When pupils find it difficult to write legibly and reasonably quickly, it can significantly disadvantage them in school. We look at how SENCOs can organise additional support

Writing skills (part two)

Many children with writing difficulties have dyslexia and/or dyspraxia (developmental coordination difficulties) − these conditions often occur together and affect all aspects of a child’s life, both in school and outside. It is vital therefore, that schools and early years settings are able to identify difficulties in this important area and put in place appropriate interventions where necessary.

Look out for pupils who have difficulties with:

  • throwing and catching
  • dance/music and movement
  • manipulating small objects (building bricks, jigsaws)
  • getting dressed/undressed
  • using cutlery, scissors, ruler, setsquare
  • handwriting
  • organising themselves and their work
  • sequencing
  • laterality (knowing left from right)
  • following multiple instructions.

Pupils with motor coordination difficulties may also have poor posture and limited body awareness, moving awkwardly and seeming clumsy; this can be especially noticeable after a growth spurt. They may also tire more easily than other children. As far as writing is concerned, teachers need to think about:

  • the pupil’s sitting position: both feet on the floor, table/chair height appropriate, sloping writing surface may help
  • anchoring the paper/book to the table to avoid slipping; providing a ‘cushion’ to write on can be a help − an old magazine, used paper stapled together, etc
  • the writing implement − the grip (try different sizes of pen/pencil and various types of ‘grips’ available form LDA etc.); avoid the use of a hard-tipped pencil or pen
  • providing opportunities for practising handwriting patterns and letter formation
  • providing lines to keep writing straight
  • limiting the amount of writing required − providing ready-printed sheets or alternative means of recording
  • using overlays and Clicker grids
  • teaching keyboard skills.

There are lots of published programmes available for using with groups of pupils who need extra help to develop co-ordination skills. In the SEN Coordinators File issue 26, Wendy Ash described the ‘Fun Fit’ programme that she used in school to great effect. The programme is designed to be organised and monitored by the SENCO, but actually delivered by TAs, using the sort of equipment and apparatus found in most schools.

The structure is flexible, with sessions lasting about 20 minutes and being held three or four times each week − often as part of ‘breakfast club’. The skills addressed include gross motor skills such as ball skills; balance; jumping; hopping; galloping; skipping; and fine motor skills such as holding and manipulating small objects; eye-hand coordination; using both hands together.

The formation of letters is a very specific area of skill development and providing opportunities for practising − without making it an onerous chore − can be part of the solution.

Precision teaching is a good example of distributed practice and may include exercises such as a one-minute daily exercise to see how many b and d words the child can successfully write. This type of exercise provides the child with instant feedback and always focuses on success. Progress can be easily monitored by keeping a daily count or by using a weekly probe sheet. Practising holoalphabet sentences can also be useful, as these contain the 26 letters of the alphabet:

The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.
The five boxing wizards jumped quickly.

Parents can also be enlisted to encourage writing practise at home; young children, can enjoy drawing/painting patterns (a wet paintbrush on dry concrete slabs) and practising letters − make sure that parents have a ‘crib sheet’ showing the correct formation. As children get older they can be expected to write their own names in birthday cards and thank you notes; write a shopping list; keep a holiday diary; make a scrapbook with labelled entries; write out recipes. Impress upon parents and carers the importance of making these activities fun, and always praising the child for effort.

In lessons, children need to be given opportunities to write, but with the recognition that other forms of recording will help them to achieve and to maintain self-esteem. Provide alphabet strips and word banks for writing (we’ll look at spelling next week):

Aa Bb Cc Dd Ee Fe Gg Hh Ii Jj Kk Ll Mm Nn Oo Pp Qq Rr Ss Tt Uu Vv Ww Xx Yy Zz

But also ensure that there are other ways of recording, eg:

  • using a tape recorder
  • taking photos with a digital camera and adding text
  • using a video camera
  • making a recording using a computer and web cam
  • verbal answers, presentations, role play
  • making a storyboard or poster
  • recording information in a table.

There is a selection of good quality software to help children to record, eg, Penfriend. As a few letters are typed, a list appears in the floating window of words that the programme thinks you are going to type. Each choice is listed along with the function key (f1 to f12) that you can press to complete the word. This makes typing much quicker for inexperienced typists. A useful feature is that it will speak out each letter as it is typed, or the word if the function key is pressed. Once a full stop is reached the whole sentence is read out. If a block of text is highlighted it will read it all out for the pupil. Look at Wordbar and text help as well. www.inclusive.co.uk

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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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