At school, we have a new program that allows teachers to monitor students as they work online. One cool feature allows us to simply shut down a student if he is not on the assigned site for the day. It is fun watching their reactions to being instantly blocked.

Another great feature allows me to go directly into the document that a student is creating and to join the student in the writing process. I can add feedback, and I can also help guide a student’s writing in real time.

“Joaquin” is one of my best writers. I’ve known that since he was a little kid in my fifth grade class. One of his stories that year was about having a superpower. The boy wrote about being able to capture all the terrorists in the world and then making them all work at McDonald’s. After a few days of working the fryer, they all surrender and promise to go home. Joaquin, the superhero, is celebrated as his neighbors throw a party with ponies and pinatas

Much to the boy’s dismay, I think I shared that story with every teacher at the school. At the start of this year, I asked him if I could read his story to the class.

He looked at me in disbelief. “No!” he squeaked. “You still have it?”

“Of course,” I replied. “I love that story. I’m holding on to it so that when you become famous, I can say I have an original creation from you.”

He rolled his eyes.

This year, I’ve noticed that Joaquin has often been withdrawn and downright sad. All his mother would say at a recent conference is that there is something going on at home. So I try everyday to help raise his spirits.

Today, students were working on their rough drafts of a story based on a picture of a man with a kitten on his shoulder. Both characters were in the process of being rescued during Hurricane Florence.

I was watching Joaquin’s progress on my laptop at the front of the room. He began to slow down at the end of the second paragraph. He wrote:

Later that day the man saved ten people that afternoon but at night was the worst we weren’t able to hear the yelling help, no one could not even the dogs it was because of the storm the thunder was to loud for anyone to hear. The big man was on my boat getting ready for the people trying to get out of Hurricane Florence. There were so many!

I didn’t correct his grammar or spelling. I just waited to see what he would write next. But nothing came. So I began typing (and stealing a few glances his way to see his reaction):

“I had never seen that many people before except for the ones I saw on TV in my owner’s house. Those people never shut up.”

He grinned and then typed:

“And the people in the flood were just about as noisy yelling help! Help! Please help me. We did not know who to help first. They all looked so desperate.”

I waited for more and obviously, by the long pause that followed, so did he. So I added:

“So the big man turned the boat to the right where we saw a woman with three little kids sitting on top of their car.”

The classroom phone rang, so I got up to answer it. When I returned to my laptop, I saw that Joaquin had written:

“They were all crying desperately and the big man was there to save them in a flash. Then the big man was getting everyone in his boat. Everyone in need were mostly on their cars but the man saw the kitten drowning and he asked the people to wait. They began yelling at me.”

I was enjoying this coauthor experience, and so was Joaquin. My next words:

“You think a cat is more important than my baby?” one lady shrieked. She then began to cuss.The big man looked at her with disgust and waved. He knew he had to save the kitten’s life because it could not do it alone. After all, the woman had been told by authorities to evacuate, and foolishly she had stayed in her house risking her life and that of her children.”

Joaquin smiled broadly and then typed:

“The big man was in terrible condition he has seen so many people helping because of the choice he made to save others he was the hero in this tragic situation.”

It was time to switch classes, so the boy shut down his laptop and made his way toward the hallway. I met him at the door and shook his hand. “It was fun writing with you today, Joaquin. We’ll have to do it again some time.”

The boy said, “Yeah.” Nothing deep. Nothing profound. Just “yeah.”

But he was smiling as he headed down the hall.

Copyright, Tim Ramsey, 2018.

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