I was a lazy child in 5th grade. Almost like some sort of ritual I would bring home notes from my ILA teacher with comments such as “D- : Make sure Erik completes the assignment this time” or “I could not assign a grade for your son’s work because I do not have it.” Much like Mel Levine’s explains from The Myth of Being Lazy, my own downward spiral into such a designated role was a direct result from the increase of expectations during the transitional years of 5th-7th grade in my school district. Levine quotes the reason to belong to the “dramatic upsurge in the demands for high output of high quality,” although in my case the situation belonged simply to my teacher expecting two paragraphs of creative writing each Wednesday (3). What a crime! However, there are many unique causes for these “output viruses” as Levine calls them; in particular, they are based in the acquisition and inheritance of neurodevelopmental dysfunctions.
In my tutoring sessions I have one exceptionally bright student with an output virus. She is a very economic writer, with a background in writing for debate teams in her high school. She sets up her argument in a flash, quickly and succinctly delivering her points, but is ultimately unable to carry the argument through more than four pages of text for her writing assignments. In our first session working together, we began to address this topic through a very basic exercise. My student had already picked out six appropriate quotes, three for each of her paragraphs. The remainder, she told me, were “to help take up space”. This sort of language in the way the student spoke of her work was the first problem; just in keeping with Levine’s analysis of lazy behavior she began to attack her own work in disappointment over her inability of performing well. So I had to begin by delicately working over each of her quotes with her and convincing the student of the validity of her choices, prompting her to explain how each contributed to the overall scheme of her essay and pruning out the offending space fillers. The next step was simply a writing experiment in which she needed to provide at least three and preferably five sentences talking about each quote and furthering her own analysis. Although she began by sitting in her seat crest-fallen, we went over her previous sentences a second time, pointing out where each succeeded in advancing her point and where the thesis was not fully questioned. She eventually exploded into a major writing session, enabling her to increase the size of her essay by two pages.
To this end, I completely agree with Levine’s article. One of the major points that holds back student achievement and causes this negative feedback is simply a lack of confidence on the student’s part. Should a student be encouraged that their writing is good, proving their self doubt wrong while not endangering the standards of minimalistic tutoring, I fully believe that those with output viruses that come to the writing center here can be elevated to new heights.