For as long as he can remember my son has struggled with the writing part of our language arts lessons. I’m not just talking about “writers block” or difficulties deciding what to write about. He has a hard time with the physical act of writing and getting his thoughts on paper.
My son has dysgraphia, a learning disability that affects writing. Previously I shared some suggestions for how I was teaching writing to my child with dysgraphia. As my son has moved into the teen years people continue to ask me for updates on his progress. The writing requirements for middle and high school are even greater than the earlier grades and we have had to continue to look for additional remediation, modification, and accommodation approaches.
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Please remember that every child is different, and some of these suggestions may not work for other teens, but this is how I teach writing to my teen with dysgraphia.
What is Dysgraphia?
When my son was younger he would get frustrated about his writing issues. He didn’t understand why he couldn’t get his ideas on paper, why he couldn’t read his own writing, and why everyone else could fill in the answers on their papers so much faster.
Now that my son is older we have been working together to research dysgraphia. A few of our favorite websites for information include the National Center for Learning Disabilities (ncld.org) and Understood.org.
He can now read articles and understand the characteristics of this learning disability that impact his life. At this point he feels like he has a greater understanding of how his brain processes information. Writing is still challenging for him, but he knows now what the characteristics of dysgraphia are and how his approach to writing is different than others.
As my son has begun to take more classes outside of the homeschool environment he can now explain his writing situation to his peers and instructors. Making them aware of his situation has opened the door to additional understanding and assistance that he can use as he works to complete his assignments.
There are many aspects of writing that are difficult for my teen with dysgraphia. We are still aware of the need for some remediation, especially in the areas of spelling and grammar.
By the time many kids enter the middle school years it becomes a little easier to edit their own writing assignments to check for spelling and grammar errors. Although we tried several curriculum focused on developing editing skills, they didn’t work for my son. It’s pretty common that people with dysgraphia find it hard to identify errors in written work.
We have opted to continue with basic spelling, vocabulary and grammar curriculum such as Spell Well, Vocabulary from Classical Roots, and Easy Grammar Ultimate Series (180 Daily Teaching Lessons). These products have helped us to review these concepts a little at a time on a continuous basis.
Another reason we use this curriculum is to encourage my son to write short, specific pieces of information. His handwriting is still not very legible, but he understands the importance of practicing his handwriting on a regular basis. It is less frustrating to write answers to short, fill-in-the-blank type questions than to try to write well thought out paragraphs. To complete longer writing assignments he uses a word processing software program.
Gather and Express Ideas
For a long time, my son was frustrated with the idea of having to write a multi-paragraph or multi-page paper. Dysgraphia often makes it challenging for people to get their thoughts out and onto paper.
To help address this issue we looked for creative ways to help him collect and share his thoughts with others. Two of the most helpful activities have been our Teen Book Club and a homeschool Speech and Debate class.
Our Book Club members have been meeting together for many years. Since starting a book club our children have not only read a number of classic books, but they have also had opportunities to associate great books with hands-on learning and unique writing activities. Rather that just asking our students to respond to essay questions, we try to incorporate fun writing activities into our club.
For example – when we read The Red Badge of Courage our kids were given a choice to either rewrite a scene from another character’s perspective or write about an object utilizing realistic descriptions (a technique the author used). By offering two options, my son could select a topic that was most interesting for him. Both writing options were short and offered flexibility with structure, which gave my son a chance to focus more on the information he wanted to share than the specific style elements of a formal essay.
This is my son’s second year of participating in Speech and Debate and I have to say it has been one of the most beneficial classes of all! My son has never been shy or afraid to speak in front of others, but he did have a hard time gathering and organizing his thoughts and ideas. Through this course, he has learned the various elements of a strong speech, which he has come to think of as a “formula” for collecting ideas.
By creating a “template” for sharing information about his topic he now finds it easier to gather information, document it in an effective format, and edit it in a way to add emphasis. This process has helped him understand the overall process of forming ideas, to writing them on paper, and then sharing them verbally with others. Although the writing process still takes a great deal of time, he is at least excited about the topic and he looks forward to putting in the hard work for a solid final result.
Middle and high school work include a lot of writing practice. It’s not just busy work; it is preparing students for life beyond high school.
We have been gradually moving from writing strong one-paragraph essays, to five-paragraph essays, and on to a multi-page papers. This process has taken longer for my son because of his dysgraphia BUT as he is getting older he has a better understanding of why writing is so important – he sees this is a skill he will need and use for the rest of his life.
I want my son to develop practical and effective writing skills so we have found, and now use, two solid curriculums that given him both flexibility and structure as he continues to grow and strengthen in his writing practice.
Our go-to program for teaching middle and high school level writing is Fortuigence. I still can’t say enough about how much this personalized writing instruction program has helped our family. The approach of this program is to equip students with the tools they need to share their ideas and write effective essays. The five steps students learn include brainstorming, organization, free draft, revision, and editing. My son finds this process helpful because there is a greater focus on helping students clarify their ideas and get them out and onto paper than other programs we have tried.
With Fortuigence, he has brainstorming and organizing tools to help him gather his thoughts before he is required to work through the details of structure and editing (grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc.) his multi-page essay.
My son loves to study history so I decided to use his favorite subject as a tool to help with writing practice. We have been using materials from the Classical Historian for our world history studies this year and (I can’t believe I’m writing this…) my son is now looking forward to writing 5-paragraph papers! The Classical Historian challenges students to learn the skills of a historian – to research, analyze, and discuss different perspectives. This curriculum helps students systematically learn how to evaluate and share their opinions both verbally and in writing.
Between the topics covered and the tools offered this program helps my son gather his ideas and express them clearly and effectively. The helpful pre-writing assignments make the essay development process move smoothly from draft to final product.
As we move through the high school years my son still faces many writing challenges, but at least he is making continual progress and not always dreading his writing assignments.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, every student is different so I can’t guarantee your child will experience the same results with any of these suggestions, but I’m happy to share ideas that might be helpful.
We would love to hear from you — what tools and resources are you using to teach writing to your teen with dysgraphia?