By Brian Inglesby, M.A., L.E.P.
Writing is the most difficult form of language to learn. It involves "working memory" and using many different skills at the same time — organizing ideas, holding the pencil correctly, forming letters, spelling words, using correct grammar, punctuating sentences, using vocabulary, and staying on topic. If one or more of these processes break down, then your child may have serious problems writing. Most of all, writing requires patience.
- Kids who have a hard time writing may become reluctant to write. Such negative feelings can last a long time. Take action right away if you see a problem.
- Although you may be tempted, especially as you watch your child struggle, don't write reports or papers for him. This can only add to his feelings of inadequacy and lower his self-confidence. As his coach, you can offer encouragement, guidance, and feedback.
- Begin each homework session by asking your child to explain what he's expected to do. This helps you know if he can work on his own or will need your help to get started.
- If you aren't around when your child completes his homework, let him know you'll look it over when you get home. Be sure to follow through on your promise. Be clear that this will be done to help him, not judge him.
- Your child may need to have a buddy he can phone to make sure he's copied all class assignments correctly and knows what's expected for long projects. Classmates also may be willing to share notes and study strategies.
Support at Home
- Provide a place for your child where all necessary materials for homework are available — paper, scissors, and highlighter pens or tape.
- Set a good example by writing at home. Write email messages, letters, or postcards to friends and relatives. Post a daily or weekly calendar, make a shopping list, search the Internet; or write in a journal.
- Encourage your child to write short stories or keep a journal.
- Have your child take photographs and write a brief description under each picture.
- If you have a computer, encourage your child to learn keyboarding (typing) skills as early as possible. Third grade is a good time to begin. Computers encourage writing and give immediate feedback about spelling and grammar.
- Encourage your child to develop interests he can investigate, research, and write about to become an expert on a topic.
- Your child may not realize his writing has improved. Save work samples from home and school. Review them together to point out the improvements he's made over time.
- When he writes, check to see if your child is sitting up straight with both feet on the floor, holding the pencil correctly, and keeping his arm from the elbow to the wrist on the table or desk for support. Be sure that he slants the paper slightly to the left (45 degrees) for right-handers or slightly to the right (45 degrees) for left-handers.
- Your child may find the "mechanics" of writing are easier if he uses a pencil grip or a slantboard. Special paper with raised lines can help a struggling writer stay within the lines.
- Don't let your child give up on writing tasks because they're "boring" and difficult. Encourage him to use the computer, if available. Remind him that writing is a method of communicating.
- Have family members read, edit, and provide feedback for your child. Set the rules for feedback to make the information from everyone positive and helpful.
- When offering feedback about his work, start with positive statements such as, " You remembered to indent paragraphs; that's progress," or "You have some great ideas in this part. What happens next?" Other words you might use are "Thoughtful, Interesting, excellent." But don't give false praise. Only say it if you mean it.
- Many children with writing problems can easily become overwhelmed. To help them, writing assignments should be broken down into smaller chunks or drafts.
- Brainstorm sessions are helpful for starting the writing process. First drafts are mainly for writing ideas or topic information. Second drafts would include organizing content, correcting grammar, checking punctuation, and correcting spelling.
- For long-term writing projects, help your child organize and plan what he's going to write over a period of several weeks. When writing assignments are broken down into smaller parts, you and the teacher can offer feedback and suggestions along the way.
- Establish a clear understanding with your child's teacher(s) about how much and how often he does homework. With his teacher, decide if he needs to have shortened assignments, extra time to complete them, dictate to an adult or a peer buddy, use a word processor, use a tape recorder, or do an alternative project to show what he's learned. These modifications may increase his motivation and the amount of work he does.