I was thrilled when Teenage Nephew 1 grew old enough to mow my yard.
We negotiated a price and then headed outside. I knew that at his house, his father was King of the Riding Mower, so mowing was a completely new skill to Teenage Nephew. So I carefully reviewed the basics with him: mower operation, safety issues, how he shouldn’t plow over my rose bushes.
It never occurred to me that I needed to teach him the concept of a straight line.
As I peeked out windows, monitoring progress and watching for any trouble, I began to notice a strange pattern emerging. Zigzags and curves of mowed grass dissected clumps of uncut lawn. Some sections remained untouched while he re-mowed others five or six times. Even in the thoroughly mowed sections, periodic “lawn mohawks” popped up across the landscape. It was like a disorganized alien had landed to create Picasso-esque crop circles in my yard.
It eventually occurred to me that my natural inclination towards orderliness and efficiency had in this case skipped a generation, and I stopped the yard work long enough to do a little lesson on mowing in a grid pattern.
But the image of those lawn mohawks are a funny and useful reminder to me when I set out to teach young people writing, too: not all student brains are hardwired the same. When I remember to periodically mix up my approach— ﬁnding activities that appeal to students who learn differently than I do — I have more success engaging them in the act of writing.
Teenage Nephew 1, for example, is the kind of kid who learns best when he can move or physically interact with something. He would respond best to writing activities like those I describe in my posts “Collecting Souvenirs” and “Forgetting How to Drive.” He’s also an incredibly social person who would perk up as soon as a teacher introduced activities such as the peer review I outline in “You Be Thelma, I’ll Be Louise.”
Different learning styles might throw you some curves as a writing teacher, but remember: there are ways to write and teach around them.