- Analyzing the directions
- Brainstorming a plan
- Organizing the plan to develop the main ideas and supporting details
- Following the plan to create a well-organized essay with a thesis or topic sentences
- Supporting the topic sentences with details and facts followed by explanations and examples
- Writing transitions between the sentences and the main ideas
- Summarizing the essay with a conclusion
- Adding a universal thought or idea to motivate others to act on the information provided
Post-Writing Processes – Editing
- Rereading the essay to fix any major roadblocks that interfere with readability
- Rereading the essay to make sure each sentence is clearly written with interesting choices of vocabulary and syntactically and grammatically correct sentences
- Rereading the essay to make sure the same verb tense was used throughout the paper
- Rereading the essay to make certain the mechanics are correct including the spelling, capitalization and punctuation
Why do so many students struggle with written expression?
Writing a well-organized succinct essay is one of the most challenging skills children learn in school. There are so many pitfalls that can occur. First students must have excellent executive functioning skills. They must assess how much they already know about a subject and then determine where they will look for reference materials and how long it will take them to collect the information necessary to write their papers. Then they must allocate enough time to research the internet, interview experts on the subject and /or go to the library to make it happen. Finally, after the research is complete, they must allow adequate time to develop and refine their writing. Those who wait until the night before the due date to start their papers are struggling with executive functioning.
Equally important are the skills necessary to develop an essay. This requires perspective-taking and organizational skills. Students must take the perspective of their readers and determine how much their audience already knows about a subject and what the author must make explicit. For example, if students are writing about the process of training ordinary dogs to become canine companions, they may assume that their audience understands that there is a need for service dogs for people with certain handicaps. However, they may need to explain to their readers that dogs are selected based on their temperaments, intelligence and obedience and are specifically matched to the personalities of their companions. This requires perspective taking.
Students must also use an organized approach to develop their essays. That process begins with brainstorming their thoughts followed by categorizing their ideas into main ideas and supporting details. Facts and details must be followed by explanations and examples that clarify the authors’ ideas for their readers and add a touch of creativity and imagination that brings their writing to life.
Essays must not only be well developed, they must be fluent as well. Written fluency is measured by how easily the reader can navigate the student’s writing.
Run-on sentences are typical problems that interfere with fluency. Sentences with syntax and grammatic errors such as subject–verb and noun–pronoun agreement issues are problematic as well. Readers also get confused when authors omit capital letters and punctuation and spell words incorrectly.
A student with a problem in any one of the above areas is going to struggle with writing. Unfortunately there are many students who struggle with all three!
How important is the ability to express our thoughts in writing?
Expressing their thoughts in writing is critical to students’ success in school. It begins in kindergarten when students are asked to write in their journals. They are not expected to have perfect spelling, but they are expected to write a sentence about a picture they have drawn in their journals or to write a sentence about their day. In first grade, teachers tend to expect simple book reports and ongoing journals. By second grade, students are expected to use conventional spelling for most one-syllable words and phonetically correct spelling for the rest. They are also expected to write multi-paragraph book summaries in well-developed paragraphs with grammatically correct sentences and excellent mechanics.
One –paragraph essays are typically assigned during the beginning of third grade. Students are expected to write a topic sentence followed by facts and details and summarized with a concluding sentence. Three-paragraph essays are introduced later during third grade. By fourth grade students are writing persuasive essays and simple research papers. Every year the expectations grow with assignments like “compare and contrast” essays and thesis papers by the end of elementary school.
Since 2005, the college entrance exams have included a writing component. Students are given 25 minutes to develop and execute a persuasive essay on a particular theme. They are expected to take a stand on the topic and then support their assertion with examples from literature, history and personal experiences. They are also expected to edit their mechanics during that 25 minute period.
Clearly, children are expected to write their thoughts throughout their lives in school. It is critical that they learn each step along the way so that the mounting expectations of writing do not become overwhelming for them.
How Can We Help?
The specialists at Jodie K. Schuller & Associates are professional speech and language therapists, many with over 25 years of experience in communicative disorders. Licensed by the state of California as speech-language pathologists, our therapists have also completed advanced training in specific techniques to enhance oral and written communication. Therapists have been trained to help children with social challenges using Michele Garcia Winner’s Social Thinking Curriculum. To help those with delayed speech development, therapists have taken advanced training in the Talk Tools approach to oral motor therapy and the Cycles approach to phonology. Having attended the Childhood Apraxia (CASANA) Conference, therapists have been trained to use the Kaufman, Strand and Prompt methodologies, among others, to help those with apraxia of speech. Therapists have studied the various methodologies recommended to treat children on the autism spectrum including PECS and Floortime. They are equipped to help nonverbal children using American Sign Language (ASL) and Alternative and Augmentative (AAC) devices. To facilitate the development of reading and written language development, therapists have attended training programs from coast to coast including post-graduate courses offered by the Landmark School of Education, the Wilson Reading System (based on Orton Gillingham) and the complete range of programs developed by Lindamood Bell including LIPS, Visualizing and Verbalizing, On Cloud 9 Math and Seeing Stars. Therapists have also been certified by the International Association of Orofacial Myology (IAOM) to diagnose and treat breathing and swallowing problems related to unhealthy oral resting postures, sucking habits and tongue thrust.