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Supporting dyslexic pupils with writing

Co-occurring difficulties such as dyspraxia may affect dyslexic children in the early stages of learning to write. Various products are available commercially which may help pupils who find it difficult to hold a pencil or pen comfortably (see 4.8 Resources and suppliers). Sloping desk tops can also help pupils to find a comfortable position for writing.

As with all other areas of learning, repetition and over-learning are key to success; however, a small number of children may experience such extreme difficulties that, in order to achieve the speed of writing required for success in the education system, use of a computer may be the best course of action. In this case, lessons in touch typing will help the pupil to achieve the levels of writing fluency required.

Many dyslexic individuals become reluctant writers not only because of their difficulties with the physical act of writing but also because of their issues with spelling. During primary education it is crucial that these difficulties are not allowed to prevent the dyslexic child from expressing their ideas. Group writing work or the use of alternative methods of recording ideas (e.g. graphic stories, diagrams, mind-maps) may help to overcome difficulties with getting ideas down on paper and ensure that confidence and self-esteem are not affected adversely.

Difficulties with getting started or with organising ideas can also be helped by providing a writing frame or scaffold, which can gradually be withdrawn as the pupil becomes more confident and proficient. Mind-maps, flow-charts, or other diagrams can be used to record ideas and experiment with structure prior to producing a piece of written work.

Teachers should also be aware that restricted experience of reading is likely to have an impact on the written work of dyslexic pupils. Because of this, teachers will need to provide explicit input on key vocabulary (including spelling) and the grammar and punctuation associated with conjunctions and signposting words. Using a text as a model to help pupils ‘notice’ how cohesive devices are used to provide structure and coherence can also be a useful activity.

Marking written work is something that should be approached with great sensitivity. A dyslexic pupil may have struggled to produce their work and it is essential for teachers not to belittle their efforts or to accuse them of ‘not trying’. If spelling is a particular issue, a focus on the positive aspects of the writing, such as quality of ideas or ambition in attempting to use difficult vocabulary, will be more encouraging and, ultimately, provide a better learning experience.

Regarding writing as a process instead of emphasising the finished product is also beneficial. A series of drafts with formative feedback provided along the way, can ensure that every piece of writing becomes a fruitful learning experience which increases, instead of diminishing, the confidence of the dyslexic learner.

For more information and ideas, see the MESH Guide to Reluctant Writers or download The Big Write Day, a set of PowerPoint slides showing examples of dyslexia friendly writing activities and pupils’ work from a whole school writing day organized by Holy Name Primary in Manchester.