Reluctant writers can be difficult to assess due to lack of written work. They can also cause concern to those trying to help them develop legible, coherent writing. This SENCO Week looks at some of the reasons why children can be reluctant to write and offers ideas for motivating themword-7213499

Help Sheet 15.doc

The process of writing is a very complicated one. You have to be able to hold and control a pencil or pen and form letters and words in a certain way. You have to know how to make words (spelling), how to string them together (grammar, syntax) and how to build in pauses (punctuation). You also have to know what to write – holding information in your head so that it can be transferred to paper ‘in your own words’, or creating a story from your own experience and imagination.

For children with SEN, there is often a combination of factors affecting their ability to produce good quality written work. Careful observation and analysis of their attempts will be needed in order to gain insight into their difficulties and work out ways of helping them. You could ask a young child simply to write down all the words he can in a given time, watching how he forms letters and looking at invented spellings; older pupils can be given a short piece of dictation. Comparing pieces of writing over a period of time is one of the simplest methods of monitoring progress.

Physical factors
Poor motor control and eye/hand coordination can be a factor. In young children, work at developing gross motor control before you move to fine motor skills (cycling, skipping, catching a ball, balancing along a beam, etc).

Fine motor control is developed by activities such as threading, completing shape puzzles, modelling dough, playing with construction toys – all the popular activities used in playgroups and nurseries. Some children need these long after they have left the Foundation Stage. Consider whether any of the following may help:

  • different writing implements (a fine point may help with small writing; a broad pencil or special grip can help – try out different options)
  • plain paper or paper with wide lines (fixed in position with non-slip backing or masking tape) – perhaps placed on a ‘pad’ of paper or cardboard to help with traction
  • sloping boards
  • adjusted desk and chair height
  • relaxation exercises to help loosen grip.

Left-handed writers need to have space on their left side (ie, should not sit with a RH child on their left) and shown how to position the paper and hold the pen to enable them to see what they are writing.

Practice is important: we can allow the use of word processing and scribes, fill-the-gap exercises and other ways of getting round the problem but though essential at times, these strategies cut down on the actual practice and therefore development of writing skills. Building in a writing practice session may be one way forward, some schools do this first thing in the morning as a settling down activity. Pupils copy something from the board or from a sheet on the table (preferable), or write over or under a given script (use a highlighter pen to write the sentence; the child can then write over it very easily). By separating the mechanical skill from the compositional skill, you are taking pressure off the pupil. Think about this sort of task for homework as well, for those who would benefit (differentiate by length). As with most skills practice, ‘little and often’ are the watchwords.

This is often a major reason for children’s reluctance to write. We will look at spelling strategies next term, but as ways of encouraging pupils to write, you could consider:

  • providing word banks, key word lists, personal spelling books (for older pupils as well as KS1)
  • allowing children to draw a ‘magic line’ in the place of a word they can’t spell – writing in the first letter if possible. The teacher or TA provides the word as they circulate round the classroom – a written model for the child to copy in. At the end of the lesson, the ‘magic line’ words can be used for a spelling list to be learned
  • teaching children how to use a dictionary and practise on a daily basis; use different versions to meet a range of abilities and needs.

When a child knows that he is becoming proficient at forming words and producing legible writing (receiving plenty of praise), he will usually be less reluctant to write – so long as he knows what he is writing about! This can be a big issue for pupils with SEN. They can’t remember; they didn’t do anything very interesting at the weekend to write about; they don’t understand what you have asked them to do. Preparation for writing is therefore crucial. Talking partners, planning sheets, prompts and stimuli are all are important in getting children ready to write. Helpsheet 15 contains some ideas for this.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in October 2008

About the author: Linda Evans is the author of SENCO Week. She was a teacher/SENCO/adviser/inspector, before joining the publishing world. She now works as a freelance writer, editor and part-time college tutor.