Art pops the cork on reluctant student’s brilliance

This is the first of my bi-weekly story series call Brilliant Minds, about children who have made quick and remarkable progress in reading and writing through the use of the Higher Way and the Happy Teacher methodologies (Please note the names have been changed)

Nayana was a student of mine at DC school.  She refused to write a word for the first two weeks after I returned to teach at the school from mid-March to mid-June. Instead, this third grader preferred to draw, color, cut paper, or, worse, run to hide in cabinets or under tables. In many ways, she was like a volcano – quiet and serene on the outside, but roiling with intense energy on the inside.

On April 4, the Monday after Spring Break, during a journal entry warm-up, Nayana found her voice. She made an entry for six days. Every weekday, except Friday, however, was misspelled. There were errors in most words. Verbs were missing or used incorrectly. Every sentence was incomplete. Yet, Nayana wrote for the first time. And she wrote more about Spring Break than any other student. I was thrilled and so was she. I had been searching and praying for the keys to ignite the learner in Nayana. After this surprising burst of productivity, I kept pushing.

The next day, I unpacked a bunch of art supplies that came in after my plea to friends for donations. I sought out art supplies with the specific idea that giving Nayana permission to draw, paint, and color in class could open her up to engage in other learning activities.

First thing that morning, before diving into traditional subject matter, I invited Nayana and three other students to sit in front of brand new easels with brand new paint, paintbrushes, and paper. They each received a new painter’s apron. They literally jumped for joy, and instantly fell in love with the freedom of expression through art in our classroom. These daily sessions typically lasted 30-40 minutes. That day forward, Nayana became a different student, and, much to my surprise, grew to enjoy writing.

Three days later, Nayana drafted her first story based on our science vocabulary words about climates. This story also contained multiple errors but made much more sense. Best of all, it boasted a strong, witty narrative. Titled, “The Bad Day,” it was about a boy victimized by every type of climate and climate-related element: an earthquake, the heat of the desert, water from a lake, and even the sun, which thought John “looked ugly.” But John’s bad luck changed to good when, fleeing a blizzard, he ran until he found himself in front of a volcano, jumped in, and survived!

Yes, it made me laugh out loud. It also later occurred to me that Nayana was kind of like John – she had survived the most adverse situations imaginable, and finally, when she owned her only option, her volcano, she fought like mad and survived.  Nayana’s story also helped me to see clearly what had been bottling her brilliance and stopping it up with a cork. I couldn’t wait to see what else was on its way out.

I look forward to your questions about how you can inspire such a revolution in the Nayanas in your lives.