Entries Tagged 'Special Needs' ↓

Taking the tears out of copywork

If your child can't finish copywork because he daydreams or keeps losing his place, try these 2 simple tools for taking the tears out of copywork!
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links for products we recommend.

I usually don’t get to observe my grandkids’ homework process. Now and then they’ll do schoolwork at our house, but when their family lived with us temporarily during their home remodeling project, I had a birds’-eye view!

Copying by Hand Can Be Tedious 

This particular day, Ryan was not a happy camper. His 4th-grade teacher had assigned a 3- to 5-page California mission report to his class of 9-year-olds.

On the plus side, Ryan had finished all his research. And his mom took some of the pressure off by letting him dictate his rough draft as she typed it. Still, this project ultimately had to be written by hand, meaning Ryan still had to copy the report using pencil and paper.

It was excruciating for him—and almost as painful for the rest of us. By 6:00 p.m. (with the rough draft due the next day), our reluctant writer had already spent hours recopying with not much to show for his trouble.

Ryan was quickly becoming an emotional wreck. Over the past two weeks, he’d spent all his free time on this thing and was aching to be done. But the more he fretted, the slower he seemed to go. Indeed, he was convinced he’d be at it till midnight. Ryan—and his report—were nearing zero hour, and as the pressure mounted, so did the anxiety and tears.

Three Problems with Copywork

As I observed him at the table, I began to notice three things:

  • He lost his place. Every time Ryan’s eyes returned to the typed page, he wasted precious moments trying to find where he’d left off. This made the copying process all the slower.
  • He lost his focus. Losing his place affected his ability to concentrate. He’d simply disappear into deep thought and stare off into space.
  • He lost his joy. (Well, to be honest, the joy was never there to begin with.) But as time edged forward, mounting discouragement gave way to slumped shoulders and tears.

Tools That Help

To her credit, his mom had done everything she could think of to help Ryan along.

They read and researched together for hours every day. She helped him gather his thoughts and write notes. She made the wise decision to let him narrate the report as a time-saving and encouraging step in the process. But facing this last mountain with her son, she was finally at her wits’ end.

Leaning over Ryan, I gave him a hug and introduced two little tricks that I hoped would help him over the hump. My fingers were crossed—you just never know what’s going to inspire a kid!

1. Reading Tracker

First I gave him a reading tracker. This handy gadget reveals one line of text while hiding what’s above and below. To continue reading, the child simply slides the tracker down to the next line. The surrounding text no longer overwhelms or confuses him, allowing him to focus on the line he is reading.

While a reading tracker is typically used to help a child keep his place when reading a book, it’s also an effective copywork aid. In Ryan’s case, it took care of two immediate problems:

  • He no longer lost his place as his eyes moved between the typed page and his handwritten copy.
  • As a result, he was able to concentrate on the task for longer periods of time.

You can purchase reading trackers herehere, and here, or you can make your own. I made Ryan’s from two sheets of folded paper, but you can also make your own using colored plastic dividers.

2. Timer

Along with the tracker, I set my kitchen timer in front of Ryan. Up to now, it had taken him hours to recopy just a few paragraphs, but I had no clue how much time was reasonable for him to copy a small section of text.

To begin with, I timed him as he copied two lines of text using his new tracker. I figured if he could copy two lines in three minutes, he could copy most paragraphs in 12-15 minutes. We started with 15. When he proclaimed he’d copied his first paragraph with time to spare, we were ecstatic!

Success breeds more success, so we tried it again. This time, I reduced the time to 12 minutes. Again, Ryan surprised us by beating the clock. Immediately, the atmosphere in the room changed from one of weighty oppression to buoyant optimism: Ryan could see the light at the end of the tunnel!

Some children just don’t handle timed activities very well. For Ryan, however, the use of a timer proved magical. Instead of fearing the advance of the clock, he let his vivid imagination take over. When I asked him which tool—the tracker or the timer—was the most helpful, he said with a gleeful smile, “The timer! I pretended it was a ticking bomb and tried to finish before it went off.”

“My Hand Hurts”

Writing with renewed speed did produce one consequence for Ryan: hand cramping. Many young children complain that their hand gets tired or sore when writing. If your child experiences this, let him take occasional breaks to have a snack or play outside.

Finishing by bedtime bolstered Ryan’s shaky confidence. With these two simple tools—the tracker and the timer—his mood went from foul to fabulous!

Does copywork produce tears at your house? Next time, give these a try and let me know how it goes!

Photo: eren{sea+prairie}, courtesy of Creative Commons

Building confidence in reluctant writers

Building confidence in reluctant writers or kids with special needs

I’m guest blogging over at Home Educating Family today. Join me?

Has your child been diagnosed with dyslexia, dysgraphia, autism, or ADHD? Maybe he has an auditory or visual processing disorder. Or perhaps your child doesn’t have special needs at all, but is simply a reluctant, resistant writer

Even a slight hiccup in a child’s ability to learn can cause daily struggle. Whatever the root cause, all you know is this: writing is a source of contention at your house, and the mere mention of it reduces your child to tears.

Rest assured it’s not just your child. Most students struggle with writing at some level, but when a child learns with difficulty, the challenges are magnified…

Read the complete article here, and find encouragement for teaching your struggling writer.




9 tips to conquering the blank page

There’s nothing quite like a blank page to ruin a perfectly good day.

We need to put words to paper, but they will not come. The blank page intimidates us. The objects in the room call, our eyes wander, and our mind runs to places that are more desirable. We struggle to come back to the page with pen in hand. In the meantime, the white space has grown in intensity, until it is blinding. –Richard Mansel, “The Fear of the Blank Page

It can be a formidable foe, this empty field of white—especially for the child who struggles to coax even a short string of words from his reluctant pen.

Fortunately, there are simple things you can do to help the most reluctant student find his footing—or at least his voice. Let’s look at nine ways you can encourage your child to face (and perhaps even conquer!) that blank sheet of paper.

1. Write first thing. 

Consider starting the school day with a writing activity, while attitudes are still positive and minds feel more creative. Facing an unpleasant or challenging task earlier in the day—when your children are fresh and alert—may be the key to unlocking ideas.

2. Brainstorm separately before beginning to write.

Jotting down random thoughts—no matter how jumbled—can help release a log jam of words and phrases. Encourage your kids to brainstorm before beginning any writing assignment.

3. Set parameters for the assignment.

Few children find it freeing to hear: “Write about whatever you want.” The vastness of total choice can overwhelm even the most eager writer, so establish some boundaries for the assignment. For example:

  • Specify the kind of writing. Will the composition be a personal narrative? A persuasive essay? A descriptive piece?
  • Let students choose a topic within a particular genre such as mystery or adventure, or within a current area of study such as pioneer days or the Great Depression.
  • Give expectations regarding composition length or number of sources you require.

4. Offer story prompts.

StoryBuilders are creative writing-prompt cards that let students choose a character, character trait, setting, and plot as the launching place for a zany (or serious) story. Mixing and matching elements of a story can unlock creativity and open the door for some fun writing experiences.

5. Give topic options and choices.

Encourage students to write about favorite, familiar topicsdogs, ballet, skateboarding, Legos, karate, etc. The more they enjoy the subject matter, the more vested they’ll be in the writing project.

6. Start with a personal experience or familiar story.

It can make an excellent foundation for a new story. Your children don’t always have to come up with something unique—it’s totally fine for them to retell a fable, fairytale, folktale, or other familiar story in their own words.

7. Provide a photo.

Pictures—especially those that “speak a thousand words”—make great prompts for generating story or narrative ideas. When searching for photos online, you’ll want to preview sites for appropriate content. That said, consider finding inspiration from one of these:

8. Do some or all of the writing.

By the time a thought makes its way from brain to hand to paper, the reluctant or learning-challenged student has lost her grasp on the idea, and it simply drifts away. Letting her dictate allows you to capture those words before they dissipate. Then, once they’re written, she can more easily rearrange and modify.

9. Encourage a “rough draft” mindset.

Students who think their first draft should be perfect can gain a lot from adjusting their thinking. Writing is a debugging process. Starting sloppy deals a blow to the blank page as the student plays with early ideas and gets into the writing flow. As author and poet Margaret Atwood so aptly put it: “If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.”

A blank sheet of paper may intimidate reluctant writers, but overcoming their fear and conquering the blank page are possible!

Do you have a reluctant writer?

Homeschool moms can discover the hows and whys of helping a reluctant writer.

Young students are often bursting with ideas. Most likely they can talk your ear off, but getting them to write those ideas down is another story altogether.

Where Did It Go?

The act of capturing a fleeting thought and pinning it to the paper is a challenge. We think it sounds so easy to “just write what’s in your head,” but the reality is that many children simply aren’t mature enough to put all the pieces together.

First, a thought must formulate in a child’s mind. Then, it has to travel all the way down his arm to the pencil. But by the time he starts wondering how to spell this word or punctuate that sentence, the once-delightful idea has at best been reduced to three dull words, or at worst, vanished completely.

Children 10 and under often need more help with writing than we think they should. We expect them to be able to think of an idea all on their own and then write about it. But in truth, many kids

  • Struggle to come up with writing topics.
  • Forget what they want to say.
  • Get overwhelmed by perfectionism.
  • Complain that their hand hurts.
  • Fear making mistakes.

Whether or not your children have special needs or learning struggles, writing can throw them into a tailspin.

Start Them Young

Do you have a reluctant writer? Too many students approach junior high strongly biased against writing—either because they were never taught how to write and now fear it, or because of negative experiences with writing as younger children.

But by starting them while they’re young, your children can actually look forward to writing and learn to approach it with joy. This happens when you create a safe, warm, nurturing atmosphere and offer writing activities that teach—yes—but that are also infused with fun.

One of the reasons I’m so passionate about WriteShop Primary and WriteShop Junior is the focus on letting your children ease into writing. As the parent, you gently guide, rather than push or force. Definitely not the sort of program where you give an assignment and leave them to their own devices. Instead, you’re encouraged to share in the entire process—including the actual writing.

How Much Help Should You Give?

If you wonder how much of the writing you should take on, the answer is: As much as it takes for your children to feel successful. And if you ask how much of the writing your children should be doing? Only as much as they are able. It’s very simple, really. If you sense their frustration at ANY point along the way, recognize that this is their cry for help—and your signal to take over a bit more.

Depending on your children, you might:

  • Provide them with writing ideas and prompts.
  • Encourage them to write about topics they love or that tickle their fancy—horses, sports, chess, Legos, gardening, etc.
  • Use a personal experience or familiar story as the basis for a new story. They don’t always have to come up with something unique—it’s totally fine for them to retell a familiar story in their own words.
  • Do some or all of the writing while they dictate to you.
  • Let them write the words they know while you write the words they can’t spell yet.

Instead of worrying that you’re failing your child, enjoy the realization that you’re modeling and teaching. Meanwhile, your little sponge is absorbing, processing, and sorting everything into his mental filing system.

The good news is this: You won’t handicap your child by supplying him with writing topics; he won’t become a writing failure if he lifts a story idea from a sibling; and prompting him with questions and dialog won’t create overdependence on you. It may take awhile for him to really get it. Just know that your participation with him is an important key.

Shoot the Writing Rapids—Together

As the mom of a once-reluctant, writing-phobic son, I speak from experience. My daughters were more “natural” writers who fairly sailed down the rapids of writing.

My son, on the other hand, couldn’t stay afloat in the raft! Our journey was hard, and we experienced more than our share of frustration, so I can completely relate to your struggles.

From the time we began homeschooling in kindergarten until Ben was 14 or 15, I stayed very involved with his writing, whether it meant helping him with ideas, prompting his writing with questions and dialog, or letting him dictate to me while I wrote his words down. Sometime around 10th grade, the pieces FINALLY fell into place for him, and by the time he graduated from high school, he had become a strong, independent writer.

So hang in there! Don’t be afraid to hop into the writing boat with your son or daughter. Help now, as much as your child needs you, and believe that independence will come one day.

Copyright 2010 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Photos courtesy of stock.xchng

Stumbling block #10 – Learning challenges

Learning Challenges | 10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing

Welcome back to our tenth—and final—article in the series 10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing. I’ve really enjoyed writing each one, and I hope you’ve found them inspirational too.

Today I’m going to spend a few minutes looking at a different kind of stumbling block altogether: learning challenges. 

Stumbling Block #10 

Problem: Learning challenges and special needs create many stumbling blocks to writing.

Solution: Short writing projects, frequent practice, and bite-size assignments are some of the ways to make the writing process manageable.

Does Your Child Learn with Difficulty?

Has your child been diagnosed with ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, or Asperger’s? Does he have an auditory or visual processing disorder? Depending on the severity, it’s likely that his symptoms interfere with schooling to some degree.

Many such children live in a world littered with stumbling blocks that make learning a struggle. While these can include physical limitations like arm and shoulder tension or vision problems, a learning challenge will ultimately result in difficulty performing mental tasks like math problems or writing.

Writing issues can include:

  • Awkward or tight pencil grip
  • Illegible handwriting
  • Poor word and line spacing
  • Poor written expression
  • Problems with details (paying too little attention or obsessing too much)
  • Inattention and carelessness
  • Disorganization
  • Impulsiveness and difficulty planning
  • Poor self-monitoring skills

Helping a Student with Learning Challenges

How do you come up with a plan to help your special needs student? First, recognize that parents are a child’s first and best teachers. You know your child better than anyone, and you care more deeply about his needs. There is much you can do!

I’m certainly not an expert in this area, but I can offer you some helpful suggestions. For starters:

  • Establish a distraction-free work space for your child to do schoolwork: quiet, well lit, uncluttered.
  • Set a regular time to study with your child, and work closely with him.
  • Help him organize study materials before beginning.

As for writing, there are many things you can do to help a child who learns with difficulty. Consider using these ideas:

Graphic Organizers

Students do better when they can use graphic organizers such as mind-maps (clustering), charts, lists, or diagrams to help them outline and plan their work.

Self-Editing Checklists

It’s important for the struggling learner to be able to mark his progress. Provide a writing checklist for every assignment to walk him through self-editing step by step. A checklist (such as the ones introduced in WriteShop Junior, or the comprehensive checklists found in WriteShop I) reminds him of every element that needs his attention. As he compares his rough draft to the checklist, he can make corrections and improvements.

A visually overwhelmed student can use a plain sheet of paper to help him track each line of the checklist.

Colored Pencils

Colored pencilsHave your child use colored pencils to circle or underline potential corrections. Each color can be used for a different strategy: capitalization, spelling, punctuation, repeated words, dull or vague words, etc. The colors provide students with a focus for editing and revising as they revisit their work for each task.

Frequent Repetition and Practice

Make sure writing lessons build on previously learned skills. Good checklists help students apply these skills regularly.

Short, Specific Assignments

Writing projects that are short, contained, and relevant are more effective than fuzzy, open-ended, “write-whatever-you-want” assignments. Single-paragraph compositions are excellent for students who have trouble staying focused. Whether they’re overwhelmed by longer assignments, or they ramble and take rabbit trails, short assignments help them stay on task.

And just as important, make sure your writing program includes topic ideas and clear directions. Give specific requirements for each lesson, from brainstorming to writing, so your student always knows what he needs to do.

Tasks Broken into Bite-size Chunks

A child doesn’t have to learn with difficulty to benefit from working on a writing project in small increments. Breaking the writing process into manageable steps helps all students, including those who are disorganized, lazy, easily overwhelmed, or prone to procrastination. Spreading out assignments over time allows for paragraphs to rest between drafts and eases anxiety and stress.

Appeal to Different Learning Styles

A multisensory approach to writing  helps many students who learn with difficulty.

  • Visual: Use graphic organizers and checklists, calendar or schedule, and written instructions.
  • Auditory: Play word games, give verbal instructions, ask questions to prompt writing.
  • Kinesthetic: Describe textured objects the child can pick up and touch. Same for foods: touching and tasting the real thing makes it easier to describe. When writing about a place, take a notebook and pen and visit the place so your child can describe it firsthand.

Copyright © 2010 Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

. . . . .

WriteShop Primary, WriteShop Junior, and WriteShop make excellent choices for the homeschooling parent with a learning-challenged child. Their step-by-step instructions, helpful schedules and lesson plans, and appeal to different learning styles are just a few of the reasons parents have loved using WriteShop.

Images: Lydianne Aquino and Little Blue Penguin, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Writing with lists

We can get it in our minds that “writing” means a composition with a proper introduction, conclusion, and three main points sandwiched in between. It’s easy to forget that although writing can be as complex as a research paper, it can also be as simple as making lists.

Writing with lists is still…writing!

Yep—list-making is a bona fide writing activity!

Most children like to create lists anyway, but writing out lists—from the mundane to the meaningful—also helps them become more organized. Taken a step further, when list-making is used as a brainstorming tool, it can even help students plan the elements of an essay or story.

So where do you start? Here are some suggestions for your budding list-makers:

  • List your various personal possessions such as baseball cards, stuffed animals, shoes, or CDs.
  • Inventory furniture in a room or items in a junk drawer, jewelry box, or medicine cabinet.
  • List states you’ve traveled to, friends you know, or places you’d like to visit.
  • Make lists of schoolwork, dates for soccer practice and games, family birthdays, to-do lists, etc.

Holiday list-making ideas

Ways We Can Serve Others

There are so many ways your family can think of others, particularly at the holidays. Encourage your kids to list ideas such as baking cookies for a neighbor, packing a shoebox for child in a third-world country, or giving away some of their own toys to needy children.

Christmas or Holiday Traditions

Make a list of your family’s favorite holiday activities. As an example, here’s a list of Kautzer Christmas traditions:

  1. Watch lots of Christmas movies
  2. Make gingerbread houses
  3. Annual neighborhood cookie exchange party
  4. Big family dinner Christmas Eve
  5. New Christmas jammies
  6. Candlelight service at 11 p.m.
  7. Block off the stairway with toilet paper so no one sneaks downstairs Christmas morning
  8. Stockings first, then breakfast, then presents under the tree
  9. Freeze fresh peaches in July for Christmas breakfast
  10. New ornament for each grandchild: Eli – snowmen; Grant – bears; Ryan – cookie ornaments; Hannah and Tiana – angels; Ginny – farm animals
  11. Jesus got three gifts from the wise men, so each person gets three presents under the tree.

Christmas Wish Lists

Write out a wish list—and not just a list of things your child wants to get for Christmas (though that’s always fun too). In addition, how about a list that tells what your child thinks someone else would like. For example, Grandma might want:

  1. Warm slippers.
  2. A handwritten note from me.
  3. A picture of me.
  4. Someone to shovel snow from her sidewalk.
  5. To go out to breakfast with Dad and me. 

Year-round list-making fun

Try some of these suggestions to spark ideas for using list-making as part of your schooling all year long. Though lists are useful and fun for all ages and learning styles, they especially appeal to reluctant writers or students with learning difficulties because they’re short, contained, and relevant.





  1. Book of Lists. Buy each child a special spiral notebook or journal. This can become his or her own personal Book of Lists.
  2. School Assignments. For starters, your children could make lists of books they’ve read this year, countries or states they’ve studied, Colonial American occupations they’ve learned about, American presidents, British monarchs, 27 prepositions, or eight items one might put into an historical time capsule.
  3. 10 Things. Write a series of “10 Things” lists: 10 New Year’s resolutions, 10 favorite cookies, 10 joyful moments, 10 things I should throw away, etc.
  4. Adding Flair. Suggest illustrating some of the pages or adding personal photos or pictures cut from magazines or old calendars.
  5. Lists Galore. Check out the Writing Fix Personal List Generator. This clever tool generates a random question, which your child answers by making a list. Should you want to take it one step further, there’s also an assignment for writing a related composition. If list-making is your goal, simply skip the composition. Alternatively, make note of the composition topic and assign it another time.
  6. The List and Nothing but the List. Remember that the list itself can (and often should) be the goal. Don’t get hung up on needing to see paragraphs every time.

Share a comment: Make a list of any kind in the comment box, whether it’s today’s errand list, a list of supplies you need for a new project, or a list of skills you’d like to learn. Be creative!

2009 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Learning disabilities & writing, Part 2

2008-06-23 Learning Disabilities Part 2 (2)

In Part 1 of Learning Disabilities and Writing, I broadly defined three particular learning challenges: ADHD, dysgraphia, and dyslexia, specifically identifying how each affects a student’s writing.

Well, it’s one thing to put your finger on the problem, but quite another to find a working solution! We often get the question, “Does WriteShop work for children with learning disabilities?” For many older students with ADHD, dysgraphia, and dyslexia, WriteShop does seem to be an excellent fit.

“WriteShop’s lessons tend to work well for many types of learning-disabled children because of their explicit instructions and requirements.” – Nancy, learning specialist

Below I’d like to share ways that WriteShop can help students who learn with difficulty. Bear in mind that WriteShop I and II are written for 6th grade and above. But the following tips may help you overcome writing hurdles no matter what writing program you choose. 

Struggling learners benefit from specific instruction

  • WriteShop instructions are written directly to the student in an orderly, step-by-step fashion. They not only include writing ideas and clear directions, but many lessons also tell the student what NOT to write about or include in the composition. Furthermore, the Teacher’s Manual includes tips for the parent so that you can anticipate the most common kinds of errors your child might make.
  • Students do better when they can use graphic organizers such as mind-maps (clustering), charts, lists, or diagrams to help them outline and plan their work. WriteShop lessons provide many such opportunities for students to brainstorm and prepare for writing assignments.
  • Students who are easily distracted or who spell poorly benefit from word banks. WriteShop’s comprehensive, topical word lists help students make better vocabulary choices because new words (and their spellings) are readily available.
  • Checklists are vital to the struggling learner. It’s important for him to be able to mark his progress. WriteShop provides a lesson-specific Writing Skills Checklist for every writing assignment to help the student with his self-editing. A visually-overwhelmed student can use a plain sheet of paper to help him track each line of the checklist.

Struggling learners need reinforcement and repetition.

  • WriteShop lessons build on previously-learned skills.
  • Checklists help students apply these skills regularly.

Struggling learners benefit from alternative methods.

  • HugsThe physical act of writing may be too challenging. Instead of making your student write by hand, allow her to dictate to you while you write or type. Usually a student will use more complex vocabulary and sentence structure when speaking, but if asked to write the same information, she will often choose shorter words and sentences. Allowing her to dictate to you helps ease her stress about writing.
  • Perhaps she can edit and revise the draft you write and can recopy her own revision.
  • Or allow her to use the computer, including the spell check function.

Struggling learners do better with strict parameters.

  • They flounder when assignments are open-ended.
  • WriteShop gives specific requirements for each lesson, from brainstorming to writing. Students always know what they need to do.
  • WriteShop also restricts the number of paragraphs (usually just one) and paragraph length (at first 5-7 sentences but never more than 10 sentences in WriteShop I).

Struggling learners need bite-sized assignments.

  • WriteShop’s lesson schedules spread out assignments to allow for paragraphs to rest between drafts.
  • Assignments begin with prewriting activities and brainstorming exercises that narrow and focus in on the topic.
  • Lesson instructions are written in a step-by-step manner.

Dyslexic/dysgraphic learners benefit from projects that build writing skills.

  • Have them write letters, keep a diary, and make projects that use writing but are not writing-intensive, such as posters, mobiles, brochures, and cartoons.
  • WriteShop’s Teacher’s Manual has a wonderful supplemental appendix that is filled with ideas you can use with students of all ages.

Parent Testimonial

          “Our son is a junior in high school, and writing has always been rather a nightmare for him. He has ADHD and getting thoughts and words on paper is a difficult and long, drawn-out process for him. BUT your curriculum so quickly gave him the tools to help him to put descriptive, concrete thoughts on paper that I am truly amazed at what he can write after only Lesson 4. I know of at least one other home schooling family that has a son with special learning needs, and they rave about your writing program as well.” –Laurie, NY

To learn more, visit writeshop.com or download a sample lesson from WriteShop I.

Photo: Patrick Bell, courtesy of Creative Commons.


Learning disabilities and writing | Part 1

Learning Disabilities and Writing | Part 1

Part 1: The Problem

My son is a brain. What can I say? He’s in England right now finishing up his master’s degree in philosophical theology. I can’t read most of his papers, but not because they’re illegible. His vocabulary simply surpassed mine years ago.

He was a smart child, too, assembling complicated Lego creations with the skill of a trained artisan and the patience of Job. And he was a verbal little guy who could spin stories around the campfire that kept us glued to our logs!

We were grateful for those glimpses into his bright young mind because academically, that boy struggled at every turn. He had an ear for literature and knew all sorts of historical facts and details. But the three Rs eluded him. He finally learned to read (sort of) at age 7, but couldn’t manage chapter books till he was 11 or 12. And writing? Forget it! His hand and shoulders tensed and cramped as he gripped his pencil in a stranglehold.

Illegible handwriting. Horrible spelling. Letters and words that ran together like ink in the rain. And an overall aversion to anything having to do with pencil and paper.

Although Ben wasn’t diagnosed with a specific learning disability, he did have a kinesthetic deficit (and perhaps some sensory processing issues) that created learning challenges and caused him to exhibit symptoms of dysgraphia.

I’m no expert in the area of special needs, but let me give a brief overview of three common learning difficulties, including dysgraphia, that can affect the writing process.


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a condition characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, and/or impulsivity and can lead to a variety of academic problems. The ADHD writer’s symptoms often include:

  • disorganization
  • lack of focus and general distractability
  • difficulty paying attention to detail
  • making careless errors
  • having trouble finishing assignments
  • avoiding writing projects that require the student to stay mentally focused


Dysgraphia is a neurological disorder that can produce its own set of writing difficulties. The dysgraphic writer’s symptoms include:

  • poor or illegible handwriting
  • holding his pencil in a death grip
  • avoiding writing at all cost
  • using the shortest words instead of the best words
  • strong oral/verbal skills but difficulty communicating ideas in writing
  • problems forming letters
  • poor word and line spacing


Dyslexia, though a reading disorder, can affect the learning process in writing and spelling as well. Dyslexic students usually show a big gap between their ability to tell you something and their ability to write it down. In addition, the dyslexic student’s symptoms can include:

  • avoiding writing whenever possible
  • laborious, often illegible handwriting
  • problems with sentence structure
  • long run-on sentences
  • incomplete sentences
  • poor spelling
  • poor word and line spacing
  • difficulty proofreading his own work (or appearing careless) because he can’t see his errors.

No doubt about it, writing is a tough subject for most of us to teach. But if our kids have been diagnosed with a learning disability, the challenge is magnified. I want to encourage you that there’s hope for teaching your own learning-challenged child.

Though I tried to teach Ben to write using the conventional methods that worked with his sisters, something just wasn’t clicking. Bursting with ideas, he couldn’t manage to transfer his thoughts to paper.

So how did that boy make the leap from struggling student to academic A-list? Honestly, I can’t pin it on any one thing. Rather, a number of factors contributed to his turnaround, including the teachings of the late Dr. Raymond Moore, high school involvement in homeschool speech and debate, and WriteShop.

What worked for us may not work for you, though I’m sure you already know that. Still, there are some universal principles that might help you over the hurdle. I encourage you to check back next Monday for Part 2 in our series on Learning Disabilities and Writing. I promise to share all sorts of tips and solutions for helping your struggling writer.

Copyright © 2008 Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

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FAQ: To write by hand or type?

Should we let our teens type everything, or do they still need to write by hand?

Another question from the WriteShop mailbag . . .

Q:  My 12-year-old is a very reluctant writer who has done little writing. I want to know if he is supposed to write each of the assignments by hand, or can he type them? I want him to be creative and hopefully begin to like writing, but if he’s having to concentrate on his handwriting I’m afraid he’ll never learn to enjoy it. Is it okay to let him type each copy of the assignment?

A:  Kids should start getting comfy with a keyboard at an early age. After all, they’ll use computer skills all their lives! But unless students have a learning disability, we generally encourage them to hand-write the sloppy copy (rough draft) and type the next two revisions.

The Benefits of Writing by Hand 

It’s important for students to keep up this skill. Even though you might hear that typing is the wave of the future, rest assured that your kids will always face situations where they must write by hand—note-taking, job applications, and timed essays come to mind. If they’ve had very little practice putting pen to paper, trust me, they’ll have a tough time of it when faced with an SAT question that must be answered without the benefit of a laptop!

Writing by hand also allows your child to proofread for spelling and grammar errors without depending on spell-check. Kids need to practice the lifelong skill of self-editing because, among other reasons, spell-check isn’t always accurate.

Making Exceptions

Your student may be on the younger side, extremely reluctant, or struggling with the physical act of writing by hand. This describes our own boys before they turned 13! In this case, you might bend a bit to let him type his sloppy copy, especially in the beginning.

Another idea: Have him dictate his sloppy copy to you first. Then ask him to copy it onto fresh paper before he begins to self-edit.

As his small-motor coordination, hand strength, and overall handwriting skills improve through exercises like copywork and dictation, he can eventually begin writing the sloppy copy by hand.

Typing Is a Good Thing! 

Once your child has self-edited his rough draft using the Student Writing Skills Checklist, he can go ahead and type his first revision. When we were teaching WriteShop classes, we actually preferred that our students type their revisions!

Not only is a neatly typed paper easier for the parent to edit, it’s also easier for the student to make changes before printing out a polished final draft.

. . . . .

WriteShop I homeschool writing curriculumCurious about all this talk of sloppy copies and parent editing and polished final drafts? This is all part of the writing process, which is incorporated into every WriteShop I and WriteShop II assignment. To learn more about WriteShop for your junior high or high schooler, visit our website at writeshop.com.

Photo: John Ward, courtesy of Creative Commons
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