James liked going to school when he was younger. He was a capable student in elementary school, although his teachers observed that he was sometimes struggling with writing assignments. His parents noted that it took him much longer to complete his homework than it had taken his sister when she was that age. But James did not complain. He worked hard and kept up with his school work. However, writing assignments became more demanding once he entered middle school. His written work became noticeably shorter and less detailed than that of his peers. James’s parents and teachers reported that he was increasingly frustrated with school, particularly with longer writing assignments and tasks that required that he organize his work. He understood what he needed to do with his written work but could not get his ideas onto paper. Perhaps most importantly, James began not to like going to school and often complained of stomachaches in the morning before school. He seemed to have lost the work ethic he had had in elementary school.
Success at school requires many skills. Kids with learning, attention, and executive-functioning difficulties tend to struggle in middle and high school, when writing and organizational skills become paramount. But even kids without any diagnosable learning disability are likely to find writing to be difficult. A study by the National Assessment of Educational Progress indicated that only 28% of fourth grade, 31% of eighth grade, and 24% of twelfth grade students were proficient in writing. Writing is a multifaceted process that involves word-finding skills; an understanding of sentence construction, organization, task persistence, and time management; knowledge of the topic one is writing about; and capacities for expressive language. Doing all of these tasks at once can be overwhelming, and other factors such as proficiency in spelling, handwriting, typing, and getting one’s thoughts onto paper can hamper students’ abilities to complete writing assignments.
Fortunately, there are many apps and technologies that can assist students with writing tasks. Tools such as spell checkers and word processing programs are now the norm. Graphic organizers are also widely used in constructing written assignments. Mastery of typing skills can make an enormous difference for students who have slow or sloppy handwriting.
Dictation is one of the most powerful tools to help students improve when they are struggling with writing skills and reduce the frustration that many kids have with getting their thoughts onto paper. At the very least, kids who use dictation for idea generation can do it quickly and in a form that allows for simple organization. Obviously kids who master dictation can also use it for longer writing assignments, but it may be additionally helpful in several other academic areas, as well.
Here are five reasons why parents should encourage kids who are struggling with writing to try dictation:
- It’s easy to learn the basics. Dictation can help with organization even if children use it just to make to-do lists.
- It’s more fun than writing. Part of the interest with dictation for kids is that it gives them a reason to use (or own) a cell phone.
- Once you get the hang of it, dictation is a really fast way to create a written draft
- You can dictate virtually anywhere. Most dictation programs require an Internet connection, but if it’s on a smartphone, you’ve got it.