Sunday, August 09, 2009

Reluctant Readers and Low Vision Students - Writing What a Child Dictates is Not Just for First Graders

When I was a little girl, I remember the teacher passing around this cool newsprint with widely-spaced lines on the bottom half and, on the top half, a big blank space for drawing a picture. She would talk us through making up a story, and then she would write it on the chalkboard. We were then supposed to copy it onto our paper and draw a picture to go with it.

When my youngest son became legally blind at the age of nine, I didn't expect him to do much writing by hand, as we struggled with his magnification needs. But he didn't yet know how to do keyboarding either. So while we taught him keyboarding as one subject; as part of another subject, I would sometimes sit down at the computer and ask him to describe for me a book-on-tape that he had just enjoyed. While he narrated the story, I would write it down for him. Then I could read it back to him, as well as put it in his school portfolio to demonstrate that he had both read and understood the story.

As my son grew older and mastered keyboarding skills, I would sometimes give him a writing assignment for literature or history. He would be discouraged, trying to combine his great ability to explain and describe something with his slowly-growing writing skills. The one was no match for the other. So I told him to just write, not to worry about capitalization, punctuation and spelling for now. After he finished writing, I would read and grade it for content. Then I would clean up the "mechanics" and let him read the polished version. At another time of the day, as part of an English class, he would be studying capitalization, punctuation and spelling. This has worked very well for us.

The other day I was telling one of my college graduate sons that when I grade a paper for history or religion or science, I grade that paper solely on content. Is it comprehensive? Does it show an understanding of the topic? Does it show that the student is really thinking about it? I save grading the English mechanics for English class. My son told me that most of his college professors did the same thing...not all of them; a few might grade on spelling and punctuation for a history class. But he said that most of them graded based on the class subject.

So, again, as with reading, my suggestion for teaching children to write is to have two separate classes (the younger the child, the shorter the classes). In one period, the child is learning how to write, whether it is handwriting or keyboarding, whether it is structure or mechanics. In another period, he is dictating about some topic of interest, while the parent or a mentor writes for him what he says, or writing without worrying too much about the mechanics, and someone helps him with that afterward.

In this way, the child can learn at his own pace how to write, while at the same time experiencing the joy of seeing or hearing his intelligent thoughts expressed as written words.

Post 4 on Reluctant Readers and Low Vision Students - Resources


Post 2 on Reluctant Readers and Low Vision Students -
Reading Aloud is Not Just for Kindergartners

Post 1 on Reluctant Readers and Low Vision Students -
Reading Readiness is Not Just for Preschoolers

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