Dysgraphia: Compensating Strategies for Students
Most commonly, the term Specific Learning Difficulty incorporates the conditions described as Dyslexia (specific reading disorder), Dyscalculia (specific calculation disorder) Dyspraxia (speech) and Dysgraphia (specific writing disorder). This group of disorders affect language and learning and is thought to affect between 3 per cent and 10 per cent of the population. Such a diagnosis is sought when a noticeable discrepancy becomes apparent between an individual's intelligence and their acquisition of reading, writing, spelling and maths skills despite support by sound teaching practice.
Dysgraphia is a difficulty writing coherently, regardless of how well an individual can read, think or verbally express their thoughts and opinions. Those identified with dysgraphia often have a higher than average IQ, but find combining the complex mixture of tasks needed for a satisfactory written result remarkably difficult. They can also lack basic spelling skills and can tend to write the wrong word when trying to formulate their thoughts on paper.
In young children, the disorder begins to emerge when they are first introduced to writing. They make inappropriately sized and spaced letters, or write wrong or misspelled words despite thorough instruction and adequate planning. Children with the disorder may have other learning disabilities; however, they usually have no social or other academic problems.
Types of dysgraphia
Most informed sources list about three types of dysgraphia. Differences in dysgraphia are believed to exist because not every individual identified with dysgraphia fits the one description.
Recommended websites for further readings about dysgraphia
'Dyslexic dysgraphia' seems to be most commonly seen. With dyslexic dysgraphia, spontaneously written work is poor or illegible, copied work tends to be poor and spelling is inaccurate. Dyslexic dysgraphia does not mean that the individual necessarily has dyslexia, in fact, dyslexia and dysgraphia appear to be unrelated.
Compensating strategies used in schools to support students identified with Dysgraphia
The goal of compensating is to help the student perform more automatically and participate in and benefit from the writing task. The aim is to allow the student to get around the problem so that they can focus more completely on the content.
Mainstream, widely accepted strategies for students include:
- Understanding - 'getting your head around' the student's inconsistencies and performance variability.
- Using discretion when using timed tests. 'Timed' situations always present a higher degree of stress, for example impromptu 'pop-quizes' and tests are likely to lead to poorer performance and unfair results.
- Allow extra time for writing activities. Starting earlier, with a little organised support, is much, much better than providing a later due date with little follow-up and support.
- Print or cursive - Allow the student to use either form. Make it optional.
- If getting started is a problem, encourage pre-organisation strategies, such as use of graphic organizers or pro-formas to write withiin. However, don't just rely on an organising tool; having someone to re-discuss the task and give an additional 'lead in' can work small miracles.
- Sensitively supervise diary entries. Diary entries can also be supported by teaching and supervising students to use 'stickies' on their laptops. Stickies are messages that can be easily placed on Macintosh computer screens. Once the computer has booted up, the message is on the screen facing the user. Stickies can be used as a reminder to complete tasks, to provide simple instructions on how to tackle a task or a reminder about homework, phone numbers or websites that need to be remembered. They are powerful little memory joggers and take only a moment to construct! Similarly, Microsoft Office Outlook(tm) can be used as a wonderful little memory jogger having the capacity to set up lists, time lines for assignments and reminders.
- Using computers - Encourage the student to become comfortable using a word processor. This is invaluable. The use of the computer it is a legitimate, practical accommodation and students need to know that they have permission to use it in all classes, tests and examinations.
- For older students, encourage use of a speech recognition program so the student can dictate assignments rather than type them. That's right! New generation software now converts what's being said into print that appears on the screen. The future is here, and what is more, the price of this product continues to fall. Dragon NaturallySpeaking(tm) (try
http://www.voiceperfect.com or any
SPELD organisation in your state) for Windows(tm) is useful for students who have handwriting problems, spelling difficulties, cannot type or just don't like typing. It allows students to say what they are thinking and get an immediate written result. Training the program doesn't take long, although younger students (middle primary age) require a planned training program. Usually, students see an improvement in the speed and accuracy of voice recognition within a few days, and find it inspiring.
- Encourage the consistent use of an electronic spelling resource such as the spell check component in a Franklin Language Master(r) to decrease the demands.
- It is not an encouraging, acceptable or a legitimate practice for a teacher to deduct marks for poor spelling in assignments, in tests and in examinations.
- Occasionally, have the student proofread their written work 'out-loud' to a trusted adult. When students proofread work to themselves immediately after writing, they may read what they intended rather than what was actually written.
- Offering to review assignments prior to the hand-in date - Teachers who encourage students with learning difficulties to hand up and discuss assignments prior to the formal hand-in date provide their students with another helpful way to find academic success. Students benefit from this strategic input from teachers prior to the hand-in date. Often, subject teachers choose to take responsibility for this, although increasingly learning-support centres or adaptive-education faculties are developing mechanisms to support students in this way.
- Reduce the copying (from the board or from texts) aspect of tasks. The problem of note taking is VERY obvious here. Where possible the teacher should make provision to provide student with a typed copy of lesson notes. Sometimes, if this is not possible, perhaps the photocopied notes of another student may be helpful. Another option is for the teacher to provide a partially completed outline of the notes so the student can fill in the details under major headings while listening in lesson.
- Shorten writing assignments, or encourage students to absorb information and express what they have learnt in a mixture of ways. One of the keys to successful student outcomes is to encourage them to draw on a diverse range of products:
|graphs||news reports||self reflection|
|folk dances||concept maps||simulations|
|conferences||slide shows||sound effects|
|advertising campaigns||group logos||class meetings|
|values statements||collages||number patterns|
|mimes||sets of instructions||interviews|
|dramatic performance||oral presentation||videos|
|opinion polls||reading circles||gestures|
|puppet plays||percussion pieces||flow charts|
|scale drawings||measurement series||sound stories|
|screen printing||photographic prints||role-plays|
|monologues||joke books||peer tutoring contracts|
|definition lists||self portraits||headline summaries|
|preference lists||codes||strengths lists|
|constructions||brochures||body language acts|
|audio tapes||personal time lines||hymns|
|cooperative tasks||story illustrations||group games|
- Sometimes make provision for the student to be assessed orally.
- Chunking - have the student complete tasks in smaller, measured, logical steps or increments instead of all at once. Assign a mark for each step.
- Remove neatness as a grading criterion.
- Reinforce the positive aspects of the student's efforts.
- Be patient - encourage the student to be patient and more comfortable with themself. This is a frustrating difficulty to have! Actually, the most common problem often associated with dysgraphia is stress. Often individuals with dysgraphia become extremely frustrated with the task of writing (and spelling); this frustration can cause disengagement from learning, sadness and depression.
- Keep the student's parents informed and in the 'information loop' - from time to time, ask them, how things are going & what might help? Most parents have developed a wealth of knowledge about their child's style and learning. It will be advantage to tap into their knowledge and understandings.
- Scope for a mentoring partnership at school - Students frequently talk about significant others (mentors), whose guidance and encouragement made a difference. Their mentor may have been the school psychologist, a special education co-ordinator, a counsellor, a subject teacher, a house master, a school support officer, an older student or principal. What is universal is that they felt their mentor believed in them, helped maintain their goals and helped them to discover more about themselves. Within school systems resources exist for regular on-site pastoral care (mentoring). One approach would allow the student to check in with his mentor regularly to review the week, to 'run an eye' over a piece of work, to make planning adjustments and organise for what is upcoming. This relationship acknowledges the extra effort students with learning difficulty put into every piece of work they attempt, and that these small increments of work in every subject compound to make a big difference to their overall workload.