Direct Instruction, Dysgraphia, and Divine Intervention

MEd Reading and Writing Specialist Student, Julie WayI began my academic career in Yonkers, NY, entering kindergarten at age four. I experienced severe separation anxiety which resulted in a negative attitude toward school that lasted for many years. I was an unmotivated student who disliked school and did minimal work.

Ironically, as I grew up I wanted to become a teacher. By the summer before my senior year of high school I realized that I wanted to go to college, but had neither the financial means nor the academic preparation.

A series of circumstances occurred that I view now as divine intervention: an acquaintance invited me to visit her at college (SUNY Oneonta); an encouraging teacher told me it wasn’t too late; and someone who wasn’t my guidance counselor stumbled upon a government grant that was just right for me. I was accepted at Oneonta State College with full tuition paid through the opportunity program.

After graduating with a degree in elementary education, I found myself drawn to struggling learners. My past experiences in school helped me understand these children. Years later, I discovered that several of my own children were struggling learners as well.

I searched for a program that would do more than teach children to compensate for their weaknesses and I found the National Institute for Learning Development (NILD) Discovery Program. The program strives to strengthen deficit areas and bring students to become independent learners.* I enrolled my own children and later became a trained educational therapist with NILD. For the past 10 years I have been working with students one-on-one in the Discovery ProgramĀ® and last year, I launched my own business providing therapy to students in several area schools.

Presently, I am enrolled in the Master of Education in Reading and Writing Specialist degree with the certification option. I feel that this new knowledge will fit in well with my past experiences and afford new opportunities to work with students in different venues. I have been encouraged to design projects that will be both practical and helpful to my work.

Recently, I took a Research in Writing course with Dr. Meg Petersen. I chose to do a case study on a student with learning disabilities. This student has a unique profile since he scored high in verbal skills and was very low in perceptual skills. His handwriting was illegible (dysgraphia) and would deteriorate after the third sentence yet his language expression was very mature. I began to wonder what this bright young man’s composition skills would be like if he were allowed to dictate rather than write compositions by hand.

Up until this point my experience with children with dysgraphia was in the context of educational therapy. Though my student was progressing nicely in therapy, his intellectual abilities were far above what his hand could produce on paper. I felt I needed to intervene during this interim period.

My project began by locating and studying research on the subject of dysgraphia. My student was spending so much energy on the mechanics of handwriting, there was little left for high-level composing. This explained why his compositions were full of partial sentences and word omissions.**

I also learned that dictation was not enough. Students needed to be explicitly taught organizational writing skills as well in order for compositions to improve in both quantity and quality. I used this information to create a template, teach organizational skills, and allow the student to dictate as I transcribed using the keyboard. The result was that my student’s compositions began to improve rapidly in both quantity and quality. His self-esteem soared.

I am now taking Research in Reading and Writing with Eleanor Papazoglou and have been encouraged to continue my research. Since my goal is to bring this student to independence, my present project explores the effects speech recognition software can have on a student’s compositions.

For this new project I purchased speech recognition software for myself and my student. I spent four weeks training my student to use this software. After examining the data and accuracy I am learning that speech recognition technology is more accurate for adults than children.***

I am so grateful for all I have learned in this process and will use it to work both on the practical end of remediating handwriting and on the creative end to see that this student has every opportunity to express his thoughts on paper. Until such time that speech recognition software becomes more accurate for children I will continue search for other solutions.

* NILD parent guide

** Berninger, V. (1999). Coordinating transcription and text generation in working memory during composing: Automatized and constructive processes. Learning Disability Quarterly, 22, 99-112.

*** Blomberg, M. & Elenius, D. (2003). Collection and recognition of children’s speech in the PF-star project. PHONUM 9, 81-84.


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