Current research on writing shows that transcription (handwriting) and translation are critical skills for producing clear and organized expository text. In general, the students we help with writing have difficulty because they have underlying problems with handwriting, language skills or attention skills. Each needs a specific kind of help.
Students with weak handwriting have trouble writing because as they write, too much cognitive energy is allocated to handwriting and there is not enough energy left for planning what to write, organizing ideas, attending to mechanics such as spelling and punctuation, etc. So although handwriting seems like a minor academic skill, for students who find handwriting to be slow and effortful, it interferes with their ability to express themselves in writing.
Written language and spoken language are distinct. For students with language–based learning disabilities, translating ideas from spoken to written language can be a daunting task. We teach these students to generate their ideas in “spoken language” and get them down on paper before trying to translate the ideas into “written language.” Essentially we turn writing into a two-part process, which involves cracking a code. This approach helps students gain confidence and feel independent.
Writing involves multitasking in the sense that students have to simultaneously activate numerous cognitive systems including language, motor, memory, planning and organization. Thus, writing is a difficult task for students who have problems multitasking or coordinating multiple cognitive systems. These are usually students who also have weaknesses in attention and/or executive functioning.
For all of these students we have developed a unique remediation program that focuses on parsing the writing process into component parts so that students can develop expertise in each subskill. Once they develop automaticity in two subskills we teach them to perform them simultaneously. Eventually they combine all of the subskills. Unless the subskills are practiced independently, they will never become automatic and effortless. Through this our students become excellent, independent writers.