By Lisa Hartwig
Lisa is the mother of 3 gifted children and lives outside of San Francisco.
There is a right way to approach your school work and a wrong way. The right way is to plan ahead, break the project down into manageable pieces, allow enough time to proofread and edit your work and make sure the final work product looks good. The wrong way is to wait to begin until the night before the project is due, handwrite it (neatly at first, and nearly illegibly by the end) on the pages of a notebook and stay up all night completing it. My middle son took the second approach. But this isn’t a story about getting my son to do his homework the right way. This is about learning to accept his way.
To properly tell the story of my son’s “wrong way” project, I have to go back to the spring, when I attended the Bradley Seminar with my son. All of the attendees completed a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and learned about their personality types and their underlying characteristics. The facilitator asked the parents and students to line up on various sides of the conference room to join others with the same “type”. For the most part, my son and I were on the opposite sides of the room (no surprise). Most of our differences I understood, except one: how we deal with the outside world. I am a “judging” type. He is a “perceiving” type. This difference turns out to be a big one for us. Judging types like to plan and prefer an orderly life. Perceiving types are flexible and open to new experiences. Perceivers are enervated by deadlines. They take in information until the last minute and then complete their work in a burst of energy. Once I realized that my son was not going to share my love of lists and schedules, I stopped monitoring his work habits. I gave up on encouraging him to complete his school work in the right way.
The way my son completed his final project for his English class embodied his perceiving nature. The prompt for the project was “What is your American Voice?” My son decided to write his memoir. It would be in the form of a diary, written in a journal. He chose to write it in a red leather journal he purchased on a family vacation in France. He began the project the evening before it was due. He completed the 86 page memoir during his study hall, an hour before his English class.
My son was anxious about revealing so much of himself in a school project, so he sent his teacher an email expressing his concern. After reading my son’s work, the teacher emailed him back, and this is what he said:
It’s lovely, really…Your book is remarkably well-written for someone who just sat down and started writing. I guess writing isn’t ALWAYS rewriting. You have a natural gift for storytelling.
In this instance his natural work style worked for him. This is often the case. His rapid intellectual processing, long attention span and excellent memory allow him to produce quality work in a condensed period of time. There are instances, however, when his last minute burst of energy and inspiration isn’t enough. Last week he started running with the cross country team after not running all summer. On the third day, he injured his knee. His body was telling him what his English teacher did not: some tasks require the slow and steady approach.
My husband talked with my son and tried to make the connection between his preferred way of doing things and the possible consequences of his work style. His English project worked out because he is a good writer and he spent weeks crafting the story in his head. He likes to immerse himself in a burst of creative concentration. He also knew the teacher well. His knee reminded him that he cannot always be successful doing what is most natural for him. Running, like other skills (for example, music and foreign languages), require steady and persistent effort.
Last spring at the CDB Seminar I learned that there was a whole group of people who share what I initially thought was the wrong way of doing things. And it works for them, most of the time. Understanding this helped me let go of the need to organize, schedule and generally oversee my son’s life. It also helped my son identify his default work style. Over time, he will need to discover when his work style works for him and when it doesn’t so that he can be conscious about the need to modify it when circumstances require. I’m not really sure I can help him with this. As flexible as he thinks he is, he’s not really interested in trying things my way. In the meantime, I’m hoping that any further insights he may gain will not involve a visit to the emergency room.