By Charles A. MacArthur
"The words are all tangled up inside my head. I'm confused. I get tangled up in writing the words, and I stop." — fifth-grade girl with learning disabilities
Writing is difficult. Most writers could relate to the frustration expressed by this girl. Writing is a complex process that draws on:
Writers must set goals, integrate the many cognitive and social processes involved, and monitor their own success. Students with LD are not the only ones who struggle with writing. In fact, the National Assessment of Educational Progress rated only 28% of fourth-grade, 31% of eighth-grade, and 24% of twelfth-grade students as proficient1. However, for students with LD, the difficulties are greater. In comparison to their normally achieving peers, students with LD have:
Consequently, their compositions are shorter, less organized and coherent, more marked by errors in spelling and grammar, and lower in overall quality2.
Parents often wonder to what extent reading and writing disabilities are connected. Reading and writing are closely related language skills; research shows substantial correlations between reading and writing achievement3. Most poor readers also struggle with writing. However, the reverse is not necessarily true. All of the following can produce writing problems, independent of reading problems:
In addition, some students who overcome their reading problems will continue to struggle with spelling and writing. Thus, it is important that your child's writing problems be assessed, in addition to any reading problems, so that she is provided carefully designed writing instruction.
"Good writing is writing one, maybe two pages, and having periods, capital letters, indenting, paragraphs, spelling everything right ... and that's all I'd say about that." — student with LD
As the quote illustrates, many students with LD are so concerned with the mechanics of writing that they equate good writing with lack of errors. Schools must take care not to make that same mistake in assessing a student's writing problems or planning writing instruction. Although problems of spelling and mechanics are highly visible problems, in fact, students with LD struggle with all aspects of writing. In this section, I outline the knowledge and skills that students must master to be good writers, and discuss writing problems in each area. The Hayes and Flower model4 provides a framework for considering the components of writing. The model includes:
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