After my two-part analysis of writing failure experienced by a twice exceptional student with dyslexia, here are some effective writing strategies to consider for older elementary students.
- Address writing anxiety, which alone can derail all other attempts to learn new skills. Dealing with anxiety is different for each student, but should include a strong validation of the institutional failures that led to the writing crisis. There were many missed opportunities by the school/teachers/specialists to address a student’s difficulties before they became crippling.
- Continue to work on phonological and spelling weaknesses by tackling multisyllabic words. Teach spelling rules and patterns. Teach syllable types, syllabication rules, and meanings of prefixes and suffixes. Megawords is an excellent program for addressing these skills.
- Teach parts of speech if these have not already been addressed.
- Provide ample time for students to learn new vocabulary associated with skill practice in #2 above. Use crossword puzzles, games, word searches, mad libs, skits, and conversation to add these words to a student’s working vocabulary.
- Teach vocabulary related to character traits. By the later elementary years and into middle school, students will be required to analyze character development and use appropriate adjectives. Many of our dyslexic students, despite high IQ’s, are still using descriptive words such as “nice” and “happy.”
- Attack the disconnect between details and main ideas from “both sides.” Have the student generate (dictate) lists of details and dictate main ideas (topic sentences/blurbs). Also provide main ideas and require students to generate as many details as possible. The first approach seems to work best, in my experience.
- Graph or otherwise record increments of growth. After years of struggle, these kids need to know they are climbing out of the abyss.
- Allow kids to read and write on topics of interest.
- Teach prewriting organizational strategies, such as graphic organizers. Help kids use as many consistent shortcuts as possible for recording their ideas. I suggest symbols and simple drawings.
- Keep writing to a minimum until the student is well-equipped with spelling and organizational skills.
- Make use of technology, such as talk-to-text features and spell check. All these kids should be able to use a keyboard efficiently.
It IS possible for students to recover from years of dismal writing experiences. Supportive parents and teachers are crucial in validating a student’s effort and providing the requisite skills for success. Who knows? They may end up writing you a thank you note!