Helping students find their ‘inner author’

Starting school is an exciting time for most students! Walking through those doors for the first time, their expectations are high, their enthusiasm is elevated, and their potential is untapped! However, after a year or so at school, many students start to believe that they are not ‘good’ in some areas of the curriculum – particularly writing! So, why is this skill so challenging for so many of our students?



Motor skills

For some children, writing may be difficult because their fine motor skills are not yet fully developed. In other words, they may find it challenging to manipulate their wrist, hand, fingers, or thumb with accuracy. As a parent, you may have noticed that your child needs support when they eat with a spoon/fork, cut paper with scissors or unbutton/unzip clothing to dress and undress themselves independently. Gross motor (using the large muscles of the arms, legs, and torso), and sensory motor difficulties with balance, posture and hand-eye coordination may also explain why your child finds writing demanding. Continuing to work on these skills at home will develop their confidence and skills; it may also be useful to visit an occupational therapist to find out more.

Letter shape/letter sound knowledge

By the time children are 5-6 years of age, many of them can generate a rhyme sequence, recognise alliteration, identify syllables in a word, segment words into sounds and/or match letter names to sounds. However, for some, these key phonological and phonic skills are not yet developed, so the child doesn’t have the knowledge they need to transfer oral ideas to print; their spelling will probably be inconsistent too. To assist, look for opportunities to work on these foundation skills at home (e.g., with kinaesthetic materials such as plasticine/plastic letters to make words) and talk to your child’s teacher about how to increase their abilities in these important areas.

Attention and memory

Writing can be challenging for anyone who is easily distracted whatever their age! For children, feelings of impulsivity and a lack of focus may result in spelling difficulties, poorly planned work, illegible handwriting, or a difficulty getting started in the first place! In class, students with working memory issues may also find the many automatic processes required to compose a piece of text (such as organising ideas, recalling spelling, grammar, punctuation etc.) demanding and fatiguing to manage. In addition, if their letter shape/sound knowledge is not secure and they find the motor requirements challenging, children’s confidence can easily wane, contributing to, or resulting in, unsuccessful writing experiences. To help, students often benefit from short, highly structured tasks, to help them ‘stay on track’ and complete an activity successfully. For example, providing students with ‘thick lined paper’ with highlighted lines and dots (to show the child specifically where they should write) limits spatial ordering requirements for the child. In addition, enabling students to write, without focusing on their handwriting/spelling can give some students the freedom they need to express themselves – perhaps during a ‘5-minute write’ on a topic of their (or your) choice. Using word banks on their page/white board can also provide support to a child when they are unsure of the vocabulary/spelling they should use. Modelling how to start a sentence, is another useful scaffold for students, ensuring greater ‘take up’ and understanding for them. Finally, as well as using a variety of activities/pens/pencils to keep their interest ‘fresh’ (including using keyboarding for some tasks) – showing empathy, understanding and regularly praising the effort students give to writing can really help them develop skills at their pace.

What else can I do as a parent?

If your child has consistently had writing issues since starting primary school, now may be a good time to seek further clarification/assessment about why this is the case. For example, there may be ADHD/ADD considerations to address, different instructional methods to benefit from or specific motor support and guidance that they need. Alternatively, your child may have reading/writing challenges or dyslexia. Therefore, identifying the causes, whilst also working with the school to develop explicit and supportive intervention to assist them can only help your child on the journey to find their ‘inner author’.

Visit us

For parents looking to find out more about how we help students improve their writing skills at Oak Hill, you are welcome to attend one of our regular Open Mornings or seminars. Please visit Oak Hill to register for an upcoming event, or follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn for more details about our successful and evidence-based programme.