Teaching the Writing Process to Learning Disabled Students




Domenica C. Vilhotti





Chowan College

















In partial fulfillment of the requirements for Introduction to Special Education 301


Bud Livers, PhD.

June 15, 2004



There are many reasons why students in general and learning disabled (LD) students in particular struggle with writing and are reluctant to write and avoid the activity. Dysgraphia, boredom, and inadequate fluency with the necessary subskills are considered major reasons (Richards, 1999, 2001, 2002). Dysgraphic LD students’ writing is short, disorganized, and poor mechanical subskills indicate holes in the student’s understanding and knowledge. This paper will address teaching writing to diagnosed dysgraphic students, as well as to students who have multiple learning disabilities, poor motivation, low IQ, or who have been inadequately instructed in the writing process during formative years. For purposes of practicality, these students as a group will be referred to as LD students.

The writing process, a complex activity, depends upon the mastery of upper and lower-level mechanical and content subskills. The more automatic each subskill is, the easier it will be for the student to incorporate it with other subskills (Levine qtd by Richards, 2002). Furthermore, LD students often mistake writing to be a product as opposed to a five-step process. The writing process must be explicitly taught and practiced (Graham, Harris & Larsen, 2002; Secondary Literacy 2003). This paper will explore research-based strategies, including the use of technology, to explicitly teach and practice mechanical subskills as well as the writing process to LD students. Finally, this paper will critique and offer solutions to several of these strategies along classroom management concerns.

What do Deficits in Written Expression Look Like?

            To effectively instruct LD students who have difficulty writing and accelerate LD students’ ability to write, it is important to have knowledge and information about one difficulty defined as Dysgraphia. Dysgraphia is a learning disability related to dyslexia which affects writing and spelling because the basic prerequisites skills for fine motor movements and letter forms are inefficient. This causes great energy drain which interferes with the higher level performances of expression using a written format (Richards, 2002). LD students who have difficulty and trouble writing, even if they are able to read well, are labeled as having dysgraphia, which is caused by attention deficits, dyslexia or graphomotor skills deficits, and poor skill development among other causes.

When dysgraphia is not understood or diagnosed, students avoid or are reluctant to produce written work and may be viewed as messy or that their speed is excessively fast or extremely slow. It is unfair to label them as poorly motivated, sloppy, slow workers, careless, lazy, impulsive unmotivated and/or oppositional (Thorne, 2003).

For some of these students, there are many subcomponents that need to be connected. For others, the reason can be found in some processing difficulties, such as dyslexia. Many times, these are the children who dislike school the most, who feel that writing is laborious, tedious and takes too long. “The results can be a serious loss of incentive, a generalized academic disenchantment and demoralization” (Levine, 1998 qtd.by Richards, 1999).

            There are many possible reasons why students avoid writing. Writing is perceived as not enjoyable or meaningful. Thorne (2003) describes LD dysgraphic students’ writing avoidance behaviors such as:

They have to go to the bathroom; they need to sharpen their pencil; they need a tissue from their back pack. Sometimes they just sit and stare. Even disrupting the class and getting in trouble may be less painful than writing. Work that could be completed in one hour takes three hours, because they put off the painful task of writing.

These LD students struggle to write and end up spending much more time than other students on a writing assignment. Cognitively, so much of their energy is spent on the process that they often do not learn or some times even process the content of what they are working on.

Richards (1999) lists possible reasons that students avoid writing such as: having a hard time getting started and feel overwhelmed by the task; struggling at the basic processing levels due to dysgraphia; struggling with spelling and mechanics due to dyslexia; needing to concentrate to form letters because it is not an automatic process; struggling to retrieve the right word(s) to express an idea; struggling with the development of ideas; and dealing with the futility because the final product never turns out the way they want even though substantial time and effort were extended.

            Teach Subskills until they become automatic, generalized, and transferable

Graham, Harris, and Larsen (2001) make an apt analogy to the LD student and a Peanuts cartoon.  Visiting Charlie Brown’s classroom, Snoopy tries to remember the “I before E” rule in case he is called upon to spell a word.  He confuses it, however, with the made-up “I before C” rule, or maybe the “E before M except after G” rule… or perhaps it was the “3 before 2 except after 10” rule.  Not unlike Snoopy, many students with LD struggle with the mechanics of writing.

Text Box: Figure 1.  Source: Richards, 1999Skill DevelopmentAs the Writing Pyramid (Figure 1), developed by Educational Therapist Regina Richards, shows, the necessary steps in developing writing skills are hierarchical. Efficient writing is possible only when basic and higher-level mechanical and content skills have been mastered. Underlying processing skills include  the “physical components of writing; speed of motor performance; active working memory; and language formulation and ideation” (Richards, 1999). For the purposes of this paper, these skills and other grammatical skills for writing will be referred to under the general term “subskills”. When students are frustrated with individual subskills and/or when they struggle to get started or to keep track of their thoughts, then the writing process ceases to be fun, and their lack of enthusiasm becomes evident. When students are expected to perform at the top of the pyramid, but still struggle with the lower levels, “writing remains at the level of drudgery no matter how exciting the topic and students may feel threatened by the process of writing” (Richards, 1999).

Before the student masters upper-level mechanical and content skills, teachers must make modifications so that the LD student can meaningfully engage in the writing process and avoid further frustration and feelings of failure. One strategy, known as staging, dictates that the writing task be divided into smaller units, so that the student performs each subtask independently (Richards, 2001). This strategy can be used to allow students to edit several times, each time editing a distinct subskill, such as subject-verb agreement. Another strategy is to decrease the quantity of the writing assignment. For instance, while other nondisabled peers must write a two page essay, the LD student may write a one page essay. LD students often learn more from shorter assignments because their concentration is more efficient (Richards, 2001). Similarly, if the student needs to concentrate on the mastery of subskills before he tackles difficult content, the teacher should modify the nature of the writing task by scaffolding down (Secondary Literacy, 2003). For instance, instead of analyzing a character’s actions in a novel, the student could be asked to summarize several scenes, a task which involves lower-order thinking (Secondary Literacy, 2003). Finally, the teacher can modify assignment until subskill mastery is attained by increasing the amount of time the student has to complete the writing task. Often a student may be capable of finishing an assignment, but is unable to do so in the same amount of time as his peers. The extra time allotted may provide the student with increased focus by avoiding the need to rush through the assignment (Richards, 2001).

Mastery is attained by the explicit instruction and consistent practice of subskills until they become automatic, generalized, and transferable (Richards, 1999; Secondary Literacy, 2003). Some of the necessary grammatical subskills that must be taught include sentence structure, subject verb agreement, verb tense consistency, spelling, capitalization, and punctuation (Richards, 2002). These key subskills can be remembered by the use of an acryonym, which will prove especially helpful when the student reaches the editing stage of writing. The acronym is STOPS, which stands for:

Sentence Structure
Spelling (Richards, 1999).

Although the concept that subskills must be explicitly taught and practiced is firmly supported, the issue of exactly how a teacher should most effectively go about doing this is problematic. Specifically, R. Wanderman, who has been diagnosed as LD, finds fault with the “drill and kill” approach to building automaticity in remediation: “The problem with working on skills in a non-meaningful context is that they don’t stick well and are hard to generalize. One can learn a skill and use it in a narrow domain but when asked to transfer and use the newly learned skill in a new domain, the skill may not transfer” (1990).

One strategy to circumvent “drill and kill” is to teach and practice subskills using examples from current student writing. Similarly, students could practice on resumes, letters to the editor, or college application essays spackled with mechanical errors. This strategy will keep the repetition of the skill interesting while emphasizing the importance of the subskill mastery within the real-world context (Vilhotti, 2004). In order to ensure fluency, subskills should be isolated and practiced daily using “bell-ringer” activities such as identifying and correcting student (or resume, letter, college essay, etc.) sentences for a target subskill (Richards, 1999). Another effective strategy is to set up learning stations[1] or “four corners” to practice a certain target subskill.


Explicitly Teach and Practice the Writing Process

            Traditionally, teachers have stressed the written product over the writing process.  Often, teachers stressed content, structure, length, grammar, and format of the final product, attributing failure to adhere to these requirements to the student’s laziness.  Students were expected to compose essays after being exposed to content and shown models of the essay without proper discussion or practice of the strategies that competent writers employ. Within the last two decades, however, teaching trends have shifted to a focus on the process that leads to final products that meet standards. The 2003 manual for first-year teachers, Secondary Literacy, published by Teach for America, summarizes this research in a user-friendly format. Secondary Literacy shows that teachers currently understand that components of writing such as content, length, structure, grammar, and format are generated during distinct stages in the writing process: pre-writing, drafting, revision, editing, and presentation, respectively. Especially for the learning disabled child, these steps need to be explicitly taught during direct instruction as well as consistently practiced using distinct activities that draw attention to and facilitate each stage of the writing process[2] (Secondary Literacy, 2003).   

            The first step in teaching the writing process is to clearly communicate the concept that writing is a process.  Before beginning any stage of the process, students must understand the key elements of each stage, how they interrelate, and that the writer can and should move back and forth through the stages. More practically, the student must understand and become accustomed to the idea that each stage will take a considerable amount of time and that, yes, the student will probably rewrite more than once[3]. A good strategy for introducing students to the writing process and later, for prompting students to complete each step of the process is to use mnemonic devices such as acronyms. An example of an appealing acronym is POWER, standing for:

P - plan the paper
O - organize the ideas and elaborations
W - write the draft
E - edit the draft: look for errors
R - revise the paper & enhance (Richards, 2002)


The next step in teaching the writing process is to explicitly teach, model, and practice the pre-writing stage. “Few literacy skills that [one] will bring to [his] students will have the extended impact that a strong focus on pre-writing will have” (Secondary Literacy, 2003). However, “For some students [pre-writing] is also the most difficult, especially if they experience any sort of learning difference” (Richards, 2002). Pre-writing must be framed as both a “discovery stage, when content and ideas are being collected and organized, and a rehearsal stage, when writers are mentally, verbally, and on paper discovering and practicing the voice and form that will most effectively communicate their ideas” (Secondary Literacy, 2003). Again, most all LD students benefit from breaking down and teaching processes into smaller and more manageable sub-steps. The pre-writing stage should similarly be further broken down into the discovery stage and the planning stage.

The discovery stage must come first and correlates with the activity of brainstorming. While, to most educated adults, brainstorming is almost second nature, struggling students need much practice categorizing objects, concepts, visuals and words before they even begin to outline (Secondary Literacy, 2003).  LD students may need to be re-taught and must practice different brainstorming activities, such as semantic webbing, Venn Diagrams, or arranging post-it notes. To begin learning these generating and organizational activities, LD students should work with topics that are familiar, such as Career Goals or How to be a Better Fisherman (Secondary Literacy, 2003; Richards, 2002).

The planning stage of pre-writing correlates with outlining or creating more detailed graphic organizers such as flow-charts.  These activities provide the opportunity for LD students to make clearer connections between information and discard extraneous information.  The outlining skill should be strengthened by teaching outlining simultaneously as a pre-writing exercise as well as a note-taking skill; students will become better outliners if they appreciate all the venues in which outlining is useful (Secondary Literacy, 2003). Similarly, students should practice the transition between brainstorming and outlining. Teachers can also strengthen this skill by asking that students translate a graphic organizer from one lesson into outline form.  This task stresses the importance and close relationship of both good graphic organizers and good outlines (Secondary Literacy, 2003).


Part of one’s role as a teacher of literacy will be to disabuse students of the notion that drafting is writing (Secondary Literacy, 2003). The first draft should be done relatively quickly to get ideas on paper.  Research indicates that writers who “try to make the first draft ‘perfect’ run the risk of missing opportunities to discover ideas which could be surfacing during the drafting process” (Lytle and Botel qtd. in Secondary Literacy, 2003).

For LD students, it is important to establish norms to keep momentum when students get stuck with a certain aspect of content or choosing the right word or phrase.  One strategy is to allow students to draw a “fill-in-the-blank” line (i.e. “_________”) to be completed later during the revision stage (Secondary Literacy, 2003). Another strategy to address the frustration of LD students’ difficulty with finding or spelling the ‘right’ vocabulary word is to brainstorm and list correctly spelled key words as a class or in small groups during the pre-writing stage (Richards, 2002). Another modification key to the drafting stage is to have dysgraphic and other LD students dictate to a scribe (Gersten, Baker, & Edwards, 1999). The ideal scribe acts as secretary, sounding-board, and organizational aide, simultaneously writing down the LD student’s flow of ideas, drawing connections between ideas, and prompting the LD student to talk more about certain concepts.  


            Second to the pre-writing stage, substantive revision is the most important stage to developing meaningful and cohesive compositions.  When students with LD revise their writing, however, the result is rarely effective (Graham, Harris, & Larsen, 2001). They interpret the revision stage as proofreading, employing a “thesaurus approach” to revising, “correcting mechanical errors and making minor word substitutions” (Graham, Harris, & Larsen, 2001). Not surprisingly, this approach (or lack thereof) does little to improve the quality of the composition (MacArthur & Graham, qtd. in Graham, Harris, & Larsen, 2001).

Students must be taught how to revise for substance rather than for mechanics, which is the domain of the editing stage. Foci for the revision stage include: clarifying connections between ideas; eradicating and/or better supporting generalizations; streamlining and rearranging main points; rewriting leads, topic and clincher sentences; and adjusting tone for an intended audience (most often formalizing informal language). Or, students may be asked to read their documents for a specific type of revision, such as adding more sensory details to a description of a dream (Secondary Literacy, 2003).

It is not enough, however, to merely tell or even to provide a checklist for LD students to make these types of content changes. Teachers must facilitate specific revision activities to draw attention to these considerations, while stressing the identification of content changes as the heart of the revision stage. One such activity is peer revision, which engages the students on a higher level of peer analysis than does reading for mechanical errors. For peer revision to be effective, the teacher must structure it properly. One strategy to do this is to devise a questionnaire specific to the composition.  For instance, the revision questionnaire for a short story might ask “How can I better get the reader to identify with the main character?”, whereas the questionnaire for an editorial might ask, “How can I strengthen the beginning of my paper to better involve my reader?” Notice that each question is structured so that it involves a higher level of thinking than a mere “yes” or “no” response (Secondary Literacy, 2003).

The peer revision strategy is more helpful if the student is paired with a strong writer, whose composition he will revise and who will revise his writing. This aids the LD student in two ways: he is able to receive quality revisions and also has the opportunity to work with more sophisticated writing. Working with more sophisticated writing is helpful for the LD student in another way as well: one ‘roadblock’ to writing for LD students is the notion that it is ridiculous to expect that students produce longer compositions, that it cannot be done. In working with higher-level compositions, the student is able to overcome this roadblock in several ways.  He understands that it can be done; he is able to talk with the stronger writer who is likely to communicate that good writing takes effort and time; and he witnesses an array of sophisticated writing conventions.

Conversely, the stronger writer should be briefed in the best ways to patiently instruct and should view himself with the honor and importance of a tutor. This approach to heterogeneous pairing in peer editing (strong and weak) works to overcome the potential frustration of the stronger student who may condescend to less sophisticated writing or complain that his grade may be affected by another’s poor performance. After each student independently edits his peer’s work, the two should conference. If a class needs more structuring during discussion times due to classroom management concerns, the task could be limited to only going through and explaining each student’s response to the revision questionnaire.

Group work in learning stations builds on the idea that it is helpful for the LD student to work with sophisticated writing.  This strategy elaborates upon that concept by adding that LD students should learn to recognize exactly what components differentiate strong, from mediocre, from weak writing. This strategy can be manipulated to fit a number of situations; however, one successful way of using learning stations to revise compositions will be discussed here. After the teacher has provided direct instruction and guided practice in a target skill, such as how to support a topic sentence with related details, the teacher breaks the students into four (or fewer or more) heterogeneous groups. Each station has examples of a certain quality of writing; one station, for instance, would feature paragraphs that strongly support topic sentences, while another station would feature paragraphs without topic sentences at all. Each station would ask that students answer related tasks for each set of examples, such as “Write an appropriate topic sentence for these supporting details.” The group should have time to read the examples silently and also have a separate amount of time to discuss answers. Each student should be responsible for writing the group’s answer on his own paper. This activity is well modified for the LD student because the group interaction allows him to hear the responses of stronger students. Furthermore, for the motivated LD student who is more apt to participate, talking about revision and writing (as opposed to written revision questionnaires) may be extremely helpful if he already has difficulty with written expression.        

Editing and Proofreading

Proofreading is a very important component and is one that is often difficult for students. There are two main issues involved: the student must be familiar with the necessary skills and the student must have enough active working memory strength to be able to use the skills within the task of writing (Graham, Harris & Larsen, 2001). To address the LD student’s lack of proficiency with writing subskills, teachers must provide additional mini-lessons and require additional practice for the LD student. In addition, the entire class should receive daily reinforcement of target skills[4]. Additionally, heterogeneous (strong-weak) peer editing works well to correct errors. Similarly, for the LD student to learn best from his mistakes, both students should conference and immediately go over the errors. Studies have shown (Miller and Heward, 2003) that LD students benefit from effective error correction “now rather than later” when students make mistakes. Delayed feedback allows students to practice errors (Miller and Heward, 2003). 

To address the potential deficits in working memory strength to fluently practice subskills, LD students should edit along a specific checklist or questionnaire. If the LD student is more self-motivated, a checklist of previously taught skills is a sufficient prompt to ensure that the student is properly proofreading his paper.  However, if the student has motivation problems, a questionnaire is more appropriate. A questionnaire that does not have “yes/no” questions ensures better participation for the LD student.

Group editing also works well to practice the mechanical subskills that LD students have difficulty making routine. One way to do this is to use the practice stations activity discussed in the “Revision” section of this paper. The activity could be modified to increase student motivation for reluctant writers by holding a contest to see which group can identify and correct the greatest number of mechanical errors. Or, if the teacher wishes that students practice a specific subskill, such as subject-verb agreement, each station could feature varying degrees of proper use of the subskill. Students would complete related tasks to each station.

Publishing and Presenting

Publishing and presenting is a performance and project-based activity that allows students to share their best work with others, whether in the classroom or to others via telecommunication. Teachers have reported that the completed project and the pressure of publication have a significant impact on a student’s motivation to write, revise, and edit (Secondary Literacy, 2003).

Suggestions for creative presentations to motivate students include: submission to a contest, senator, principal or newspaper; creation of a class anthology; send to a pen-pal or swap writing with a class from another state or country; sharing with younger students; and displaying on a bulletin board.

Employ Technology

Students with LD perform less well than their peers on a variety of written language tasks that include the “physical demands and conventions of writing with fluent production of sentences” (Englert, Raphael, et al, 1989 & Graham, Harris, et al, 1996, quoted by MacArthur, 1996). However, use of technology with all students, and especially those with various kinds of learning disabilities, can enhance learning in general and the writing process in particular (Wanderman, 1990).

With current rapid advances in technology, it is possible to transcend and break through the confines of a learning disability and the walls of the classroom to discover not only a wealth of information and detail but also benefit from powerful flexible technology tools and software the go beyond word processing software. Use of technology in the writing process can stimulate, encourage and support students in many ways as they participate in all aspects of the writing process and not be undermined by learning disabilities such as dysgraphia, poor spelling, or poor organizational skills.

There is a plethora of research-based word processing computer applications, exciting flexible writing tools and software that can specifically support, assist and enhance writing by students with learning disabilities (Fritschi, 2000). As early as 1996, MacArthur reviewed basic processes of transcription, sentence generation, spell checkers, speech synthesizers (software or hardware), word prediction, word banks, grammar and style checkers as instructional tools to support writing.  Additionally, MacArthur (1996) reviewed research-based applications that support the cognitive planning processes such as prompting programs, outlining, semantic webbing and multimedia applications as well as telecommunication computer networks that support collaboration, communication and publishing. It should be noted that the provision of word processing tools and software is necessary but not sufficient. It is necessary to also use research-based effective instructional methods to make use of these tools.

Visual learning is one of the best methods of teaching valuable comprehension, thinking and writing skills (Inspiration, 2004). By combining visual learning with speech support, Inspiration software, for example, can leverage the strength of multiple learning styles to improve students' comprehension and retention. Inspiration V.6 and the updated 7.5 (the fifth revision) are exciting examples of one specific flexible software tool that supports and assists in organizing thoughts and content. Inspiration is a software tool designed to develop ideas and organize thinking (Knight, 1998). The updated Inspiration 7.5 (2004), for students in grades six and above, introduces new capabilities to improve students’ visual learning experiences and provides support for critical thinking, comprehension, planning, expressive writing and writing in many content areas.

Inspiration is versatile and useful for: brainstorming, planning, organizing, outlining, prewriting, diagramming, concept mapping and story, character and semantic webbing. Knight (1998) and MacArthur (1993) found each stage of the writing process supported and enhanced through this powerful software and facilitated breaking through a barrier to progress with students. For example, Knight found this software facilitated brainstorming and synthesizing information, and made the “connection between assembling content, comprehension of the relationship between ideas and events, and organizing an essay outline to communicate that understanding” and that its use was “motivating for kids who lost much of the pleasure of learning” (1998).

Addressing Classroom Management Concerns


            All of the strategies discussed in this paper were derived from scientifically-based research. While that may lend credibility to this discussion of best practices, it is important to keep in mind that studies are ideally conducted in very controlled and often ‘ideal’ situations. A research-based strategy that incorporates group work, for instance, does not take into account suggestions for a class that includes several unmedicated students who have attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder, an over-sized classroom that is difficult to monitor, or students who tend to get into physical or verbal altercations when they look at each other the wrong way. The following is a chart compiled by this author representing recommended strategies, their respective classroom management concerns, and possible solutions.


Classroom Management Concern


If peer work is conducted during class, how can the teacher ensure that the students are being productive? Often the temptation to chat at the secondary level overrides concerns about grades or finishing tasks.

Ø      For each activity, be specific about expectations (i.e. “Brainstorm with your partner at least 12 dangerous occupations using a bubble map”)

Ø      Provide substantive questions that require real revision (i.e. “List 3 additional sensory details the author could add about her memory”)

Ø      Grade peer editing responses or have a contest for best peer responses.

Ø      Conduct silent peer revision by switching papers and having students write down suggestions on a questionnaire.

Ø      A time to conference should be allowed, but if necessary, limit it to going over the points covered in the revision questionnaire.

Students offer poor suggestions or do not know how to articulate help. Students are not knowledgeable enough to correct peer compositions for mechanical errors.

Ø      Specific revision questionnaires will require students to at least call attention to areas that need improvement.

Ø      Teach and / or re-teach the entire class mechanical subskills such as correct verb tenses. Practice frequently, providing LD students with extra practice.

Ø      Have the class peer or self-edit along a subskill checklist.

Higher-level students would make excellent student teachers or tutors, but some may be shy, embarrassed about their intelligence, or simply do not get along with some students who happen to be struggling writers.

Ø      Create a classroom culture that values good writing skills not “just because,” but because good writing opens career doors, is essential for everyday tasks, etc.

Ø      If this problem occurs with most of the class’ higher-level students, anonymous peer revision might be helpful. In this case, the teacher would remove names on compositions and switch papers. Students would have to fill out (and perhaps be graded on) a revision questionnaire.

Planning is often a silent process that requires focus. It often appears that when students collaborate, little planning or idea generation gets done.

Ø      Be explicit about expectations for the task.

Ø      Provide a rubric by which students will be graded.

Ø      If independent, student-centered (as in, not teacher-centered) planning is being stressed, scaffold down the assignment so that the content is not an issue.  Therefore, it is completely reasonable to expect students to generate mind maps, etc. in a set amount of time.

Pairing strong and weak writers is an effective idea in theory, but often stronger students are also ambitious, while weaker students have taken on maladaptive behaviors.  Strong students often complain and become frustrated when they feel their progress or grade is suffering due to the lack of skill, motivation, or productivity of the weaker student.

Ø      Establish an identity for the stronger student. Stress the importance and honor of being selected as a tutor.

Ø      Make sure he understands that he has been chosen to help another student and that his partner’s performance will not hurt his grade.

Ø      If external motivation is needed, offer extra credit if the weaker student shows improvement.

Ø      Select pairs carefully and if they work well, keep them for the semester or year in order to allow a relationship to build between mentor and mentee.

When should additional teacher conferencing or tutoring occur? If during independent writing time, other students are distracted by the slightest voices or interactions in the classroom and get off-task.

Ø      Establish a conferencing area in a part of the room that is separate enough to talk quietly, but where the teacher can still see the rest of the students.

Ø      Play classical music (sounds of the forest, etc.) to drown out distinct words and aid general concentration.

Ø      If possible, arrange tutoring sessions after or before school (or, if planning periods coincide, during the student’s elective).

Because students are apt to trust teacher suggestions most, many students ask for additional conferencing.  Quickly, the teacher becomes the traveling tutor; again, many students lose concentration.

Ø      If the teacher wishes to keep the writing time silent, the teacher should ask that students hold all questions (except emergencies) for the first 10 minutes. Students may write down questions in the margin of their papers if they fear they will forget their question. This approach tends to weed-out less important questions while students get over the empty-page syndrome.


Students have difficulty understanding that some students need more teacher attention more than others. Students become frustrated when the teacher does not address their concerns quickly or equitably.

Ø      Employ the conferencing area discussed above. When the teacher uses this technique, it becomes more obvious that the teacher is busy and that the student must wait until the area is free.

Ø      Encourage students to figure problems out independently. If the teacher is faithfully leading students through each stage of the writing process, questions will not be so urgent.

Ø      Devise and practice norms for skipping parts students are “stuck” on, such as creating a “fill-in-the-blank” line that can be filled in later.

Dictating to a scribe is a powerful modification strategy for dysgraphic and other LD students. However, the same concerns arise when it comes time to apply this technique. Talking while others are writing can be very distracting for other students, not to mention embarrassing for the LD student. Also, who is the most appropriate person for the scribe to dictate?

Ø      Chose a higher-level writer who is able to complete assignments quickly. If external motivation is necessary, give him extra-credit to act as a scribe and sounding board for the LD student. Send both students to a separate setting such as the library (calling the librarian to check that the students properly arrived is savvy idea). Be explicit about what is expected when the two students return (i.e. “You must come up with a 5-point outline”).

Using software such as Inspiration is a highly recommended research-based strategy for all students and for LD students in particular. How does one get enough copies of the excellent software?

Ø      Draft a proposal for the necessity of the software along with a plan for exactly how the software will be used. Apply to school and district funding. If that does not work or needs to be supplemented, research other funding sources, such as donorschoose.org.

Using word-processing is effective in increasing motivation, overcoming deficits in motor skills, and facilitating the fluent movement throughout the writing process. How does each student get access to computers to write? Additionally, if writing takes more than one day, students often lose disks and files that contain drafts.

Ø      If computer lab space is an issue, reserve the use of the lab for the revision and final drafting stages.

Ø      To address the lost disk issue, students should label assigned disks. One student is designated to collect and store the class’ disks. Another student is assigned to hand out student disks.



Attachment 1: Writing Process Activities





Ø      Choose a topic

Ø      Brainstorm, gather and organize ideas, words, pictures, or images associated with the topic

Ø      Use graphic organizers to cluster ideas and details

Ø      KWL Chart or “Quick Write” to discover what is known on a particular topic and to discover what direction the writing might take

Ø      Identify the audience to whom they will write

Ø      Identify the purpose of the writing activity


Ø      Write a rough draft

Ø      Write leads to grab their readers’ attention

Ø      Emphasize content rather than mechanics


Ø      Share their writing in writing groups

Ø      Participate constructively in discussions about classmates’ writing

Ø      Make changes in their compositions to reflect the reactions and comments of both teacher and classmates


Ø      Proofread their own compositions

Ø      Help proofread classmates’ compositions

Ø      Increasingly identify and correct their own mechanical errors


Ø      Publish their writing in an appropriate form

Ø      Share their finished writing with an appropriate audience


Source: Secondary Literacy, 2003


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[1] Learning stations are discussed in-depth in the “Revision” and “Editing” section of this paper.

[2] For a chart of suggested activities for each stage of the writing process, see Attachment 1: Writing Process Activities.

[3] The use of technology, such as word processing, allows students to move much more fluently and practically back and forth through the writing process. When the student does not have to tediously rewrite, he is less likely to become frustrated or fatigued and more likely to be engaged and motivated when he revises or edits.  For a more in-depth discussion of technology, see the Employ Technologies section of this paper.

[4] For a more in-depth discussion of the teaching and/or re-teaching of writing subskills, see the Explicitly Teach and Practice Writing Subskills section of this paper.