I have written many times that I believe that many of the labels given to kids who do not fit into the “normal” box are wrong and very damaging. As a special education teacher, I have learned that kids are not “normal”. In fact, no one is “normal” and that is a great thing.
I have also learned that when teachers give up on some kids, they label them with “Dyslexia”, “Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)” or “Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD)”. I believe there are more labels used in the education system, but I think these three, in all their versions, are the most common labels.
In my opinion, many of the problems are not learning difficulties. They are teaching difficulties, and I cannot even blame the teachers for them (not that I would want to, because blaming is not a good way to move forward). When I studied Special Education, a long time ago, we had this debate every year of our studies. Who needs the knowledge we have – Special Education teachers or mainstream teachers?
One group said that mainstream teachers needed to learn how to teach the mainstream and no more. The other group said that the mainstream teachers are the one to diagnose the kids and recognize their challenges and, for the most part, they also have to handle them.
As you may have suspected, I belonged to the second group (still do). I think there is no such thing as “mainstream teaching”. To me, teachers are teachers and it is better to give all of them the best skills and abilities and allow them to help kids in their natural environment, instead of moving them from one teacher to another, especially in the early years. In my opinion, teachers should learn to diagnose learning difficulties and have some essential skills to solve problems within the classroom, without the need for external intervention. Many times, a change in the teaching method towards kids in need makes a world of difference.
If you are a teacher or a parent of a child who struggles with writing, here are some things you can do to help make life easier for them. Remember, they do not need to be labeled. They do not need a stamp of “Dyslexia” or “ADHD”. If you find they are struggling, lend them a helping hand and change some of the classroom rules to suite their need.
How to help kids with writing
- Emphasize understanding. When helping kids with spelling words, make sure they understand the words. Ask the kids to put each word in a sentence and tell you the sentence. This will help you find out if they understand the word or not. Understanding a word can help remember it.
- If they struggle with writing, do not give the kids too much to write. Develop their abilities gradually, always at their level of success.
- Do not be fussy about perfect handwriting. Allow the kids to work on drafts before submitting a good copy.
- Encourage the kids to learn touch-typing and allow them to submit printed work.
- Allow the kids to record themselves and tell you the answer instead of writing it. For example, when learning to spell, ask them to tell you how they spell the words, instead of writing them down. Not all kids must write in order to understand.
- Give the kids fewer spelling words to memorize each time. Again, keep the pace slow enough to let them succeed at every step.
- When marking the kids’ writing, use a soft pencil to allow them to erase it after they have fixed their work. Red pens and strong color marks are only going to frustrate them more, especially if anyone else can see.
- Avoid copying assignments. I personally believe that copying from a book or from the board is a waste of time, unless you are working on writing speed. Use the time the kids have for meaningful learning.
- If you can, give the kids multiple-choice exams.
- If an exam requires lots of writing, give the kids more time to complete. Agree on the extra time with each struggling student beforehand. If they know the subject well and they take another half an hour to finish writing about it, they have still shown competence, so why make a big deal out of it?
- When testing, test the content, not the spelling. In a history class, you examine the kids’ knowledge of history. Spelling and sentence structure can be examined in the English class.
- When working on expression, allow the kids to record themselves or get someone else to write for them.
- Encourage work in groups to allow someone else to do the writing for the group.
- When giving projects, allow the kids to present the project in different forms like posters, model, poem, talk
- Allow the kids to use a dictionary (printed or digital) as long as they feel they need them.
- Work with the kids’ parents – a good relationship with parents is a key to helping kids who struggle with writing.
See you tomorrow,