Learning Disabled Students: Using Process Writing to Build Autonomy and Self Esteem

By Stringer, Suzanne J.; Morton, Rhonda Collins et al. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, September 1999 | Go to article overview

Learning Disabled Students: Using Process Writing to Build Autonomy and Self Esteem


Stringer, Suzanne J., Morton, Rhonda Collins, Bonikowski, Mary H., Journal of Instructional Psychology


This article examined the connection between the use of process writing and the increase of self esteem in students with learning disabilities. Two aspects of process writing considered in this paper were: 1) the teacher's view of children's role in the construction of knowledge; and 2) the developmental aspects of writing as it pertains to the individual child. Acquisition of spelling skills were discussed and related to the stages of a first grade student, who was diagnosed as a gifted, learning disabled student at the end of first grade. Writing samples of the student were provided. Implications for teaching using process writing techniques were discussed.

Students with learning disabilities typically spell less than half of their sight vocabularies (Smith, 1998). Additional characteristics of learning disabled students include lack of phonological awareness, difficulty visualizing how a word looks, poor motor control, poor auditory and visual memory skills and linguistic difficulties (Lerner, 1997; Smith, 1998). All of these factors make the writing process for the learning disabled student extremely difficult and an academic area they choose to avoid.

The Literacy Dictionary (Harris & Hodges, 1995, p.195) defines process writing as "a writing instruction model that views writing as an ongoing process ... in which students follow a given set of procedures for planning, drafting, revising, editing, ... and publishing ... their writing". Many teachers use process writing in the classroom. It is the developmentalist who uses this method while recognizing the developmental stages of children's writing, and in the beginning stages of writing, allows for many spelling inventions or constructions, before children reach conventional spelling. Two aspects of process writing considered in this paper are: 1) the teacher's view of children's role in the construction of knowledge; and 2) the developmental aspects of writing as it pertains to the individual child.

When teachers have an understanding of the developmental process of writing and what they might expect from their writers, they are encouraged by the mistakes or inventions children make as they write. For example, the entering first grader may initially write using random letters before beginning to use initial consonant sounds for words. The teacher who understands the developmental stages of writing will consider the use of initial consonants a milestone in the child's progress.

Typical acquisition of spelling skills follows a pattern through which all children must progress (Gentry, 1985; Lerner, 1997). Initially, children develop precommunicative or prephonetic writing. Letter-sound correspondence does not exist during this stage. Children scribble, imitate writing, begin to form their letters, and draw and string letters and shapes together randomly (Gentry, 1985; Lerner, 1997). In Stage 2, children use "invented spelling" to convey meaning. This stage is called the serniphonetic stage (Gentry, 1985). During Stage 3, children's attempts to spell more closely approximate conventional spelling, although not all words are accurately spelled. In this stage, known as the phonetic stage, children are beginning to follow some of the grammatical rules of language. For Gentry (1985), Stage 4 is a transitional stage where spellers have a mental image of how words appear visually. According to Lerner (1997), students use syllable junctures and multisyllabic words in Stage 4. At this stage, problems tend to occur with words that are the "exceptions to the rule" grammatically. During the final stage of learning to spell, a mature writer is aware of spelling errors and consults resource materials such as a dictionary.

Historically, special education teachers have followed a more traditional curriculum model for teaching writing to learning disabled students. Writing is typically taught in conjunction with reading and language arts. …

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