In my earlier post, I described the first two years of a student’s journey into writing failure. This twice exceptional student with dyslexia not only had little effective writing practice, but developed considerable anxiety about a daily task which was far beyond his skill level. At that point, he began receiving private intervention, thanks to his parents’ legitimate concerns. An evaluation indicated that he was unable to blend two sounds together! Imagine telling this kid to s-t-r-e-t-c-h out the sounds in a word in order to spell it. By this time, his peers were writing paragraphs. He was overwhelmed, still struggling to organize his thoughts, unable to spell, and terrified of writing.
“I know you can do it!” “Try harder!” These directives and other efforts to “motivate” this youngster were the most common responses to his dilemma. Despite meaning well, motivation was NOT the issue. This student lacked the basic skills to comply. The additional pressure was “crazy-making,” and to his credit, the student had only a few meltdowns at school. On the other hand, he became a nightmare at home because that was the safer place to release his tremendous sense of confusion and distress. This intolerable situation continued for almost 2 more years.
Opportunity #1: Again, provide systematic, specialized instruction to address his significant phonological weaknesses.
Opportunity #2: Provide speech-language therapy to support his weak phonological skills and considerable articulation errors. Address his weaknesses in categorization of ideas and word finding.
Opportunity #3: Again, work around the need to spell until the student has the prerequisite skills (see specialized instruction above). Allow recording, dictation, and copying. Use technology.
Something to think about: For good or bad, this gifted student’s life was irrevocably altered by these years of acute anxiety and invalidation. His summers have been occupied with daily tutoring to “catch up.” Despite remarkable improvement in reading and writing, he continues to struggle with articulation, phonological weaknesses, organization of ideas, and spelling. This scenario occurs all too frequently in reading, writing, and math. Without vigilant parents and effective teaching, his outcome could have been horrendous. As I noted in a previous post, it is estimated that 50,000 gifted students drop out of school each year. How many of those are twice exceptional? Can we afford to lose even one?
Next: What are some effective strategies for teaching writing to older students?