began writing two little sentences and gradually
a few more appeared. Once he wrote that he loved
playing ice-hockey. Why? I asked. Because people jump
on people. And when I asked why that was good thing,
he replied with great joy, Because then I beat them up!
At his next lesson when it was time to stretch,
I put up my paws and said, smiling, Let's go!
And we danced a mock fight with great gusto.
When we sat down, I saw how focused and happy he was.
I asked him to listen carefully to a spelling rule,
as if he had to teach it to his little brother.
It was the doubling rule. He heard all parts of the rule,
could repeat it back—which is rare—and then use it.
Sometime months later, in June, his mother handed me
a two-page story, written in class, which the teacher
had returned to her, saying that N had blossomed. The feeling
in the story was expansive and there was rich detail.
Now, a few years later, I received the report
that N is doing very nicely in school.