For children of the 21st Century, computers are an integral part of life. Games provide endless hours of entertainment. Email connects them with friends and family, both near and far. The Internet is a resource for information and a window on the world. For a child with learning disabilities (LD), a computer also can be a tool that improves performance and makes schoolwork fun.
In third grade, writing becomes an important part of the academic curriculum. When a child’s LD (language processing, handwriting, organization, spelling, etc.) impact his ability to write, he can become defeated very easily.
Our son’s early attempts at any writing assignment were filled with frustration and tears. No matter how hard he tried, his handwriting was almost illegible. He wrote the shortest sentences possible, using words with the fewest letters. (Three letter words were his favorites.) Words were often misspelled. Sometimes the eraser on his pencil would wear holes in the paper. When he was finished, a simple paragraph had taken over hour to produce. With all the smudges, eraser marks, holes in the paper, and shaky handwriting, the finished product was not something to be proud of.
Midway through a very unhappy third grade year, a learning specialist recommended that we consider giving our son a laptop computer to perform his writing activities in class. Any device that might assist him with the stressful task of writing was welcome to us. Thinking that this could be a distraction in class as well as differentiate him from his classmates, his teacher was hesitant about bringing the laptop into the classroom. Fortunately, the school principal supported the idea and encouraged the teacher to “give it a try.”
The result was dramatic. The length of Bryce’s writing assignments doubled. Sentences became lengthier. He was willing to experiment with using longer words. He learned about the wonders of “spellcheck.” Best of all, he produced stories and reports that looked good and he could feel proud of.
What was the difference? We all have learned more about the process of writing. When most people write, they are performing many functions at the same time. Skills involved in the writing process include:
- Concept development: What is the general idea that I want to express?
- Communication: What words will I use to communicate this idea?
- Sentence structure: What order will I put the words in?
- Grammar, punctuation, spelling: What are all those rules I have to follow?
- Paragraph structure: How am I going to link the sentences together?
- Beginning and ending: How do I start and end a story or report?
- Fine motor coordination: How should I move the pencil to form the letters?
Whew! Most individuals perform these skills at the same time when they are writing. Someone with LD that affects the ability to write needs to do these things one at a time. The computer allows him to do this with much less effort. It is easier to rewrite sentences, add information or ideas, correct spelling, and move words or sentences around. With the click of the mouse, these things can happen instantly. Writing becomes a process of building, rather than tearing down and reconstructing. For my son, it has made a real difference in the quality of his written assignments. Best of all, for a child, it’s (almost) fun.
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