Jul 102013
 

Writing Assistive Technology can help your child SUCCEED with composition writing.

Does your child struggle with writing and spelling in spite of educational help?
Have you reached a point where continuing to work on basic writing skills seems fruitless?

Guess what? There’s HOPE with Writing Assistive Technology!

Providing your child with writing assistive technology will help your child create great written compositions. His responses match his thought levels because Writing Assistive Technology can encourage your child to write more.


Writing Assistive Technology is a great way to let your learning abled child work at grade level in science, social studies, and language arts when he’s not specifically working on developing his writing skills as a separate instructional area.

Let me share some of the Writing Assistive Technology tools we have used.  One of my favorite products for spelling correction is Ginger’s writing solution. Ginger is spelling and grammar checking software. Having Ginger is like having an interpreter for dyslexia-speak built into a word processor. There are very few phonetic spellings my son creates which Ginger cannot adequately interpret.

Another great tool is Speech-To-Text software. A lot of PC’s have this built-in capability. You have to have a built-in microphone, headset, or separate microphone to utilize this writing assistive technology. The biggest trick is finding the software on your computer and activating it. You can usually find this software somewhere under the configuration options for the display on your PC. The speech-to-text function is usually provided as an “accessibility” feature. You will need to check with your specific PC manufacturer to find the exact location.
Writing Assistive Technology
You can always purchase Speech-To-Text software too.  We use Dragon Naturally Speaking dictation software. This software has been on the market a long time, and probably does the best possible job of translating spoken text into written text. Dragon Naturally Speaking dictation software, like all speech-to-text software, requires ‘training’ time. In order to function properly, the software has to be used by the dictator (your child). Then misspellings have to be corrected manually for a short period of time before the program will consistently type out whatever your child dictates. It takes a little time and patience to get the software properly set.

Unfortunately, person who will be using the software has to do the training. That means it can be a frustrating experience for your child. I think it is easier for teens to be reasoned with regarding the temporary frustration in training the software. However, once the software has been trained to recognize your child’s speech, it is a great writing assistive technology tool!!

These two writing assistive technology tools are both used in conjunction with a good word-processor. WordPerfect and Microsoft Word are probably the two most popular word processors. Either of the writing assistive technology tools above can be used with either word processor. If you happen to have an Apple computer, you can get Microsoft Word for the Apple computers. Ginger Keyboard Software app is available for Apple’s iOS. Pair that Ginger app with an Apple iPad for portable writing assistive technology.

An Apple Laptop computer with Microsoft Word and Dragon Dictate for Apple computers plus Ginger’s revolutionary writing solution will be the best possible set-up for your learning abled kid to become an independent writer using writing assistive technology.

Personally, I have a Toshiba Satellite laptop computer. It has been a great workhorse and I use Dragon Naturally Speaking software on it as my own writing assistive technology! It’s almost five years old and I haven’t had a single bit of trouble with it. Other brands I’ve had haven’t lasted this long.

If you need additional information and curricula for helping your child overcome his dysgraphia, check out Two Great Writing Programs for Homeschooling a Child with a Written Expression Learning Disability (Dysgraphia) and Curricula for Homeschooing and Teaching Handwriting to a Child with Dysgraphia.

Jul 102013
 

Learning Handwriting For A Child with Dysgraphia.

If your child has dysgraphia, you know teaching your child to write legibly is difficult.

Even when your child works hard learning handwriting, progress can seem minimal.

Writing a readable composition is affected by two components of dysgraphia:

One is handwriting and the other is the organization and planning of good writing.


If your child has difficulty in either handwriting or organizing the writing, he will have difficulty writing. This is true even when your child is writing short stories or compositions. 

If your child’s difficulty is with learning handwriting, he may have difficulty with visual-motor integration, fine motor skills, etc. This page will focus on methods and curriculum for children who have difficulty with the physical task of learning handwriting.

First, let’s talk briefly about dysgraphia causing difficulty with organization skills and planning. When writing is badly spaced and sized, there can be a problem area like a deficit in executive functioning disorder. Executive functioning affects organization skills, sequencing, planning, etc. 

If your child needs help with the content of his writing, then it will be helpful for you to refer to the Recommended composition writing curriculum for homeschooling children with learning disabilities.

NOW, let’s talk about the isolated task of learning handwriting and how a child with dysgraphia can be helped more effectively.

Children with dysgraphia often hate writing by time they are diagnosed. Because of this, it is often a good idea to separate writing essays from learning handwriting. Find other fun ways of working on writing skills without actually having your child handwriting the essay. Let your child dictate to you, record an essay in a digital recorder, or use other assistive technology for dysgraphia.

In order to work on your child’s physical skills, starting with large format maze puzzles can be more fun than actually learning handwriting. If you start with large formats, your child can see how to get through the maze easily. Slowly move towards smaller, more difficult and complex mazes. This will help your child make progress in the skill areas necessary for handwriting without forcing the issue of learning handwriting. Most kids don’t even know working mazes is a way of working on learning handwriting!

Given your child’s needs to learn fine muscle control, using a pen or pencil to work through mazes can give your child lots of practice in a fun format. This type of practice is almost always more effective for kids who “hate to write”.

To build handwriting dexterity, I recommend starting with books like these:
Kindergarten Mazes: Simple Mazes For Kids

As your child’s ability to use a pencil improves, you may want to switch to books that provide more precise practice like these:
Maze Books for Kids

Another method for learning handwriting skills is through Multisensory activities. Handwriting with soap on a large flat pan, with a finger on velvet, with gross body movements with a large chalkboard, in a sand tray, etc. are all fun ways for learning handwriting.

If you have your child work on drawing in a pan with his finger, you can work on spelling through multi-sensory activities at the same time. You can help with both handwriting and spelling simultaneously.

Try to think of creative ways to let your child “play” with his school work. Building fun into learning handwriting will make the task of overcoming LD issues more rewarding along the way.

Learning Handwriting Separately from Writing

For any child with dysgraphia, learning handwriting and composition is very effortful. It takes a lot of brain processing to hold a written composition in your mind while figuring out what you want to say, organizing it, recalling the spelling, and writing each word, word-by-word, until you get the whole composition placed beautifully on a piece of paper.

For a child who has dysgraphia, there are often difficulties with working memory, phonemic awareness, graphomotor abilities, or other critical skills. Therefore, expecting great handwriting in written compositions is often unrealistic.

For best results, separating learning handwriting completely from writing compositions (written expression) usually enables the child to have better outcomes in each task. Using keyboarding, copying tasks, or a handwriting program is usually the best option for improving a child’s ability to get his thoughts onto paper in a legible fashion.

Written expression, or composition writing, should be addressed totally separately from learning handwriting. Check out the Written Expression Woes and What To Do About Them page for ideas about teaching written expression to a child with dysgraphia or handwriting difficulties.

Handwriting Programs for Kids Who Struggle

**Handwriting for Kids – This website provides printable guides for children learning to print or write cursive. The handwriting practice materials at this site are ‘traditional’ and not designed specifically for a child with learning disabilities. If you are looking for an inexpensive handwriting curriculum, this site is a great resource. However, it does not provide materials specific to teaching a child who is having difficulty with letter and number formation.

**Handwriting Help for Kidslearning handwriting – This program provides visual and verbal strategies for learning handwriting. The program was created by occupational therapists, so it is well-suited for kids who have difficulty with their grapho-motor (handwriting) skills. Children “swim, surf, and sail” their way through learning cursive writing. This program is a great way to allow your child to have fun while learning to write.

**Handwriting Without Tearslearning handwriting – This is the main program we used in the beginning. With this program, my child who HATES writing said that Cursive Writing was his favorite subject! Handwriting Without Tears is simple and very easy to follow. The directions are clear and the children can easily determine what to do. Handwriting Without Tears is successful because it simplifies learning handwriting. It builds on basic pencil strokes in order to form letters, and the program keeps the writing style simple.

**Italic Handwriting Books – We used this program as well. The Handwriting Without Tears program was great for getting started, but didn’t provide enough practice to actually overcome the issues with grapho-motor difficulties. The Italic series is easy to use because the letter formation is relatively simple (without much in the way of ornate decorative elements). It is easier for a child with handwriting difficulties to copy the letters than it is with some forms of handwriting that are more ornate.

**Audiblox – This is a program that addresses some of the underlying issues that contribute to dysgraphia. While this is not a program for learning handwriting, many of the skill deficits addressed through the program can help make a child’s writing more legible. This program will help with sequential planning (as needed in spelling), letter size, letter spacing, focus, etc.

You may want to check out these Free Downloadable Workbooks:

Spelling for Writing Workbooks – Downloadable from http://www.eric.ed.gov/ by entering the document number into the search box.

These workbooks begin with learning handwriting in conjunction with simple spelling exercises.

Spelling for Writing: Student Activity Book. Level 1. (ED451543) – document number ED451543
Spelling for Writing: Student Activity Book. Level 2. (ED451545) – document number ED451545
Spelling for Writing: Student Activity Book. Level 3. (ED451547) – document number ED451547
Spelling for Writing: Student Activity Book. Level 4. (ED451548) – document number ED451548
Spelling for Writing: Student Activity Book. Level 5. (ED451549) – document number ED451549
ED451542 – Spelling for Writing: A Guidebook for Parents and Teachers. Level 1. (ED451542)
ED451544 – Spelling for Writing: A Guidebook for Parents and Teachers. Level 2. (ED451544)
ED451546 – Spelling for Writing: A Guidebook for Parents and Teachers. Level 3. (ED451546)
ED448460 – Spelling for Writing: Instructional Strategies. (ED448460)

Jul 102013
 

Composition Writing Can Be FUN!

If your child “hates” composition writing, you will want to SERIOUSLY consider the Institute for Excellence In Writing (IEW) Student Writing Intensive (SWI) courses and **Student Writing Intensive Continuation Course (SWICC).

I can’t possibly describe the IEW programs adequately enough. Although the SWI course was sent to me for review, I personally purchased the SWICC for our use. We had such great success with composition writing by using the first level.


The Institute for Excellence In Writingcomposition writing‘s programs are the best of all I’ve used for converting reluctant writers into willing writers.

IEW’s step-by-step, detailed instruction is so straight-forward and kid-friendly, that I believe most kids can use the IEW process for composition writing. After years of beating my head on the wall, using several different programs, the Student Writing Intensive is the first program we’ve used that my kids LIKED. They showed significant progress in their composition writing!

IEW’s owner, Andrew Pudewa, was formerly a reluctant writing. He has an engaging teaching style that lets the students know they are not alone in their dread for composition writing. Mr. Pudewa has broken the composition writing process down into a straight-forward, step-by-step process which makes sense to anyone. His teaching videos make the process easy for YOU–the homeschooling parent. Having Mr. Pudewa as your kids instructor means they have the best instructor they can possibly get. Plus, since the teaching is on video, you will have a teacher who will repeat himself over-and-over as many times as you wish to play the DVD!

After finding and using the IEW courses, we had no need to look ANY further. The Student Writing Intensive (SWI) and Continuation courses were HIGHLY effective in bringing forward my reluctant high school boys’ writing abilities. In fact, my sons have been able to complete English 101 and 102 through joint enrollment with A’s (your results may vary ;-)).

Another good program for kids who are reluctant about composition writing is Brave Writer‘s program called “The Writer’s Jungle.” I reviewed and used from a misprint copy sent to me for review. From the moment it came out of the box, I couldn’t help but love this program.

With chapter names like “Machette Mechanics” and “Dumb Assignments”, you automatically become engaged in wanting to know more. When it comes to composition writing, who among us can’t hear her child saying, “This is so dumb”?

So, let’s move ‘write’ along the road and talk about the “dumb” assignments.. That is what I like most about Writer’s Jungle is that it isn’t a curriculum at all. The path you will take through The Writer’s Jungle is a journey you take lovingly with your child. When you emerge from the jungle, you will have a composition writing standing beside you. The Writer’s Jungle is a recipe for teaching composition writing with love–a recipe for creating a creative writer.

Julie Bogart, the program’s author, approaches composition writing from a published writer’s perspective, not as a teacher using a traditional curriculum. Julie’s passion for writing comes through in every page of The Writer’s Jungle. She loves to see writer’s bloom, and her program will help you grow your own composition writier.

The Writer’s Jungle will take you a long a path to progressively teach your child a love of composition writing. You’ll start with basic language skills–communicating through talking. By keying into language as a communication skill, you can take the steps outlined in the Jungle to help your child get her ideas on paper. Building on ideas and learning to focus on expression will help your child begin to to appreciate writing as a way for him to express himself. The path is easy and the burden is light as you walk through the Writer’s Jungle with your child. So, go check out The Writer’s Jungle and stop trying to drag your child along the writing road in shackles.

Another great composition writing program that a lot of parents like is Essentials in Writing (EIW). Like IEW’s programs, EIW’s program has teaching DVDs where Matthew Stephens teaches composition writing in a step-by-step manner also, with the key difference being smaller bites for this program over IEW’s programs.  I’ve had a couple of parents indicate their child was better able to digest the teaching in Essentials in Writing. 

Therefore, depending upon how significant your child’s writing disabilities are, you may find EIW’s program a better fit than IEW’s programs. I’ve not personally used nor reviewed a hard-copy of this program, so I cannot attest to it’s effectiveness for specific learning styles or for children with dysgraphia, but I welcome any input you have to share if you use this program.

Lastly, the Lost Tools of Writing is a specific, sequential composition writing program. The Lost Tools of Writing uses a classical approach to writing. It will carry your child through three stages of writing. Like the IEW and EIW programs, Lost Tools uses a teaching video followed by composition writing assignments as practice for your child. This program is not as widely popular, but again–different kids respond better to different teachers, so Lost Tools of Writing may be the program your child responds to best.

Whichever program you choose to teach your child composition writing, take the program at your child’s pace of learning. Don’t be in a hurry for complex compositions. Letting your child learn to express himself naturally when writing will help you avoid bigger problems with composition writing down the road.

Jul 102013
 

Are you looking for homeschool curriculum for improving writing skills?

Is your child struggling with writing sklls?
Does your child have symptoms of dysgraphia?

Writing is one of the most difficult skills for a child with learning disabilities to master. It was a significant challenge for us, but we overcame!

On this page I share information about the programs we used for improving writing skills in our boys. I also share information about programs other parents like for helping their struggling writers.

A Little About Homeschool Curriculum for Improving Writing Skills

When teaching your child writing skills, you need a homeschool curriculum for writing that focuses on helping your child develop content, thought organization into a readable essay or story, spelling, and punctuation.

We used the programs below to help our boys when we were improving writing skills. These programs worked in spite of our boys’ dyslexia, dysgraphia, and ADHD.


For many children with dysgraphia, writing is an arduous task. If your child HATES writing, I would suggest starting out with simple expectations. Build on improving writing skills over time. I have one particular homeschool curriculum for writing recommendation for you as a starting point..

Homeschool Curriculum for Improving Writing Skills When Your Child Hates Writing

When we first started home schooling, tantrums ensued whenever I requested my child write something. So, I backed off trying to “teach” writing. My goal became just getting him over his hatred of writing.

If your child “hates” writing, you might want to consider starting with Brave Writer. Julie Bogart’s “The Writer’s Jungle” is also great. Click here to read my review of “The Writer’s Jungle”. A misprint copy of this product was sent to me for review. This program was great for helping my son get comfortable with free-flow writing. It made him “comfortable”, but he never did like writing–it was more a case of not being terrified of a blank page any more!

For a long time, my request was that my children write one paragraph EACH day. A paragraph was defined as “at least three sentences”. I did not specify what they had to write. Our goal was just to write “Anything you want to write about.” I did not check the work for any technical aspect–only to see they had written that day. This was the sum total of our program for improving writing skills for quite awhile.

Often I got things like “The sky is blue. The grass is green. I hate writing.” Or “I got a toy. I like it. It is fun.” Of course, the writing was without punctuation, capitals, and often very sloppy. However, I didn’t criticize or grade anything. I simply said, “GREAT job!” as long as my child fulfilled the requirement of one paragraph of at least three sentences. (Sometimes I had difficulty determining where one sentence ended and the next began. I defined it loosely for my son’s benefit).

After my child self-initiated writing the paragraph daily without complaining, I upped the requirement to two paragraphs (which brought a lot of complaining). Then I required two paragraphs on one subject (which brought copious amounts of complaining). After my child self-initiated and was comfortable writing at that level, we moved to three paragraphs on one subject. Slowly improving writing skills emerged over time.

This process took us two school years. After two years I had a child who could write three paragraphs fairly easily. At that point, my son didn’t think that writing was a dreadful task worthy of all avoidance tactics he could imagine. My son became use to putting his thoughts on paper. That is the foundation for writing anyway, so we moved forward from here. 

I highly recommend starting with getting over your child’s hatred of writing if he or she has an “end of the world” mindset towards writing. For some kids, writing is so difficult for them that it really is like a form of torture!

The third year we started using Write Source 2000. We began working on more structured writing. Write Source is very colorful. It uses a step-by-step type of approach. My child did exceptionally well using this incremental approach to writing. He learned each step in producing a good written essay– prewriting (without worrying about anything techical), revising, editing, and producing the final draft. I did add in graphic organizers to help him visualize how to lay out a paper. The program brought a certain level of ability, but writing remained a brain-intensive process.

Homeschool Curriculum For Improving Writing Skills That Helped My Guys Write Wonderful Essays

We used several different products during our days of homeschooling. I’ll share the programs that have worked for us and for other Learning Abled Kids. Hopefully one or more of the products on this page will help you teach your child to express himself in writing well.

You can find Write Source products at Houghton Mifflin, however the program has been modified to be Common Core based. The program is no longer primarily a homeschool curriculum for improving writing skills.

After Write Source, we discovered IEW’s Student Writing Intensive! This is an AWESOME homeschool curriculum for improving writing skills. WE LOVE IT! LOVE, LOVE, LOVE!

I found the **Institute for Excellence in Writing’s “Student Writing Intensive” – I ordered the first level of this product (Student Writing Intensive). However, the Institute for Excellence in Writing sent it to me without cost along with a selection of other products to review for this website. The program SWI course was so successful, we *purchased* the Student Writing Intensive Continuation Course too.

After years of working on improving writing skills with no love for writing in my boys, the Student Writing Intensive provided an unexpected relief in my life! Using the Student Writing Intensive (SWI) brought about an interest in writing for my reluctant writers that NO other program has inspired.

Reluctant writers relate to Andrew Pudewa because he hated writing as a boy. He expresses feelings reluctant writers have towards writing projects. Mr. Pudewa can put writing instruction in terms that make sense. He inspires an “I can do this” attitude. He has an engaging presentation style too. He keeps kids laughing while learning about writing.

Having the DVD program has allowed me to become “coach” rather than teacher. My reluctant writers are responding much better to Mr. Pudewa’s requests to write than they do my requests!

We finished the Student Writing Intensive (SWI) in a couple of months. We then used the **”Student Writing Continuation Course” to for improving my guys’ writing skills further.

With IEW, I have been inspired by having my reluctant writers greet their writing instruction with anticipation and a degree of eagerness. If you have a reluctant writer, and wish your child would embrace writing, Mr. Pudewa’s Student Writing Intensive (SWI) DVD instruction series may be your perfect homeschool curriculum for writing!   Truly, it is the first (only) writing program my kids have really LIKED.

Well-liked Homeschool Curriculum for Improving Writing Skills

The homeschool curriculum for improving writing skills recommended below are carefully selected for recommendation based upon their ability to take a child from a struggling, non-writer to a child who can readily put his thoughts onto paper in a logical manner. My favorites are those listed above, but those listed below are used by other learning abled kids’ moms. The programs are generally liked as homeschool curriculum for improving writing skills. Hopefully, one of the homeschool curriculum for writing listed on this page will be suited to you and your child.

There are two programs that are similar to the IEW homeschool curriculum for writing that we love. Those to highly recommended programs are: Essentials in Writing (EIW) and The Lost Tools of Writing. Both of these two programs are similar to IEW in their use of a teaching DVD. The program also uses an incremental, step-by-step writing process. Generally speaking, I’ve found that learning abled kids respond to one of these three choices of homeschool curriculum for improving writing skills (IEW, EIW, Lost Tools).

Essentials in Writing – As already stated, EIW uses a teaching DVD and small learning lessons that are not overwhelming. Engaging in the lessons each day let’s your child learn writing at his own speed. Some of the benefits of EIW are that it is not parent intensive, has a low prep time, students can work independently, complete grammar and writing curriculum. Plus, it’s affordable.

Lost Tools of Writing – Lost Tools focuses on three main areas for improving writing skills. These are universal skills for writing. Any writer has to come up with ideas, organize those ideas, then express himself well in writing. This program is designed to take your child through these essential skill steps so he’ll be able to write a well thought out and structured essay. Just like EIW and IEW, the Lost Tools of Writing has a teaching DVD along with daily lessons. It is a very affordable program, and is well-liked by many Learning Abled Kids.

From Talking to Writing: Strategies for Scaffolding Expository Expressionimproving writing skills is a program offered by the Landmark School Outreach Program. Landmark is a well known, perhaps the most famous, specialized school for kids with dyslexia. This program has been recommended by some Learning Abled Kids’ moms. It is designed for grades K-6 to get kids writing. It’s an excellent option for starting to teach your child written expression, particularly for kids with difficulty starting to write.

Four Square Writing MethodHomeschool Curriculum for Writing – Four Square is an innovative writing approach that can be used with all forms of writing. The program uses a step-by-step approach built around simple graphic organizers. The organizers show students how to collect ideas, then use those ideas to create clear and polished writings. This program is excellent for improving writing skills and helping a reluctant writer get his ideas down onto paper.

**Writing StrandsWriting Strands is a homeschool curriculum for improving writing skills designed to teach children how to use their language effectively in creative and expository modes. The upper levels of the series have creative, basic, research and report, argumentative, and explanatory training. The lower levels teach the skills needed by the students to be able to take advantage of the upper levels’ exercises. This program has a good amount of explanation about how to approach writing. It also explains why a child would want to write using good writing practices. This homeschool curriculum for improving writing skills is incremental in taking a child from the earliest stages of written thought to organized, comprehensive papers.

You might consider some comfy rubber pencil grips to make it easier on your child’s hand as he writes too. Often kids with dysgraphia get a death grip on the pencil because of all of their tension over the task. The kind we got for regular pencils are the ergonomic pencil gripsimproving writing skills. They fit over thin mechanical pencils. These grips help the child have the correct grip, provide comfort, and prevent blisters from writing. The grips also make it a little more ‘fun’ or novel. You can purchase grips to slide onto pencils and pens, or you can buy pencils or pens with the grips already built into them. We found the grips that you slide onto a standard width pencil or pen to be the most comfortable.

This page concentrates on the thought organization and content creation for improving writing skills, which is known as written expression. Other aspects of improving writing skills are addressed on our Supplementary Language Arts Programs page and on the Curricula for Homeschooing and Teaching Handwriting to a Child with Dysgraphia page.

If your child is struggling with handwriting, you’ll definitely want to check out the handwriting page before focusing too heavily on improving writing skills for compositions.