Know Your Audience

A 5th grader I tutor, who is generally not one to open up about anything personal, expressed to me that he was really devastated by the results of the election, and that he found it personally hurtful that anyone would vote for a bully like Donald Trump. I told him that what he was feeling was the same thing half the country was feeling, and that he has every right to feel saddened by what has happened. I then decided to use his emotional experience as an opportunity for him to practice his writing skills. We were about to start a narrative piece, and I had prepared a topic that I thought he, in his classic boy-ness, would enjoy: “Imagine you have a superpower for a day.” Getting him to write can be a painful process and I knew he’d think this topic was fun. But given that he was grappling with all these emotions from the election, I proposed that instead he write about his experience of disappointment and anger (and perhaps he’d mature a bit in the process).

Me: “Writers are often inspired by what happens in their lives, and usually the most powerful pieces of writing come from a place of genuine, deep emotion. I think what you are experiencing right now would be perfect inspiration for a writing piece. And it will have the added benefit of making you feel better, because writing is often used as a way to express, and therefore move on from, experiences and emotions that upset us.”

Kid: (intrigued) “Wow, that’s a really good idea, actually. I like how you have all these smart ideas that I would never think of. I think I probably WOULD feel better if I wrote out all these feelings.”

Me: “Aw, fabulous! So how ’bout we start brainstorming some ideas?”

Kid: “Ok, cool! I’m going to do a web.”

(I search in my bag for a pencil as kid draws a web. When I look over, I see he has written ‘invisibility’ and ‘removing my head.’)

Me: “Wait. What do these things have to do with the election?”

Kid: “Oh, nothing. I’m writing about my superpower.”

Me: “But…wait…I thought you just said writing down your feelings about the election was a great, smart idea!”

Kid: “Well, yeah. It was. But I’d rather write a story about ripping my head off my neck and carrying it around in my hands. How cool would THAT be?!”


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