A Student’s Perspective on Writing from ‘Reading Rockets

 “Understanding that each individual actually processes information differently is the key to understanding basic learning differences. Sherman stresses that learning differences are not disabilities. It is one’s learning environment that makes learning differences problematic.”  Below is the entire article found at: http://www.readingrockets.org/article/22746/  ( a personal suggestion is to subscribe to their weekly email as it’s free and full of great reading suggestions!)

Reading Rockets offers a wealth of reading strategies, lessons, and activities designed to help young children learn how to read and read better. Our reading resources assist parents, teachers, and other educators in helping struggling readers build fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension skills.

A Student’s Perspective on Writing

By: Regina G. Richards

Eli, a young boy, tells us what it is like to have dysgraphia. Regina Richards, a well-known expert on dysgraphia (and Eli’s mom), explains how to help children who struggle with the challenges Eli describes. Practical techniques discussed include POWER: Prepare, Organize, Write, Edit, Revise.

“Writing is definitely the worst task of all. It’s just way too hard to remember all the things I need, like periods and capital letters. Then, it’s almost impossible to think about how to spell words when I’m busy trying to think about the story. It’s so hard to remember what I’m writing about …. I figure it’s easier to write just a few sentences. That doesn’t hurt my hand so much either. My teachers complain, but I just keep writing very short stories. After all, teachers don’t understand what it’s like to struggle and struggle to write and still have the paper turn out sloppy and full of mistakes. They always tell me how messy my papers are. They just can’t understand how hard I try. No matter how carefully I work, the words don’t look the way they look for the other kids. Sometimes I know how I want the word to look, but it just doesn’t turn out that way.”1

Eli’s ongoing lament about the writing process highlights many of the key struggles of students: writing is so very hard, the process contains multiple components, and no one understands the struggles. The questions we, as parents and teachers, face as we try to assist students who struggle with writing, include:

  1. How can I help the student chunk the task into smaller, more manageable units?
  2. How can I help the student recall all the necessary components for the writing task?
  3. How can I provide authentic positive comments which reinforce what the child does appropriately, no matter how small the component?

Chunking the task into smaller, more manageable units

When presented with a writing task in school, Eli’s friend reminds him he has strengths to use to help him get through the assignment. “Sam leans over and to my surprise whispers, ‘Eli, I know you hate writing, but remember you have strengths too.’ Then I smile, take a deep breath, and think about my strategies. If I just take one step at a time, maybe I can manage this.”1

The plan here is to have a strategies list, and use this list to identify each step in the process of writing the assignment. One valuable strategy is to use the key word “POWER,” in which each letter stands for one step in the process.

P — prepare, list all your ideas
O — organize, assemble the ideas
W — write the draft
E — edit, looking for and correcting any errors
R — revise, write the final draft

In step 1, the “P” step, the students prepares all the ideas. It’s similar to a brainstorming process. A visual or graphic organizer is useful at this stage, especially since it may also be used in the next step. Visual organization strategies are effective because they provide a concrete alternative to traditional outlining. Organizers allow students to organize material in a visual pattern and enable them to see the relationships among the information. This facilitate students’ ability to represent connections more easily while promoting fluency, flexibility, and more originality.

In a simple graphic organizer, the student may have one larger circle for the main idea and three (or more) circles for supporting facts. Having this framework helps students focus on the main components of the writing assignment, highlighting one portion at a time. Many types of graphic organizers are available, and it is highly efficient to begin teaching these to students as soon as they begin the writing process. A few of the many valuable online references that include samples of a variety of graphic organizer types include: http://www.edHelper.com; http://www.smartdraw.com; http://www.inspirations.com; and http://www.imindmap.com. Some books that contain samples of graphic organizers are LEARN2, The Source For Learning and Memory Strategies3, and The Source For Reading Comprehension Strategies.4

In step 2, the “O” stage, students must organize the information, including sequencing the ideas and the flow. Many students who struggle with this aspect of writing find that having a graphic reminder of the components eases the way for them. It helps them visualize the entire process or concept, which is essential to knowing where an idea comes from and where it’s going. Two common graphics to help students remember the flow necessary for writing a paragraph or story are the dinosaur and a hamburger.

The dinosaur graphic represents the three main components of a paragraph, or story. The head represents the introduction, just as the head of the dinosaur leads him where he is going. The long neck represents the supporting details, as the dinosaur’s neck supports his head. The tail represents the conclusion, or the ending.

The hamburger also represents the three main components of a paragraph, or story. There is the top bun, or the introduction. There is filling, representing the internal or supporting information. The bottom bun represents the conclusion.

To help the student sequence the information within a passage, he uses his graphic organizer and decides what goes first, second, etc. It is important to stress to the student that effective writing is absolutely dependent on good organization skills. Generally, students who struggle to sort and organize language-based information will also struggle with clarity, conciseness, and effectiveness of written assignments. It is imperative that such students understand how to structure different tasks for different purposes. Concrete visual techniques are extremely helpful and include a wide range of strategies such as pre-writing worksheets, frames, visual organizers, mind maps, and clusters.

Recalling the necessary components for a writing task

This represents another major struggle for many students. As expressed by Eli, “Am I stupid? Does my brain just stop working sometimes? I think I know the words, but then when they’re all together on a page, they get jumbled. Mom keeps telling me I’m not stupid, but she’s just Mom. It’s so frustrating. I feel I can’t rely on or trust my brain”.1

One of the most successful strategies for struggling students is to use a visual organizer in the form of a frame. A frame presents the various components which are necessary and serves as a reminder to recall each step and to do the steps, one at a time.

Two examples of a basic frame follow. In the first one, the student first draws a picture for the beginning, the ending and then the middle of the story. After that, he writes about his beginning, middle, and end. In the Main Idea and Details Organizer, the student writes the main ideas in the big boxes on the left and then supports each with details.

Providing authentic positive comments to reinforce what the child does appropriately

There are so many components to the writing process that students who struggle easily become overloaded. Therefore, it is very important to highlight what the child has done appropriately, regardless of how small the component, or how many other parts remain inefficient.

Mel Levine refers to the processes of demystification5, a vital aspect of which is to identify and reinforce the strengths and beauty in each child and adolescent. In Eli’s story, being able to understand himself and his learning style is probably the key factor involved with his overall success, in spite of many learning challenges, all of which are lifelong issues. It is critical that we help such students learn to cope with their life as well as the daily activities in school.

Some examples of authentic positive comments about a small component are:

  • You have a great description of the beach in your story. I like the way you described the sounds and the wind.
  • You sequenced your ideas really well—the order is logical and easy to follow.

After your positive comments, then select one or two areas that need improvement and list those. There is no need to highlight everything that the child did wrong in his writing assignment. After all, he will be unable to fix everything at once. In contrast, if you provide only a few areas for improvement, then the child can work on those before moving on to others.


It is valuable to recall the words by Gordon Sherman, former president of the International Dyslexia Association, and assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School , who states that we all have different brains. Each person’s brain is different and processes information differently. This variation is called cerebrodiversity, and is the cause of learning differences. It may result in some students having difficulties in the classroom, because there is no such thing as an ideal, optimal brain. Understanding that each individual actually processes information differently is the key to understanding basic learning differences. Sherman stresses that learning differences are not disabilities. It is one’s learning environment that makes learning differences problematic.

Eli concludes in the Epilogue to his story,

“I know my thinking is different from other people. So many times, having a different thinking pattern gets me in trouble and it definitely causes me to have to work harder. Other times, being different is like having a gift. Working with machines is one of my many wonderful gifts ….”

“It is my hope that teachers, parents and other students will realize that everyone has his or her own set of strengths and weaknesses. It is indeed true that we have all kinds of minds and all kinds of talents”.1

To read more by Regina Richards, go to:


Richards, R. (2008). A Student’s Perspective on Writing. Exclusive to LD OnLine.

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Reading Rockets is a national multimedia project that offers research-based and best-practice information on teaching kids to read and helping those who struggle.


Taxes and Tuition Payments

Is paying for a private, special needs school tax deductible?  Yes, and this blog is to assist parents of Glenforest students and parents of students attending a similar school (like a Dore Academy in NC or a Camperdown Academy in the Upstate).

We as educators thank you for the privilege of having your child enrolled in our school and we recognize the significant sacrifice you have made financially to be enrolled!  Therefore we want you to KNOW your tuition for Glenforest School, a 501©3 not for profit special needs school, is tax-deductable because of our special school / medical status and can be claimed on your 2011 tax filing.  You will need to share this with your tax advisor.  This statement is supported by the following links online for your own research:




Many times, as Head of School, I have heard that such deductions were unknown by either past, current or future families.  My hope is that this blog and these links will encourage you to relook at this for your family.  This is hopefully a resource and support to you in your financial planning.  Thank you.

A new home for Sid – our Bearded Dragon

Welcome home Sid!  

Sid is a great addition to our campus.  You will find in the science lab now a home for Sid.  Special recognition goes to one of our middle school student’s for his diligence and preparations.

Sid's caretakers

Mr. Berry, our science teacher, has done a great work in allowing for this new home “remodel”. We are enthusiastic about Sid and encourage you to come see him when time permits.  Our students have already started learning about his environment and care.

There is a good interaction taking place and we are really excited to see how Sid will bring a good deal of excitement and enthusiasm to our science community.

Here are a few photos of Sid and his new home for you to enjoy!

Welcome Home Sid!

Social Thinking Actions

Recently our faculty had some discussion on Social Thinking skills, which is the ability to consider one’s thoughts, emotions, etc and interpret social interactions in order to respond in a community type of behavior.  This would include sharing space with another person, interpreting books or movies and is often necessary in working as a group with peers for an academic purpose.  This may sound ordinary but for an Asperger’s or High-Functioning Autistic, or ADHD this may be fairly weak requiring direct instruction daily.

Teachers and Parents can support the child by discussing the possible outcomes if understood by the child, or negative consequences if the student is unable to interpret appropriately.  These types of interactions can help reduce conflict or increase it to the point where a student feels bullied.  There can be recommended therapy by counselors, as well as daily discussing with the child ways to find common ground, opportunities to remove conflict by using such strategies as “I Laugh”, or coping mechanisms that are low profile.  This aids the student to adapt across communities (school, home, neighborhood, Scouts, sports, etc).

If you are interested in knowing more please go to Michelle Garcia Winner’s site:  www.socialthinking.com to learn about this opportunity to aid your student or someone you know.