Students with LD Need Foundational Writing Skills

Posted by Brainspring on 25th Mar 2015

writingHi everyone,

Today we are taking a break from reading to talk about its equally important but often overlooked twin: writing.  All kinds of energy and resources are focused on reading (much of it is misguided, but that’s a topic for another post), while writing stands on the sidelines: it’s there and we know students aren’t so great at it, but it doesn’t often get our full attention.  More places are becoming familiar with the 3rd Grade Reading Guarantee, but has anyone ever heard of a 3rd Grade Writing Guarantee?

Writing is a “Need to Have” Skill

The writing skills of students with learning disabilities are especially neglected.  Writing skills seem to fall into the category of “nice to have”, compared to “need to have” skills like reading and math.  However, writing skills are essential!  Almost all jobs require writing of some sort, from writing cover letters and resumes, to writing maintenance requests and accident reports, to writing company policies and presentations.  Not to mention personal tasks like writing emails and journal entries.

Writing is a “need to have” skill.  Teaching writing is challenging enough with on-level students.  It was definitely the area I felt weakest in when teaching 1st grade.  For those who aren’t 100% confident teaching writing to begin with, teaching writing for students with LD can be intimidating.

I had the opportunity to attend an online symposium recently where there was a presentation specifically on writing and students with LD.  One of the main points of his presentation was that students with LD often have a deficit in foundational writing skills we take for granted that students know.

Before I begin, I’d like to thank Steve Graham for his eye-opening presentation.  The information that follows is his.


What’s it like to write for students with LD?

Try out this quick simulation from the presentation to get the feel for yourself.

Keeping in mind these 4 rules, write for 2 minutes on a topic of your choice or answer the question, “Should teachers’ salaries be increased?”

The Rules

  • Put a period after the 5th
  • Put quotes around each verb.
  • Capitalize every 5 letter word.
  • Spell every 4 letter word backwards.



Go ahead!  Take a few minutes and try it.  A few minutes is all it will take to get incredibly frustrated.

Share your experience in the comments below!

My masterfully crafted response.

My masterfully crafted response.

Now think about how students with LD may feel.  They may have a lot to say.  They may have a great point to make and know exactly what they want to say…but that may not be what comes across on paper.

Writing Skills that Need Explicit Teaching

Writing is a complicated task, but good writers make it seem innate and natural.  We must remember that the skills and qualities we take for granted are not natural for all students; we must explicitly teach them!  (Sounds a lot like teaching reading to me).

The presentation mentioned several aspects of writing that students with LD were found to be significantly deficient in compared to normal achieving peers.  These are the foundational skills that can improve writing achievement if we take the time to focus on teaching them explicitly.

  • Spelling
  • Handwriting
  • Grammar
  • Sentence Fluency (how to combine sentences into more complex structures)
  • Vocabulary
  • Knowledge of Genre and Common Genre Elements

In addition to these skills, we also need to help students with LD develop self-regulation, organizational skills and strategies for generating ideas.

Look for future posts on specific strategies for developing these skills.

Just like students must master basic phonics skills before they can attend to comprehension and become skilled readers, students also need to master these foundational skills before they can attend to the craft of putting ideas on paper and become skilled writers.


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