Brock and I were recently talking with our friend, Dr. Nicole Swedberg about how she came to focus in writing for dyslexic students when so many focus almost exclusively on helping students with reading.
It was after finishing her advanced degree and training in several top structured literacy programs that she started working with a student who had finished many such programs and was a remediated reader.
Although reading was now on grade-level, he couldn’t write! As an older student, too, so much of schooling was funneling into writing, that he was developing secondary problems like anxiety and work avoidance.
REMEDIATING THE READING BUT NOT THE WRITING
As she soon discovered, this student was the tip of an iceberg.
It’s surprisingly common for schools and programs to put a disproportionate amount of effort into reading and not writing. Orton-Gillingham / structured literacy programs vary widely in terms of how much writing they require – and when writing is expected to occur depending on how many levels of curricula have been completed.
So a student can be dutifully working through multiple levels of a “good” curriculum, and master the code of reading, but not be able to write!
Even today with all the emphasis on new dyslexia laws, if you look closely at what is being mandated, the laws almost always only mention reading. This is a mistake.
WRITING IS NECESSARY FOR ALL LEVELS OF EDUCATION
Many dyslexic students also have dysgraphia (“disorder of written expression”), but it’s much less mentioned by name in IEPs and 504s and many students fail to receive supports or specific interventions for it.
Without technology, students who want to write must reach a certain level of phonemic awareness before written work closely represents their ideas. Some students may be able to defer writing until this time, but others will struggle mightily and parents and teachers run the risk of these students disengaging from the educational process all together.
USING TECHNOLOGY WITH WRITING REMEDIATION
I remember talking to one of the directors at Landmark College before they had thoroughly integrated their college with assistive technology. Years ago, they had had a long-standing practice of prioritizing remediation over technology, but then they had a student with “severe dyslexia” who pleaded to be allowed to use technology – and they agreed and saw what a dramatic difference it made in his over-all performance and outlook at the college as well as his writing ability. In the end, his experience caused them to change their whole program of writing and integrate technology throughout curriculum for all students.
For the youngest children, allowing them dictate their ideas or use dictation apps (sometimes these best suited to older students) may happen first before typing with a software like Grammarly, Co-Writer, Ginger, or Word Tune.
Nicole told us that she does all of her remote writing tutoring with Google Docs. Google docs is free and used as a collaboration tool. When a student is working with a remote tutor, they can see what the other sees as sentences are being typed. It is possible for students to learn how to type with their voice in Google docs. There is a built-in spellchecker, grammar checker, dictionary, and thesaurus, and a tutoring with a student can provide on-the-spot support with grammar while students are writing.
There is no reason why writing should be neglected in dyslexia; writing is often a greater challenge than reading once students move out of lower elementary school.