5 Steps to Helping a Struggling Writer Succeed
- Monday, February 08, 2010
Writing is an extremely complex process that requires the brain to do many different things at once: form an idea, put that idea into words, think about how to spell those words, consider what to capitalize and how to punctuate, and remember how to form letters (or where to find them on a keyboard). In addition, while one sentence is being written, the brain is likely racing ahead to consider the next sentence! It is no wonder that so many people—children and adults alike—struggle with writing.
The key to mastering the writing process is to break it into manageable segments so that the writer can focus on one task at a time. For example, while the first draft is being written, focus should be on getting the ideas down; all thoughts about mechanical correctness should be temporarily set aside. That important issue will receive attention later on.
The following 5-step process is geared toward helping struggling writers overcome their reluctance and experience success. The steps involve planning, dictating, copying, writing from dictation, and writing independently. All of these steps will be followed on one short piece of writing. The five-step process might be completed within one session or might be spread out over several days.
Depending on the ability level of the student, the composition may range from one sentence to a short paragraph. If the student gets involved in planning and dictating a lengthy piece, select one paragraph to use in Steps 3, 4, and 5—or at least complete these three steps on one paragraph before moving on to another one.
(Although masculine pronouns have been used for convenience in describing this process, they are intended to be universal and all-inclusive.)
1. Planning. Talk with the person about what he will write. Instead of supplying a lot of information yourself, get the writer to do the talking. Talking provides valuable rehearsal for writing. Your role is to ask a lot of questions. Through questioning, help the writer discover which parts of the composition could benefit from further development, which parts may not be relevant to the current purpose, which parts are not clear, which order of ideas is most effective, etc. (This step is helpful to any writer, regardless of his level of experience and expertise.)
2. Dictating. Have the person dictate his composition to you or to another "scribe." Write down what the person says. This frees the author to focus on content without having to think about spelling, capitalization, punctuation, letter formation, or other subskills.
After the person has finished dictating, read the composition aloud so that the author can hear how it sounds, focusing on the content in relation to the planning that was done in Step 1. Ask if there are any changes he wants to make. If there are, make them. It is fine if, in addition, the author wants to read the composition himself.
Since the student will later copy what you have written from his dictation, this step is most critical to having a piece of writing that is mechanically correct. Even though the author has been relieved of the physical process of writing (and the mechanical errors he might make have been prevented), other errors can still creep in. He might use a wrong form of a verb, a sentence fragment, etc. Errors should be corrected.
The correction process can take different forms. Some errors might simply be corrected by you and not mentioned (unless, of course, the student asks why the written form differs from what he dictated). Other corrections may be discussed with the student. Corrections in this category should be limited to a few that involve concepts somewhat familiar to the student or at least within his understanding (things he is "ready" to learn). Generally it is best for such discussions to take place after the dictation has been completed so that the student's train of thought is not derailed during composition.
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