Modifications – Pilates & Writing Series: Part 1 of 5

I began working with one-on-one with a Pilates instructor in August 2008, just 15 months after I had an artificial cervical disk replacement in my neck.  In an effort to regain the strength I lost as a result of the surgery I was told to try Pilates (since physical therapy alone wasn’t cutting it).  At first I worked with a trainer every Thursday afternoon.  Once I began to see results (i.e., getting stronger, not a “Madonna Body”), I increased my training sessions to twice a week.  When I moved to Pennsylvania in July 2009, I started doing Pilates three times a week.  While I still have neck and back issues I have to deal with (I knew that the surgery I had wouldn’t solve all of the neck and back problems I had.), Pilates has certainly helped me to increase my strength and flexibility, which allows me to have a better quality of life.

Earlier this year my Pilates instructor and I each had our first child so we both stopped doing Pilates for a few months.  In May, she returned to teaching Pilates once a week, which left me trying to figure out how to get in three workouts a week.  Thanks to some schedule juggling I’ve been able to resume three workouts each week by taking group Reformer classes on the other two days.  However, taking classes with instructors who didn’t know me as well as my regular instructor knew me initially presented a challenge.  The other instructors had seen me in the Pilates studio and may have done a make-up session for me here and there, but they weren’t as familiar with my neck and back issues.  Therefore, over time, they learned what I could and couldn’t do in classes.  They will often say, “feel free to modify this exercise by…” in order to remind me that it’s okay to make some changes so I can participate.

Visual Examples of the Modifications Discussed in This Paragraph

Now that I’ve been working with them for awhile classes are going more smoothly.  For instance, they know I’m unable to “climb a tree” on the reformer, so they usually eliminate it from the entire class’s workout.  This is nice, for me, since it doesn’t leave me feeling left out while everybody else is doing something I cannot do.  However, it’s not possible for the instructors to modify the entire class around my needs.  Since I’ve been doing Pilates for over three years (and know what my limitations are), I modify exercises as needed.  For instance, I cannot hold my head up for very long when the class does eight to ten repetitions of “double leg stretch” so I keep my head down on the mat.  Something similar happens when I do the “lower-lift” mat exercise.  I keep my head down, with my hands under my lower back, and <<diamond>> my legs.  These modifications make the “lower-lift” exercise look very different from my peers’ form on this exercise, but the modifications I do eliminate strain on my body.  Modifications are necessary for me to keep up with the other class members without having to sit on the equipment waiting around for an exercise I can completely do.

When I was in Reformer class last week my mind began wandering from doing Pilates to the teaching of writing.  The modifications the instructors encourage me to do in Pilates are similar to the modifications teachers of writing provide to their students.  I’ve taught writers who struggle with organization.  These children have needed graphic organizers or other tools to help them organize their thoughts.  I once taught a child who was in great need of a word prediction program.  This child knew what he wanted to say, but the physical act of writing was too challenging for him due to some OT issues.  (While he didn’t receive this software when he was in my class, the school was able to obtain it for him the following school year.)  I’ve taught children who had massive trouble using conventional spelling.  Therefore, pairing them up with an editing partner to help them proofread was helpful.  There have been times I’ve altered my expectations for the final published piece of writing (e.g., instead of a five paragraph essay I received a three paragraph essay, instead of eight poems in a poetry portfolio there were only five) because of a students’ limitations with regard to the writing process.  While I never wanted to fall into the trap of doing the work for my students or having low standards, I was open to working with my students to help them overcome their challenges so they could feel successful in the writing workshops I led.  Appropriate modifications were always key to making this happen.

When I leave each and every Pilates class I feel successful.  I not only feel stronger, but internally I am proud of myself for being able to keep up with the other women because of the modifications that are available to me.  I am not the strongest or most flexible person in the classes I take, nor do I have a rock-solid body like Kelly Ripa.  However, I am able to accomplish many of the same things, by tweaking things here and there, as my peers do when I take Pilates classes.  It’s my hope that all kids feel the same way about writing workshop.  The best way for this to happen is by removing stumbling blocks and modifying things so each and every student can become a successful writer.

How do you remove stumbling blocks for students in your writing workshop?  What do you do to modify assignments or conditions to help your students become better writers?