WHAT A DIFFERENCE!
Understanding, teaching, and empowering students with language-based learning differences such as dyslexia
Kendra McCuine, M.Ed, teacher and director of the Hope Graham Program (HGP) at Bancroft School, writes about the beautiful and amazing dyslexic brain. Read on and discover further proof of what Hope Graham students already know: Dyslexia is a difference, not a disability!
Why Is Writing So Hard? (And How Can We Make It Easier?)
As parents and teachers, we often notice that our students are able to speak about a subject with detail and ease yet fall apart when asked to write about that same theme. It is immensely important that our children develop strong writing skills that enable them to communicate their great ideas. Yet writing is arguably the most difficult academic task that we can ask of our children.
Why is writing so hard? The answer lies in the sheer number of component skills that are required for successful writing. A brief list these subskills includes:
- Sentence Structure
- Language Comprehension
- Expressive Language
- Flexible Vocabulary
- Planning and Organization
- Flexibility (willingness to delete previous work during the revision process)
For any of us to do a good job carrying out a task with a lot of component parts, like writing, we must master each of the component parts to the point that we can perform them without much thought. Our brains each have a limit on the amount of energy and attention that we can devote to any activity at any given time. The more automatic we are with one task, the more of our precious cognitive energy and attention we can devote to another.
In writing, this means that if a student struggles significantly with handwriting, she will have very little energy and attention to devote beyond forming individual letters. Another student may be able to spell with relative ease, but if he lacks a strong knowledge of sentence structure, he will not have enough cognitive capacity to focus on organizing his composition in a way that makes sense. The skill with which the child has the most difficulty gets the most energy and attention, at the expense of all of the other skills required for strong writing.
One way to get around such difficulties is through accommodations. Accommodating a student means opening up an access point to the curriculum without changing the teaching approach or the actual assignment. For example, students who struggle significantly with handwriting or spelling can utilize speech-to-text technology, voice recordings, or scribes in order to bypass these difficulties. For a student who finds it hard to plan or organize her writing, the teacher might break down the assignment and provide specific templates for her to fill in before drafting her composition.
We accommodate students so that they can successfully complete the assignments in front of them. However, the ultimate goal is to provide instruction that decreases the need for these accommodations in the first place. In the Hope Graham Program, our teachers and tutors work with students on all of writing’s component skills, and students practice each of them until they are automatic. They work intensively on spelling during their language classes and tutorials, build on their understanding of sentence structure from Grade 2 all the way up through Grade 8, and practice planning and organizing their writing across all of the academic disciplines. This year, our HGP teachers are excited to be partnering with an occupational therapist so that they can help their students to develop stronger handwriting skills in the classroom.
I invite and encourage you to share this information with your child the next time he or she experiences frustration with writing. Reflecting on which part of the process is breaking down can help students to feel empowered and advocate for themselves effectively.
Writing is really hard, but by understanding which part of it is causing difficulty for a child, we can make it easier.
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