Academic Skills: Writing

Writing Skills Overview

Writing is an extremely complex task that is not only difficult to learn but also hard to teach. Frustration with written work is a hallmark of alternative learners and children who are diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Dyslexia. Developing the skills necessary to become a good writer requires the use of many of the thinking skills, repeated practice, and the willingness to learn from one’s mistakes.

Children who struggle with writing typically have difficulty in one or more of the following four areas:

  • Handwriting: The capacity to write legibly and efficiently.
  • Writing fluency: The capacity to write quickly, efficiently, and completely.
  • Written organization: The ability to organize one’s written thoughts in a coherent and orderly fashion.
  • Spelling: The capacity to spell words correctly.

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Handwriting

While handwriting may be considered a basic skill, early difficulty with writing letters, fine-motor control skills, or coloring within the lines is often an early signal of difficulty in written expression. Poor or very slow handwriting, which may have a variety of causes, is a direct measure of the output that young children are able to display in written tasks. As a result, there are many children with great ideas and the capacity to express themselves that may be hindered when they need to put the pen to paper and write, but who would do well by dictating or typing.

When children struggle with the mechanics of handwriting, they can become extremely frustrated with any type of writing task.  Simple handwriting difficulties can lead to disinterest in learning the skills that promote written organization, the development of good content, and techniques that facilitate advanced writing skills.

Fortunately, there are a variety of technologies such as typing, speech recognition systems, and dictation devices that can circumvent these difficulties. It becomes very important for children who become frustrated and discouraged with handwriting skills to utilize these technologies at an early age, before they have become despondent and have given up on developing their writing skills.

Thinking Skills used in handwriting:

  • Focus: Children who struggle with handwriting need sustained focus and persistence to produce legible handwriting
  • Working Memory: Keeping in mind the shapes of letters while one is writing is important in the early development of handwriting skills.

Writing Fluency

Fluency is described as the capacity to efficiently and quickly produce written material of a high quality. Individuals who struggle with writing fluency may have problems getting even a few words onto paper and often do not finish their written work. Because of this, their written work is typically shorter and of poorer quality than that of their peers.

A common underlying cause of difficulty with writing fluency is poor and slow handwriting skills; children need to put forth an inordinate amount of effort in order to write legibly, or they give up legibility for speed. Other reasons for difficulty in writing fluency include language learning disabilities, difficulty in translating verbal or oral ideas onto paper, a lack of instruction or strategy as to how to initiate and sustain written work, and a poverty of content and understanding about the area of interest.

Thinking Skills used in writing fluency:

  • Time Management: The capacity to recognize time constraints and work efficiently.
  • Focus: Knowing how to get started on a written task and sustain one’s attention and effort to completion.
  • Self-Control: The capacity to overcome the frustration that often occurs with a difficult written assignment.

Written Organization

Written organization is described as the capacity to organize one’s written thoughts in a systematic manner; this is the ability to communicate a beginning, middle, and end in a piece of writing. Written organization facilitates the capacity to convey one’s thoughts in writing. It is a skill that builds upon expressive language capacities, organizational strategies, and practice.

Individuals who struggle with written organization may have good ideas, but they have difficulty in getting started on writing assignments and may present information in a jumbled fashion. Children with learning and attentional difficulties frequently struggle with written organization.

Thinking Skills used in written organization:

  • Working Memory: Recalling what one has written in earlier paragraphs and building upon that in an orderly fashion.
  • Organization: Being able to put written material into a comprehensive orderly sequence.
  • Self-Awareness: Developing an understanding of one’s audience and including relevant material in an organized way to communicate effectively.
  • Planning: Developing ideas or preparing an outline prior to writing so that the material can be clearly conveyed.

Spelling

Fortunately, spelling has become a less important skill in today’s world. Individuals who are able to identify themselves as poor spellers have a number of tools such as spell check and auto-complete that can help them to manage this difficulty in their writing. However, learning to spell properly is a vital skill, and children who don’t address spelling deficits early on will have a difficult time overcoming them later in life.

Thinking Skills used in spelling:

  • Working Memory: Visual working memory helps people capture the overall structure and formation of the letters in a word.
  • Focus: Maintaining close attention to the writing task at hand is essential to developing good spelling skills.
  • Self-Awareness: Knowing how to critique and revise one’s own writing is a necessary skill for maintaining good spelling throughout a piece of writing.

Games and Apps+ for Writing

In addition to educational games and apps that are specifically designed to encourage proper handwriting, writing fluency, written organization, and spelling, there are many other games and technologies that can serve to practice these skills while having fun.

These include:

  • Games: Some video games require the use of a stylus for drawing or responding. These games practice fine motor skills that may be helpful to developing handwriting skills by writing letters and numbers so they can be read by the game.
  • Blogs and Wikis: These tools encourage the sharing of written information and pictures. They can be particularly useful when compiled by family members or classmates, so that reluctant writers are encouraged to share their own work and to learn from the writing of others.
  • Texting, Instant Messaging: Think about learning to text as simply another form of written language. There are clear rules and conventions if a writer wants her written language to be understood by others. There is some interesting research which suggests that texting skills can be applied to learning more conventional writing.
  • Speech and voice recognition programs: Dragon dictation and other speech recognition programs are now readily available on most smart phone and tablet devices. While dictation often does not constitute formal writing, it is a great initial step for idea generation and outlining that can be useful during the early stages of a written product.
  • Typing and word processing programs: These technologies circumvent two major causes of writing frustrations and avoidance: poor handwriting and spelling. To make them most effective, children need to put in the practice necessary to become accomplished typists, so that typing becomes a skill that facilitates written production. Once typing is an established skill, the child can begin to develop writing skills and use word processing tools such as cutting and pasting, spellcheck, and grammar checkers.

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