Annotated list of related links at end of article
> Reading and Spelling Articles
> Accommodations and Modifications for Dysgraphia
Accommodations and Modifications for Students
Handwriting Problems and/or Dysgraphia
Susan Jones, M.Ed.
Many students struggle to produce neat, expressive written
work, whether or not they have accompanying physical or cognitive
difficulties. They may learn much less from an assignment
because they must focus on writing mechanics instead of content.
After spending more time on an assignment than their peers,
these students understand the material less. Not surprisingly,
belief in their ability to learn suffers. When the writing
task is the primary barrier to learning or demonstrating knowledge,
then accommodations, modifications, and remediation for these
problems may be in order.
There are sound academic reasons for students to write extensively.
Writing is a complex task that takes years of practice to
develop. Effective writing helps people remember, organize,
and process information. However, for some students writing
is a laborious exercise in frustration that does none of those
things. Two students can labor over the same assignment. One
may labor with organizing the concepts and expressing them,
learning a lot from the 'ordeal.' The other will force words
together, perhaps with greater effort (perhaps less if the
language and information has not been processed), with none
of the benefits either to developing writing skills or organizing
and expressing knowledge.
How can a teacher determine when and what accommodations
are merited?The teacher should meet with the student and/or
parent(s), to express concern about the student's writing
and listen to the student's perspective. It is important to
stress that the issue is not that the student can't learn
the material or do the work, but that the writing problems
may be interfering with learning instead of helping. Discuss
how the student can make up for what writing doesn't seem
to be providing -- are there other ways he can be sure to
be learning? Are there ways to learn to write better? How
can writing assignments be changed to help him learn the most
from those assignments? From this discussion, everyone involved
can build a plan of modifications, accommodations, and remediations
that will engage the student in reaching his best potential.
SIGNS OF DYSGRAPHIA:
Generally illegible writing
(despite appropriate time and attention given the
: mixtures of print and cursive, upper and lower case,
or irregular sizes, shapes, or slant of letters
words or letters, omitted words
position on page with respect to lines and margins
spaces between words and letters
or unusual grip, especially
holding the writing instrument
very close to the paper, or
holding thumb over two fingers
and writing from the wrist
wrist, body, or paper position
to self while writing, or carefully watching the hand
that is writing
or labored copying or writing - even if it is neat
which does not reflect the student's other language
reduce the impact that writing has on learning or expressing
knowledge -- without substantially changing the process
or the product.
Modify -- change the assignments or expectations to meet the student's
individual needs for learning
Remediate - provide instruction and opportunity for improving handwriting
When considering accommodating or
modifying expectations to deal with dysgraphia, consider
1. the rate of producing
2. the volume of the work to be produced,
3. the complexity of the writing task, and
4. the tools used to produce the written product,
5. the format of the product.
1. Change the demands of writing
Allow more time for written tasks
including note-taking, copying, and tests
Allow students to begin projects
or assignments early
Include time in the student's
schedule for being a 'library assistant' or 'office
assistant' that could also be used for catching up or
getting ahead on written work, or doing alternative
activities related to the material being learned.
Encourage learning keyboarding
skills to increase the speed and legibility of written
Have the student prepare assignment
papers in advance with required headings (Name, Date,
etc.), possibly using the template described below under
"changes in complexity."
2. Adjust the volume:
Instead of having the student
write a complete set of notes, provide a partially completed
outline so the student can fill in the details under
major headings (or provide the details and have the
student provide the headings).
Allow the student to dictate some
assignments or tests (or parts of tests) a 'scribe'.
Train the 'scribe' to write what the student says verbatim
("I'm going to be your secretary") and then
allow the student to make changes, without assistance
from the scribe.
Remove 'neatness' or 'spelling'
(or both) as grading criteria for some assignments,
or design assignments to be evaluated on specific parts
of the writing process.
Allow abbreviations in some writing
(such as b/c for because). Have the student develop
a repertoire of abbreviations in a notebook. These will
come in handy in future note-taking situations.
Reduce copying aspects of work;
for example, in Math, provide a worksheet with the problems
already on it instead of having the student copy the
3. Change the Complexity:
Break writing into stages and
teach students to do the same. Teach the stages of the
writing process (brainstorming, drafting, editing, and
proofreading, etc.). Consider grading these stages even
on some 'one-sitting' written exercises, so that points
are awarded on a short essay for brainstorming and a
rough draft, as well as the final product. If writing
is laborious, allow the student to make some editing
marks rather than recopying the whole thing.
On a computer, a student can make a rough draft, copy
it, and then revise the copy, so that both the rough
draft and final product can be evaluated without extra
Do not count spelling on rough
drafts or one-sitting assignments.
Encourage the student to use a
spellchecker and to have someone else proofread his
work, too. Speaking spellcheckers are recommended, especially
if the student may not be able to recognize the correct
word (headphones are usually included).
4. Change the tools:
Allow the student to use cursive
or manuscript, whichever is most legible
Consider teaching cursive earlier
than would be expected, as some students find cursive
easier to manage, and this will allow the student more
time to learn it.
Encourage primary students to
use paper with the raised lines to keep writing on the
Allow older students to use the
line width of their choice. Keep in mind that some students
use small writing to disguise its messiness or spelling,
Allow students to use paper or
writing instruments of different colors.
Allow student to use graph paper
for math, or to turn lined paper sideways, to help with
lining up columns of numbers.
Allow the student to use the writing
instrument that is most comfortable. Many students have
difficulty writing with ballpoint pens, preferring pencils
or pens which have more friction in contact with the
paper. Mechanical pencils are very popular. Let the
student find a 'favorite pen' or pencil (and then get
more than one like that).
Have some fun grips available
for everybody, no matter what the grade. Sometimes high
school kids will enjoy the novelty of pencil grips or
even big "primary pencils."
Word Processing should be an option
for many reasons. Bear in mind that for many of these
students, learning to use a word processor will be difficult
for the same reasons that handwriting is difficult.
There are some keyboarding instructional programs which
address the needs of learning disabled students. Features
may include teaching the keys alphabetically (instead
of the "home row" sequence), or sensors to
change the 'feel' of the D and K keys so that the student
can find the right position kinesthetically.
Consider whether use of speech
recognition software will be helpful. As with word processing,
the same issues which make writing difficult can make
learning to use speech recognition software difficult,
especially if the student has reading or speech challenges.
However, if the student and teacher are willing to invest
time and effort in 'training' the software to the student's
voice and learning to use it, the student can be freed
from the motor processes of writing or keyboarding.
For some students and situations,
accommodations will be inadequate to remove the barriers
that their writing problems pose. Here are some ways assignments
can be modified without sacrificing learning.
1. Adjust the volume:
Reduce the copying elements of
assignments and tests. For example, if students are
expected to 'answer in complete sentences that reflect
the question,' have the student do this for three questions
that you select, then answer the rest in phrases or
words (or drawings). If students are expected to copy
definitions, allow the student to shorten them or give
him the definitions and have him highlight the important
phrases and words or write an example or drawing of
the word instead of copying the definition.
Reduce the length requirements
on written assignments -- stress quality over quantity.
2. Change the complexity:
Grade different assignments on
individual parts of the writing process, so that for
some assignments "spelling doesn't count,"
for others, grammar.
Develop cooperative writing projects
where different students can take on roles such as the
'brainstormer,' 'organizer of information,' 'writer,'
'proofreader,' and 'illustrator.'
Provide extra structure and intermittent
deadlines for long-term assignments. Help the student
arrange for someone to coach him through the stages
so that he doesn't get behind. Discuss with the student
and parents the possibility of enforcing the due dates
by working after school with the teacher in the event
a deadline arrives and the work is not up-to-date.
Change the format:
Offer the student an alternative
project such as an oral report or visual project. Establish
a rubric to define what you want the student to include.
For instance, if the original assignment was a 3-page
description of one aspect of the Roaring Twenties (record-breaking
feats, the Harlem Renaissance, Prohibition, etc) you
may want the written assignment to include:
A general description of that
'aspect' (with at least two details)
Four important people and
Four important events - when,
where, who and what
Three good things and three
bad things about the Roaring Twenties
You can evaluate the student's visual
or oral presentation of that same information, in the
Consider these options:
Build handwriting instruction
into the student's schedule. The details and degree
of independence will depend on the student's age and
attitude, but many students would like to have better
handwriting if they could.
If the writing problem is severe
enough, the student may benefit from occupational therapy
or other special education services to provide intensive
Keep in mind that handwriting
habits are entrenched early. Before engaging in a battle
over a student's grip or whether they should be writing
in cursive or print, consider whether enforcing a change
in habits will eventually make the writing task a lot
easier for the student, or whether this is a chance
for the student to make his or her own choices.
Teach alternative handwriting
methods such as "Handwriting Without Tears."
(This is certainly not the only appropriate method.)
Even if the student employs accommodations
for writing, and uses a word processor for most work,
it is still important to develop and maintain legible
writing. Consider balancing accommodations and modifications
in content area work with continued work on handwriting
or other written language skills. For example, a student
for whom you are not going to grade spelling or neatness
on certain assignments may be required to add a page
of spelling or handwriting practice to his portfolio.
More information on Dysgraphia:
Richards, Regina G. When Writing's A Problem RET
Center Press. This booklet defines and outlines the stages
of writing, the effects of different pencil grips on writing,
and dysgraphic symptoms. Guidelines are provided to identify
dysgraphic students and specific helps and compensations are
Levine, Melvin. Educational Care: A System for Understanding
and Helping Children with Learning Problems at Home and in
School. Cambridge, MA: Educators
Publishing Service, 1994. Concise, well organized descriptions
of specific learning tasks, variations in the ways students
process information, and concrete techniques that teachers
and parents can use to bypass areas of difficulty.
Olsen, Jan Z.
Handwriting Without Tears.
Shannon, Molly, OTR/L Dysgraphia Defined: The Who, What,
When, Where and Why of Dysgraphia - conference presentation,
and Intervention Strategies for Disorders of Written Language
by Margaret Kay, Ed. D.
why Students Avoid Writing by Regina Richards (author
of several excellent resources for/about dysgraphia)
OnLine In Depth: Writing (Many articles
about writing and learning disabilities)
programs for students with special needs -
part of LD OnLine's listing of Assistive Technology Resources
for Students with Learning Disabilities.
Technology Work in the Inclusive Classroom: A Spell CHECKing
Strategy for Students with Learning Disabilities
- 1998 - Dr. Tamarah Ashton, Ph.D. This strategy helps
the student with learning disabilities get the most out of
spell checking software.
Illegible to Understandable: How Word Prediction and Speech
Synthesis Can Help - 1998 - Charles A. MacArthur,
Ph.D. New software helps writers by predicting the word
the student wants to type and reading what s/he has written.
How, and how much, does this help with student writing and
© Copyright 1998-1999, Susan Jones, Resource
© 1998-2003, Susan Jones, Resource Room/Team Prairie, LLC. All