Help for Dysgraphia – Hands off Content; Hands on Style

Apr 28, 2016 | Posted by the IEW Blog Team

Teaching children who have learning challenges can be particularly challenging. How do you make sure that your requirements and expectations don’t exceed—or underestimate—student abilities? One homeschooling mother of a teenage son with dysgraphia recently posed this question to us:

My son is 13 years old. Although he adds each dress-up that is required, his writing is still choppy and definitely lacking in content. He writes the absolute bare minimum and gets very upset if I ask him to elaborate on anything. He argues that he met every requirement, so why should he add any more. I don't know what to say to this. He has dysgraphia, so I worry that I am asking more of him than he is capable of, but I also worry that if I continue to accept mediocre papers, he will never strive for more.  

Reflecting on her own experience as a mother of children with a learning disability, IEW author and Accomplished Instructor Jill Pike offered some practical suggestions:

I’ll start with Dr. Webster’s edict: hands off content; hands on style. There isn’t much you can do about content, which will come in time, but you can focus on the style. Before he goes off to write, take some time and go through all the dress-ups and discuss possible options. Your modeling for him will help immensely.

His dysgraphia is likely what is holding him back. If writing is so difficult, he will seek to use as few words as possible to reduce his pain. I don’t blame him! I would do the same thing. So you might want to work with him and be his scribe. Not only will that free him to be more verbose, it will give you the opportunity to continue to model good writing.

When I do that with my kids, I will often say, “What do you think about this … ?” or “Did you mean to say … ?” That way they feel like the work is theirs. I have a few pretty dyslexic kids. I ended up helping them with their essays all through high school in this way (scribing and coaching), and because of it they made huge strides. I have yet to see this kind of extensive helping hold a student back. They have all flourished in college after getting just a little more help with their first college paper or two.

As to motivating your son, there is no talk better than Andrew Pudewa’s Teaching Boys and Other Children Who Would Rather Make Forts All Day.

Other aids for children with dysgraphia include trying a variety of pencil grips, writing on a whiteboard instead of paper, utilizing a keyboard, or gauging understanding through verbal responses. For more information about dysgraphia, visit the National Center for Learning Disabilities website.

Working with students’ learning differences, teachers and parents find IEW’s program of Structure and Style™ builds confidence and competence through flexibility, clear guidelines, and ongoing support.

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