It can be overwhelming when you are faced with a piece of writing which is littered with mistakes – many words spelt incorrectly, no punctuation, sentences which don’t make sense to name a few. You feel like pulling your hair out especially when you feel your child really does know how to do some of it…. Take a deep breath, get a coffee (and if it’s really bad a chocolate bar) and I’ll outline how to approach this.
The rules are: Start with what you know they definitely know and have a few areas that you want them to concentrate on getting right first. Do not try and correct everything , unless there are only a few errors.
Step 1: Ask your child to reread each sentence out loud to check whether it makes sense. They can usually tell when it does and conversely when it doesn’t. By reading out loud they also pick up when they have missed words out. They may need support to correct the sentence, so you do need to have a ‘collaborative’ hat on to do this work. A dyslexic child will often write long, convoluted sentences because somewhere along the line they have been told to write a ‘complex sentence’, but the problem is they have no idea how to do this!
If this is your child, take them back to writing simple sentences which are completely correct. Then get them to gradually build back up to more detailed sentences – I usually get them to add in adjectives next, then once that is mastered we do adverbs. After adverbs, I refresh their memory about connectives and then when all this is mastered we will start looking at adding in phrases for sophistication and detail.
Step 2: Next look at punctuation – full stops, question marks and, if I have taught commas, then I also ask them to think about these. Be aware that many children ( and adults!) get really confused about them so a recap may be needed; you should never be afraid to ask them to explain when certain pieces of punctuation are used as this can uncover their confusion. If your child is further on, then get them to think about using colons, semi colons and brackets, refreshing their memory with how to use them.
Depending on the number of mistakes, these two steps may be all that you should go through at this stage. Remember to use your judgement to maintain a level of calm and also confidence for your child. Concentrating on these basic areas will bring about improvement in a fairly short amount of time as any confusion they have along the way will be remedied. If this hasn’t taken much time, then you could carry on with step 3 and 4.
Step 3: Spellings! This is often the really difficult part for a dyslexic child. Depending on the learner , I either correct 2 or 3 of the most common words that they have misspelt or I ask them to underline the incorrect spellings and ask them which ones they would like to correct ( again concentrating on 2 -3 words). If there are subject specific words which they are also supposed to be learning, then I would concentrate on these. The second method is good for increasing their ability to control their own learning, making them more engaged with it. It can be difficult to only correct 2 or 3 words when you want to correct all of them, but you do need to hold off as this is counterproductive.
Step 4: Substitute better vocabulary for the simple words. If these other steps haven’t taken too long ( or if this is what I am concentrating on that week I will sacrifice out some of the other steps for this one), then I will identify 2 or 3 words which are really a bit simple and ask the student for better ones. We may use a thesaurus to help with this (you can do this online which for some reason makes it more acceptable!).
With older students, especially those approaching GCSE, I would also look at the voice they have used and whether this is appropriate for their audience, but we are now really putting the final touches onto the writing , ‘the cherry on the cake’ bit. Voice is how pieces of writing become more interesting to read – have you read any David Walliams and his humorous voice? It can also be quite fun to put a doom and gloom voice in or to be sarcastic.
I don’t always follow the steps in this order and if I am really concentrating on, for example, spellings for that student, then this may be the only part of the writing which is corrected. Use your judgement and ask yourself, is my child struggling more with writing a sentence which makes sense or with spelling? This will help you to focus on the area more in need.
You may get frustrated as a parent that your child makes simple mistakes in their writing, but remember that they have a weak working memory so it is almost impossible for them to write an accurate first draft. Proof reading and going through these steps is the recipe for writing accuracy and success. Let me know how you get on with this writing process.
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