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Teaching Writing Skills to Students with Dyslexia

Strategies to Help Weak Writers Become Stronger

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Teaching Writing Skills to Students with Dyslexia

Structure helps students with dyslexia organize information

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Often, when a teacher receives a written assignment from a student with dyslexia, the first reaction is that the student doesn't care, is lazy or just didn't put much effort into it. The paper is filled with spelling errors, little or no punctuation and is messy. It is easy to see how a teacher comes to the conclusion that not a lot of effort went into the final product, especially early in the school year when teachers are just getting to know their students. For the students in your class with dyslexia, reading isn't the only area they struggle. Writing assignments can be just as difficult and stressful.

In the article, How Dyslexia Impacts Writing Skills, we went over some of the main obstacles students with dyslexia face when completing writing assignments:

  • Difficulties with writing conventions: grammar, sentence structure and punctuation
  • Organizing information and sequencing

Symptoms of Dysgraphia

Teachers can help to overcome grammar, sentence structure and punctuation problems by allowing the student to write the first draft of an assignment without any concern to the structure, allowing the student to focus on content only. The teacher can work with the student to add in proper punctuation, capitalization and work on sentence structure once the information is on the paper. In other words, although many students are able to incorporate these skills into their writing during all the phases, students with dyslexia may find that focusing on the grammar hinders their ability to develop ideas. By putting aside the need for grammar and sentence structure, the teacher breaks the assignment into parts, putting organization and sequencing of content first.

Create a Plan of Action

According to the paper, "Writing Issues in College Students with Learning Disabilities: A Synthesis of the Literature from 1990 to 2000," by Huijun Li and Christine M. Hamel, students with learning disabilities have "tremendous difficulties in the pre-writing stage, often complaining that they do not have anything to put on the paper and that they do not know how to develop their ideas." Some teachers have found that creating a plan of action prior to writing helps the student organize what they want to say and how they want to say it.

Younger children through high school benefit from developing an outline of writing before beginning the process. Outlines are not necessarily written in traditional outline forms, but are any type of organizational structure. Graphic organizers, such as flow charts, time lines and venn diagrams help a student organize their thoughts. For younger students and those having a hard time with deciding what information should be included, teachers can create a planning sheet including questions the student answers to help structure their research and find the most important information about the topic .

Suppose you have asked your class to complete a basic five paragraph essay on the history of baseball. A planning worksheet would look like:

Topic: The History of Baseball

Introduction:

  • When was the first league baseball game played?
  • How is the early game of baseball different than today?

Paragraph 2:

  • Who developed the game of baseball?
  • Where did the concept of baseball come from?
  • When did baseball become popular?
  • What were some of the early rules of baseball?

Paragraph 3:

  • How did the rules of baseball change over time?
  • Why did the rules change?
  • How did the popularity of the game develop?

Paragraph 4:

  • How does baseball fit in today's society?
  • Are there new rules that have changed how baseball is played today?
  • What are some of the main differences between early baseball games and the games of today?
  • Are players treated differently today than they were in the early stages of baseball?

Conclusion:

  • What do you see as the biggest difference in baseball from where it started to today?
  • What do you think is better? Why?

By providing your student with questions, they begin the process by listing answers to each question. This is their outline. Their information is in a logical sequence and is organized to help them compile paragraphs for each section. As students get more proficient at using a planning guide, have them develop their own questions for each section and review it with them, offering suggestions for additional questions, before moving on to the research phase. Once the research is completed, review again. By working with students with dyslexia throughout the entire process, you help them focus their thoughts. As you give students the responsibility for completing different steps of the planning process, keep in mind some students will require more help than others. You may find one student with dyslexia is able to come up with questions to ask but their research doesn't follow a logical course. Another student may need your assistance coming up with questions but once this is done they are able to research with little guidance. Remember, each student with dyslexia has specific strengths and weaknesses. Make the review process individual to each student to help them best develop their strengths.

References:

"Teaching Expressive Writing to Students with Learning Disabilities," 1999, Russell Gersten, Scott Baker and Lana Edwards, The ERIC Clearninghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education, The Council for Exceptional Children

"Writing Issues in College Students with Learning Disabilities: A Synthesis of the Literature from 1990 to 2000," 2003, Huijum Li and Christine M. Hamel, Learning Disability Quarterly, Vol. 26, No. 1.

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