Writing is a complex process, which requires understanding of how language works to make meaning in context. All students, when entering school, learn different writing genres and how to expand their meaning making resources; and they all, regardless of whether they are dyslexic or not, encounter barriers when learning to write. Learners might encounter difficulties in one or several of the following areas: #literacy skills, #organisational skills, #mechanical skills as well as #confidence and #motivation.
✅ Organisational skills include such aspects as identifying purpose and audience, generating ideas, planning and sequencing writing blocks, drafting work and relating it to one’s prior knowledge or familiar context. For dyslexic learners such complex task becomes much more difficult than for non-dyslexics, because dyslexic learners might approach the task from a totally different angle, or might not have enough prior exposure to a particular writing genre due to their limited reading experience. They are likely to face breakdown in organisation, ineffective planning and inability to structure their written work.
✅ Literacy skills include spelling, word and sentence structure, punctuation and grammar. Many dyslexic learners who have weak working memory cannot attend to all these elements at the same time. Additionally, dyslexic learners often substitute words, which they do not know how to spell with the ones that they are more comfortable with. As a result, their writing vocabulary appears to be less sophisticated than the vocabulary of their peers.
✅ Mechanical skills include handwriting and special organisation. Unsurprisingly, learners who encounter barriers described above, often lack confidence in their writing abilities and experience lack of motivation when faced with a writing task.
7 Strategies for improvement
Simple sentence building
This activity allows young writers to focus not only on how to build their own sentences based on the supporting examples, but also to understand functions of words in sentences. Firstly, an example of a short sentence is provided. Each word is labelled - subject, verb, object. Then students are asked to write their own sentence using suitable words for each grammatical category. You can gradually build children’s mastery not only in confidently following a given pattern, but more importantly to relate the grammatical forms in written language to our communicative purposes. For instance, by looking at verbs, children can start identifying if they are doing, being, sensing or saying verbs and how meaning in a given story can be conveyed through the choices we make when writing.
In this activity a few sentences from a text read with students are written on card strips. The students then cut up the sentences into phrases first and then into individual words. Now they can mix up the cut out phrases in the first step and the cut out words in the next step and then rearrange them into the initial sentences. They read the sentences aloud and then are asked to write sentences of the same pattern. This intensive strategy had several functions: a) it allows students to practise different aspects of reading and to focus on how phrases and individual words function in a sentence to make meaning, b) it helps learners to manipulate words to create different sentences, c) it gives them am opportunity to practise sentence making with the support of scaffolded structure.
This activity follows the activity of sentence making and is based on the idea of students understanding meaning in context as they practise the spelling of words selected from the cut up sentences. Students are guided to segment their chosen words into spelling patterns and practise these patterns on paper or individual white boards. This approach is more effective than spelling lists because students work with known words from familiar sentences and that makes them more meaningful than randomly selected wordlists.
Paragraph writing activity involves several steps and a number of writing frames that should help learners to organise their ideas. Provide your learners with a list of words that they need to use in their writing. Let them start to discuss ideas and then map them out in their books. After the discussion, give them writing frames with some examples of a topic sentence and a concluding sentence. The effectiveness of this activity is maximised when you do a joint construction of a paragraph first before moving to an independent construction stage.
ICT tools can also be used to help dyslexic learners with their writing
Mind mapping and planning tools
These tools allow students to type ideas directly into writing frames and templates on computers or IPads, which helps to free their working memory and reduce time spent on writing ideas, as learners can cut, copy and paste when organising their ideas or use voice to text technology such as Dragon Dictation and dictate their ideas directly to their device.
Developing vocabulary using onscreen word banks
Onscreen word banks such as Clicker or Wordbank allow students to select subject specific vocabulary suitable for the type of text they are working on and often help to uncover dyslexic students’ true language knowledge and ability because they feel free and confident to use a wide range of words as opposed to making ‘safe’ choices from words they can spell. Word bank tools can speed up writing, enrich vocabulary and aid spelling.
Distraction-free online writing strategies
Distraction-free editors such as ZenPen or FocusWriter help learners to focus their attention on the writing process itself by removing all the visual distractions located on word-processes. And although this strategy does not teach students how to write effectively, it ensures that one’s writing process is not interrupted by unnecessary distractions and offers writers a number of productivity features to speed up writing.