Lots of people have handwriting that is not neat or well formed. For the most part this is due to a desire for speed over form or simply a lack of diligent practise and can be overcome with time and care if the situation calls for a particular neatness. For some people, however, ‘untidy’ writing is a far more complex issue.
Dysgraphia is a neurological condition and recognised learning difference in the UK. Characterised by writing that is often poorly formed and difficult to read, sometimes with a mixture of cursive and block letters and that are frequently poorly spaced and not in line, dysgraphia can sometimes cause physical pain and can limit a person’s ability to express their thoughts when writing.
Teaching a child that suffers from dysgraphia requires a different approach. The key things to understand in order to develop a successful learning strategy for dysgraphic childen are:
- Rather than reinforcing the learning process, as is ‘normal’, repeatedly writing words or phrases can interfere with learning as the child has to focus too completely on the writing itself.
- Poor spelling or composition in writing is not indicative of the child’s ability level; any formative or summative assessment of these skills must be separated from the physical writing process.
- Children with dysgraphia become mentally and physically fatigued from writing far quicker than those without.
While primarily associated with writing and literacy skills, dysgraphia can impede learning across the curriculum if not dealt with appropriately. For example, requiring a child with dysgrapia to copy maths problems before solving them will unnecessarily fatigue and frustrate them, while adding nothing to the learning process.
Useful strategies for teaching children with dysgraphia include:
- Providing a pencil/pen grip – experiment with different shapes and sizes until you find one that feels comfortable to the individual child.
- Building in time for daily practise – be sure to make this a separate activity based on copying rather than something requiring a combination of thinking skills. The idea is to build muscle memory.
- Use gridded paper for writing activities to aid with keeping writing well spaced and in line.
- Removing physical writing components from teaching where possible, especially in literacy teaching, allowing the use of a keyboard or oral answers.
- Encouraging drawing and mechanical tasks that promote fine motor skills.
For more information on dysgraphia, visit http://dysgraphia.org.uk/