Children Who Find Writing Difficult

Alternative Methods of Recording

Writing is important up to a point as an adult.  The average psychologist, for instance, writes reports all the time.  Or do they?  Sure enough some EP’s do actually handwrite their reports, prior to having them typed, but most use alternative methods, such as word processing or taping for a secretary to type.  Is this any different to the occupational experience of many in the working population?  However, for a child at school writing is a very important skill.  Why?  The answer is simplicity; it requires little teacher thought or preparation; the materials are cheap and readily available and the finished product is easily portable. Writing leaves a trace, which shows the child, has processed the information, yet handwriting is only one method of leaving a trace and demonstrating that information has been processed.  For a child who is experiencing difficulty with hand writing, persisting with that as the sole medium is not a particularly productive nor thoughtful approach to educating that child.  Similarly if the child is physically capable of writing, then it is important to develop that skill but in a way that will not leave the child with low self esteem.  

When investigating an alternative method of recording, it is crucial that the child is offered a range of choices and is then allowed to experiment with each approach.  Recording, for instance, is something that requires a clear mind, and the skills of prior reflection and planning.  Typing on a computer or portable word processor has the advantage of leaving a visible trace, which is available for instant review, however it can be vastly slower.  Speech to text software has the speed of speech, and the advantage of leaving an instant trace for review.  It does, however, require the use of a reasonably up to date PC.  The use of a scribe is a very expensive method, but has advantages with respect to chivvying the child along, and offering help at crucial moments.  

It may be that the child needs to use a mix off approaches.  For example, if the child is ok at writing factual information, then the use of a laptop may be the right approach for this type of lesson.  For creative writing they may need a scribe because they lack confidence, or they find concentrating on the creative process takes all the cognitive resources they have, thus makeing handwriting much more of a problem for them.  For note taking, they may hand write, but use mind mapping rather than writing things in long hand.  Copying from the board is not wise, but if the child were to process the information and reduce it to a mind map, then they would probably get more out of the lesson than the children who simply copied off the board.  Come to think of it why don’t all the children use mind mapping?  They would then all be actively processing and learning.

A particularly cost efficient and learning efficient method is to use discussion groups with a scribe.  The children discuss the information they are required to process and learn and come to some joint conclusions which are written by a scribe; often a child who is good at writing. 

Of course we need the child to develop their handwriting skills as far as is comfortable for them.  A useful approach is to present the child with an acknowledgement that they have found handwriting very difficult and offer them alternatives.  Explain that they are free to find the best recording and processing method for them, then explain that it is still very important that they practice their handwriting.  Ask if they will commit to 10 minutes practice per day; this doesn’t have to be in one lump, they can do it in a number of small sessions whenever they have a free moment, or they can request some time out to do it.  They will be in control.  A teacher or parent should of course monitor this and reward with much praise.  What tends to happen is that the child will respond and will quickly work up to the limit of their endurance.  If the child does not practice of their own volition, reduce the daily commitment to something they will do and then build up to 10 minutes via a reward and praise system.  

If you encounter difficulty in persuading your childs' school to adopt this approach, it may be useful to seek advice from an educational psychologist.  It would be a very simple matter to set some tasks via e-mail and have the results faxed or sent to the psychologist for analysis.  A recommendation from an educational psychologist may have a beneficial effect on the situation.