The ability to write is still of prime importance, it’s a complex activity and many children with SEN need extra help and support

Support for SENCOs Writing skills The mechanics of writing are important but easy to take for granted by adults who are proficient. If you are delivering staff INSET on this subject, display a piece of text on the board and ask staff to copy it down, using the hand they don’t usually write with (for most people this will be their left hand): alternatively, ask some colleagues to wear a mitten; to give them an idea of what writing feels like for a child with coordination difficulties. This activity demonstrates some of the ‘within-child’ and external conditions that make it difficult to write. Provide a range of writing implements (hard/soft pencils; biro; felt tips; roller ball pens; fountain pens) and writing surfaces (single sheet of paper on hard surface; sheet of paper over a pad of ‘waste’ paper or a magazine; left and right hand pages of an exercise book; lined/plain paper; smooth/rough paper) and position some people so that they have to turn around to see the board. You can ask one person to wear a pair of sunglasses smeared with Vaseline to simulate impaired vision, or ask a colleague to remove the spectacles they would normally wear. This activity should stimulate discussion about the kinds of difficulties some children experience, and how they can be addressed. You can encourage colleagues to give some thought to the mechanical side of writing and how they can support pupils who are finding this difficult. The table below provides some useful starting points:

Writers need to: We can help writers by:
hold a pen/pencil appropriately and be able to control it (hand-eye coordination, fine motor control, pressure) providing exercises to strengthen fingers, improve control and coordination; offering different pens/pencils (grips) types of paper, sloping surface; checking seating position (both feet on floor) and ensuring that left-handed writers have enough space on left side etc.
understand left-right convention, know how to form and join letters correctly (as per the school handwriting scheme) − and size them appropriately helping them to practise: talk them through making a correct letter shape in the early stages − practise in sand, with paint, on each others’ backs.
be able to read what they are writing read out the text to be copied, with the pupil before s/he begins to write. It may be appropriate for TAs to provide an alternative piece of text (shorter/simpler) for some pupils with SEN to copy.
have enough time negotiate with the child/support teacher/TA on this.
be proud of their work
be proud of their work use sticky-backed labels to cover up mistakes in books instead of crossing out; use word processing (see below)
be able to see clearly encouraging them to wear their specs; making sure they are clean. Ask parents to arrange for an eyesight test if you are concerned. Encourage class/subject teachers to enlarge any text to be copied and/or provide desk-top copies.

Word processing Increasingly, older pupils are being provided with various technological aids − including laptop computers − to help them record work. Are teachers and TAs confident that they understand the various functions and potential of both hardware and software? Ensuring that at least one TA develops ‘advanced skills’ in this area will pay dividends; s/he can then train and advise colleagues and ensure that ICT equipment represents true value for money in the results it helps pupils to achieve. Consider providing keyboard skills (touch-typing) lessons for TAs and pupils. Find out about Clicker software.

Composition

Deciding what to write can be difficult − especially if you are a child with limited vocabulary and little experience of stories, and the world at large. Often, directions and instructions pose the least anxiety − they will be within the writers’ experience; but they still require good vocabulary, sequencing, careful sentence structure and of course, correct spelling and punctuation. There’s a lot to think about. Teachers can be supportive by making sure that children have ideas to start with − providing effective stimuli for writing. Children with SEN may need more of this than their peers and actually talking through what they are going to write, before picking up the pen/pencil, can be very helpful. TAs can be valuable in this respect, helping children to formulate their ideas and:

  • making sure the pupil understands the task
  • reviewing what the teacher has used for stimulus − a story, for example or a chapter in a text book − further explanation/discussion may be needed, relating the subject to something the pupil has learned about or experienced before
  • getting the pupil to talk through what he is going to write − prompt if necessary but avoid ‘doing it for him’; consider using role play to consolidate ideas
  • helping him to organise his thoughts. This might be in a visual representation such as a ‘mind map’ or ‘spidergram’; beginning, middle, end; what we did, what happened, what we think this shows/means. A writing frame may help here − advance knowledge of a lesson will enable you to prepare this, if appropriate. For pupils in the very early stages of learning to write, you could write down what they say as short sentences on strips of paper. Ask them to read it back, put it in order and then copy it down as their piece of work.

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SEN News Could a lack of natural play in early childhood could be the cause of ADHD?
Scientists in America have recently come to the conclusion that natural, unstructured play is vital to the development of young minds. This will come as no surprise to parents and nursery teachers, but the government’s new initiatives for pre-school education, as outlined in the Early Years Foundation Stage, will bring even more academic targets and less access to natural play than before.

If you have pupils who have been diagnosed with ADHD, or whom you suspect may have this condition, you will be eager to get information about it and how you can help them. Be wary of some of the ‘quackery’ on websites! ADDISS, The National Attention Deficit Disorder Information and Support Service provides reliable, people-friendly information and resources (www.addiss.co.uk) and has launched a new report that brings together comprehensive evidence relating to the quality of life of ADHD patients, alongside the opinions and perspectives of those who deal with the condition, including specialist doctors, nurses, patient advocates, teachers and the police service.

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This e-bulletin issue was first published in February 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.

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