Working with Challenged Writers

Learning to write is hard work for most children, but for kids with learning differences it can be especially difficult. Often with those children, there are a few aspects of writing that lag far behind their general understanding of language. Maybe their spelling looks like some kind of code. Maybe they don’t read yet. Maybe their writing is painstakingly slow, or they struggle to translate their thoughts onto a blank page. This can be incredibly frustrating to these bright minds.

 At the same time, they might excel at other elements of language arts. They may compose beautiful poetry, be tongue twister whizzes, memorize long poems, make up corny puns, or find profound meaning in the stories that they hear.

While helping them master the parts of writing that challenge them is essential, I think it is also important to encourage them to explore language through other channels. I believe that many of the skills that children learn through language arts can be absorbed even by a child who cannot read or write very well, and that giving a child with learning challenges avenues to explore language skills outside actual reading and writing is crucially important.  It helps them be motivated to on the hard parts. It also keeps their minds from being held to the lowest common denominator of their skills.

For instance, if children read below grade-level, they may not be able to read the books that really interest them, but they can listen to them orally, either through audiobooks or by being read to. While this does not teach them to read, it does strengthen their oral sense of how sentences should sound. You don’t have to know grammatical rules to write a correct sentence if you have a good ear. When we work on grammar in my class, I present the sentences both in written form and orally, and the students who are not yet reading or writing much usually hear mistakes and are very astute about how to fix them, and this skill is based entirely on their oral language exposure.

Likewise, having a strong oral vocabulary will translate later to having a strong written and read vocabulary, and vocabulary is also built most naturally through hearing stories.

Children also do not need to be able to read a story themselves to understand the deeper literary meaning inside them.  We read for practical reasons, but we also read because humans need stories. We are meaning-making beings and finding symbolism and meaning within literature enriches us. Luckily, all of this can happen through oral stories as well.

In short, while learning all reading and writing skills are important, exposing children to rich language does not have to wait for their other skills to develop.

To hear more ideas about working with challenged writers, check out my upcoming free talks about sparking reluctant writers.

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