About My Approach
My students have ranged from exceptionally talented AP literature, social science and science writers to the quiet kids, hoping just to find a thesis for the paper they have to write. Whether working at the high school or middle school level, I start reluctant writers with doable tasks that they can accomplish quickly, establishing right away that successes are within reach. Then I go on to coach, cajole, cheer, and prompt them across the finish line. At Joel Barlow High School, one student specifically requested to work with me on his required writing portfolio. When asked why, he said, “Because Mr. Howard won’t let me not do it.”
I also help skilled, young perfectionists relax, refine, reflect upon, and appreciate their own good work. Those at the AP and Honors level sometimes don’t know how close they are to meeting their teachers’ high expectations. They appreciate a listening ear as they struggle out loud to figure out their own thinking. Sometimes all that very bright students need is the confidence to argue convincingly for what they believe.
With reluctant readers, I take a similar approach. Once I learn what school-sponsored testing can tell us, I begin working one-on-one, aiming toward little wins. I ask the student to read a short piece and tell me what it said. My praise of the student’s insights demonstrates that success is within reach. Then I offer three or four short books to choose from, books that students at the same reading level have consistently loved. Even students who “hate” reading discover that some books are fun. Once we have established a pattern of student-chosen reading followed by successful discussion, the student begins to move from level to level.
My goal is to persuade all students regardless of level that practice and persistence will get them much farther than they ever imagined. The belief that persistence will pay off in some way develops slowly—as slowly as an ultra-marathoner trudging through the night to finish 100 miles on foot.