In Part 1 of our series on Dysgraphia, Taking the Mystery Out of Dysgraphia, we took some time to explore its definition, causes, and symptoms. But while that information is important, it alone will not help our students to achieve their highest potential in school. Our next two segments will uncover the strategies that can support children with their written expression and handwriting struggles.
Startling Facts about Written Expression
- Writing mastery depends upon our ability to store and recall information, make sense of sounds and images, and compare different pieces of information.
- The cognitive portion of writing requires us to listen to and comprehend what a speaker is saying while we take notes or analyze the information.
- The physical part of writing demands that we produce a legible handwritten product automatically and with a sufficient handwriting speed.
- The language portion of writing is extensive. It includes capitalization and punctuation, spelling, vocabulary, and word usage. It also requires us to remember sentence and paragraph structure in order to produce a variety of quality, readable products.
- Difficulties in any one of these areas can cause a developmental delay in the others. (1)
Facts About Students Who Struggle With Written Expression
Students with Dysgraphia:
- take twice as long to copy information from the board or the computer.
- struggle with the planning and organization of written homework or long-term projects. Often this leads to lost materials, failure to select and develop a topic, or late assignments.
- become discouraged with writing assignments and appear to be lazy or disinterested in school.
- fall behind their peers academically, as well as lose self-esteem and social connections.
Three Strategies to Help Students with Dysgraphia
Both written expression and handwriting struggles can benefit from each of the strategies described below. But in order to determine which of these strategies will best fit the needs of our students, we must first learn the differences between them. Only then will we be able to determine the support system that would be most beneficial to the student. It is possible for students to benefit from a combination of the three strategies described here:
- Accommodations: This strategy provides different opportunities for a student learn without changing the educational expectations.
- Modifications: This strategy changes what a student learns by addressing specific learning needs and changing the educational expectations.
- Remediation: This strategy provides additional instruction on the student’s written expression and handwriting needs. These should be included in both of the above strategies.
Strategies for School
Teachers and educational support staff can offer students with Dysgraphia various strategies that will assist with their writing struggles. Accommodations or modifications for students with an IEP or 504 Plan must be addressed through the appropriate channels. However, the suggestions offered here can help them, as well.
Ideas to Accommodate
- Provide more time in class for writing activities such as note taking, copying, or tests.
- Add extra time for the completion of homework assignments or projects.
- Reduce the amount of writing done in class. It is helpful to provide partially prepared outlines for class notes or to allow someone to take notes for the students.
- Utilize teaching methods that address auditory or hands-on learning styles.
- Provide a quiet space for individual students or small groups to facilitate the completion of tasks.
Ideas to Modify
- Adjust the amount of copying and writing required for homework essays or on tests. Reduce the number of words or sentences required for homework or include fewer long-answer questions on tests.
- Change the grading of written expression assignments by excluding spelling or grammatical errors.
- Provide extra help with managing deadlines for long-term projects.
- Allow students to present projects orally or visually (e.g., art or video), providing specific guidelines to help them meet the project goals.
Ideas to Remediate
- Provide additional instruction on writing strategies, such as planning, revision, and editing skills.
- Utilize teaching tools that address various learning styles, such as videos, reading aloud, or pictures.
- Provide spelling, grammar, and sentence development guides that are designed to help them remember their “writing rules.”
- Share and discuss additional models of written work to provide opportunities to compare and analyze the writing process.
- Design writing projects that allow students to complete each step in the writing process before continuing to the next (e.g., idea generation, pre-writing, drafting, editing, revision, and final product).
- Allow students to discuss their topic ideas and paragraph developments with you verbally before attempting to record them on paper.
Help Your Child at Home
- Select a graphic organizer, such as a flow chart or idea map, to help with the development of writing assignments.
- Brainstorm with your child to gather and quickly jot down writing ideas, paying more attention to thoughts than grammar or spelling.
- Read your child’s story aloud, asking questions about the ideas and opening up a discussion about revisions.
- Encourage “free-writing” activities in a daily journal to record thoughts, describe a picture, or write a paragraph using journal prompts.
- Put writing into functional use at home with letters to friends, making grocery or to-do lists, or creating a Bucket List.
Writing should be fun and comfortable! It should encourage students to seek more knowledge and to share their thoughts or ideas. The strategies and activity suggestions we have offered here can begin an exciting writing journey for a child who struggles with Dysgraphia.
In the last segment in this series, we will turn our focus toward applying these strategies to the handwriting struggles associated with Dysgrapha.
Dysgraphia is a neurological condition that interferes with one’s ability to communicate effectively and efficiently in writing. Far more than “sloppy handwriting,” dysgraphia effects not only motor skills, but the cognitive ability to organize and synthesize ideas. The wide-ranging prevalence rate of 5 to 33% of school-aged children indicates that this is often an area of great confusion, both in assessment and intervention. This powerful 2-hour course provides an overview of the origins, diagnosis processes, and interventions for children and teens experiencing disorders of written expression.
Dysgraphia, often referred to as Disorder of Written Expression, is perhaps one of the most misunderstood learning disorders seen in school-aged children. Far more than sloppy handwriting, dysgraphia encompasses motor, processing, attention, and cognitive weaknesses. This 1.5-hour webinar is both highly informative and immediately practical.
(1) Bernstein, Bettina E., DO. “Written Expression Learning Disorder .” Written Expression Learning Disorder. MedScape, 21 Aug. 2013. Web. 17 Oct. 2014.
(2) Stanberry, Kristin. “Understanding Individualized Education Programs.” Understood.org. Understood, n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2014.
(3) Stanberry, Kristin. “Understanding 504 Plans.” Understood.org. Understood, n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2014.