Open-ended writing can be dreadfully difficult for school-struggling children.  On so many levels, they find the task to be overwhelming.

For those who are struggling, the more common classroom writing tasks that encourage the child to write as he/she feels is problematic.  The typical “write about your weekend,” is a classic open-ended prompt that struggling children have no idea how to proceed.

To address writing problems, schools typically recommend occupational therapy (OT).  While OT serves certain purposes, for the vast majority of children with writing issues the remediation given by OT typically centers upon the motor-aspects of writing and does not address the more challenging aspects of the writing process.

In short, they find the whole process overwhelming.

While this is a drum that we have been beating for number of years, there are no signs of any changes taking place on any meaningful level and the ongoing demand to just keep writing persists.

With the structured approaches the children are taught at very basic sentence levels. The remediation needed is long and laborious.

They practice the writing of a simple sentence until they have mastered the basic concept.  For example, the children are taught that every sentence has a triangle which represents the subject of the sentence, as well as a square, which is the action or the verb.

Simple sentences are generated.

The children  play   

Once simple sentences are mastered,  more complex sentences can be practiced and generated.

(The happy children played in the school playground after doing their schoolwork.”)

As different sentence styles are mastered and internalized by the child, he/she can work on the concept of one paragraph containing a topic sentence and four or five supporting sentences.

This processes is highly sequential and based in skill-mastery in order to develop fundamental writing skills.

The approach is clearly in opposition to the more popular, open-ended approaches that are the norm in schools across the country.  These sequential approaches that are so crucial are often criticized as depriving the child of creativity.  They certainly do not tend to tap into the child’s imaginative processes.

However, when the child is unable to understand the components of writing a basic sentence, this lack of understanding clearly impacts any potential creativity and their ability to communicate effectively in writing.

Having assessed thousands of kids in my career, I am continually struck by the challenges children face when it comes to their writing.  At a very basic level, they have little to no idea what goes into the writing of a sentence, no less a paragraph or a more involved and complex essay.  For children who are on the dyslexic/LD spectrum, their writing problems are profound.

For children who are on the smooth road and who seem to have little problem with the writing process, business as usual in school is fine for them.

For the children of concern, the ones on the rougher road, we need to find alternatives to help them become fundamentally literate.

Just telling them to do more of it is unacceptable.  It’s like handing a kid a tennis racket and telling them just play the game without showing them how to grip the racket or how to hit a forehand.

The fundamentals need to be taught directly and practiced over time to be internalized.

Copyright, 2018
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