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“The problems faced with writing by pupils with Dyslexia

and strategies for remediation in a mainstream and small


group setting.”

Abstract

Intro

The aim of this essay is to focus the attention of teachers on the strategies that they can
put into practice to support dyslexic pupils in the area of writing in mainstream post
primary school. I have chosen this topic as it is an area that interests me as I teach many
pupils with Dyslexia in both a mainstream and Resource setting.

Writing is an area that dyslexics can find particularly challenging due to the number of
processes that we must complete in order to carry out the task. “The writer must be able
to keep one idea in mind while formulating it in words and sentences and must be able to
plan and correct graphic form for each letter and word while manipulating the writing
instrument. “ (E.McCauley, 2008, Dyselxia-How learning is affected.) It must be very
frustrating to be able to answer a question orally but fail completely when trying to write
about it.

This essay is intended to enable class teachers to build upon their existing good practice
and respond appropriately to the underlying problems associated with teaching writing to
pupils with dyslexia. No single strategy or teaching programme can effectively overcome
the learning difficulties presented by dyslexic pupils. It is essential therefore to examine a
range of practices in dealing with dyslexia in order that a successful outcome can be
achieved for both the classroom teacher and the pupil.
There are two major problems that a Dyslexic student may face when it comes to writing:
the legibility of their handwriting and their written expression. Both of these problems
are general symptoms of the condition of Dyslexia. It is extremely difficult to find one
single definition which will accurately explain the true nature of this specific learning
difficulty. In 2001 the Report of the Task Force on Dyslexia was published by the
Department of Education and Science. The Report recognised the broad range of
difficulties which arise from this condition. The definition proposed by the Task Force
stated:

“Dyslexia is manifested in a continuum of specific learning difficulties related to the acquisition


of basic skills in reading, spelling and/or writing, such difficulties being unexpected in relation to
an individual’s other abilities and educational experiences. Dyslexia can be described at the
neurological, cognitive and behavioural levels. It is typically characterised by inefficient
information processing, including difficulties in phonological processing, working memory, rapid
naming and automaticity of basic skills. Difficulties in organisation, sequencing and motor skills
may also be present.”
(Govt. of Ireland 2001, Report of the Task Force on Dyslexia, p.28)

The last two sentences in that quote are very pertinent when it comes to explaining the
difficulties that a Dyslexic student may face when trying to write. This leads to difficulty
in a number of areas:

1) Presentation - A Dyslexic student may suffer from “directional confusion, poor motor
visual skills and poor hand/eye coordination.” (McCormack, 2002, p.15) This can result
in handwriting that is “difficult to read and badly formed. “(McCormack, 2002 p.14).
However the converse can occur where the student will have good handwriting but
“production of work will be extremely slow.”(Peer and Reid, 2001, p.4) and they may
also “confuse upper and lower case letters” (Peer and Reid, 2001, p.4) Poor or illegible
handwriting is doubly damaging as not only is the meaning unclear, but spelling and
grammar cannot be corrected because the words or phrases are unintelligible.

This can also cause problems when note-taking as not only can the student have difficulty
getting all the information off of the board quickly enough, what they have written down
may both illegible and or copied inaccurately making the notes almost worthless.
2) Organisation - If the dyslexic student manages to write legibly then frequently the
content of what is written is confusing. The pupils may write “very little but to the point”
or write “a great deal but “loses the thread.” (Peer and Reid, 2001, p.4) Students with
dyslexia may have plenty of ideas but “their written answers may lack planning and
structure.”(McCormack, 2002, p17)

These students may find great difficulty in structuring an essay for English or History
especially where they may be asked to debate an issue. According to Riddick, Wolfe and
Lumsdon, dyslexics may have “difficulty in putting ideas down on paper.” And have
“problems ordering things sequentially.” (Riddick, Wolfe and Lumsdon, 2002 p.69)

3) Spelling - Spelling is a major problem for the dyslexic pupil and according to
Philomena Ott, is likely to remain so for the course of their lives. Professor T. Miles
categorises “13 Millstones” or common spelling errors that the majority of dyslexics
make including letter reversals, omissions, transpositions and substitutions. Cook and
Moates said that the spelling of dyslexics is “qualitatively different from those of normal
learners.”(Cook and Moates, 1983)

A cause of the poor spelling may be due to a poor visual memory or lack of phonological
awareness. Poor spellers will take much longer when writing as they are constantly
struggling to remember how to spell words most of us can write automatically. Another
problem may be that they can spell the word when writing it in isolation but cannot do it
when writing the word as part of an essay.

4) Grammar and vocabulary - Riddick, Wolfe and Lumsdon tell us that dyslexic
students have “problems with sentence structure, punctuation of written work, not due to
a lack of experience.” (Riddick, Wolfe and Lumsdon, 2002, p.69) Peer and Reid would
reiterate this point as would Therese McPhillips who comments that children with
expressive language difficulties:“ will have poor vocabulary; will experience difficulty in
naming familiar people, places and objects; may use incorrect grammar and poor
syntax.”(McPhillips, 2003, p.25) The poor written vocabulary of some dyslexics may be
attributed to their poor spelling, as they may not know how to spell most of the words
they can say. As a result they use simple words that they know they can spell.

Remediation Strategies

When my Grandfather went to school in Glasgow in the 1920’s and 30’s he was taught to
write with his right hand even though he was predominately left-handed and as a result of
this he always wrote in print. Thankfully education has moved on since then and pupils’
needs are now better accommodated. The development of a fluid and legible writing style
is now something we spend a lot of time on at school, particularly in primary.

Philomena Ott attaches considerable importance to it and in particular in teaching dyslexic


pupils to write cursively. This she says has a number of benefits “the teaching of cursive
handwriting has been shown to result in writing that is easy to read and good to look at. It
also leads to speedy and fluid writing.”(Ott, 1997, p.99) This would help to alleviate
problems of illegibility and poor word-rate.

Cursive handwriting is the best type to use when teaching using multi-sensory methods
which are very beneficial for teaching dyslexics and the Task Force on Dyslexia
recommends “cursive handwriting from as early a stage as possible to aid spelling, speed,
neatness and continuity;”( Task Force on Dyslexia, 2001, p.86) By the time pupils have
reached secondary school there may not be that much that can be done as Cox conceded
that retraining a pupil to write is harder than helping them to read. However she did admit
that they could be retrained provided the student was motivated enough and persevered.

Simple things like adding a margin to a student’s page, or changing their pencil grip can
help. Also “make sure that dyslexic learners have enough space to write so that their
motor movements are not hindered. Check that the lighting is sufficient for the learner and
offer them a choice of position where possible.”
(http://excellence.qia.org.uk/page.aspx?o=126766, 15th December, 2008)
If the student is has “slow, dysfluent and or illegible handwriting,”(Report of the Task
Force on Dyslexia, 2001, p.88) then perhaps it would be better if the student wrote on a
word-processor, or perhaps used voice recognition software if available. The use of ICT
will be dealt with in more detail later on.

Developments in educational thinking and practice relating to teaching writing to


dyslexics.

Granda made to write right-handed. As a result always wrote in print format. Was
left-handed.

Strategies for use in mainstream classes.

Strategies used within small groups ( if different )

Writing frames

Modelling

Structured approach

Thematic work ( they can choose topic )

Planning ( mind-mapping)

I.T. ( word-processing, etc)

Cursive versus script


Implications for teaching and learning situation

Can this be used by me in my science class?

Can this be used my me within my resource groups?


How can what I have learned be implemented within my class, school, etc.

Can we use any of these methods as a whole school?