Stumbling block #10 – Learning challenges

by | Jan 11, 2010 | Special Needs

Learning Challenges | 10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing

Welcome back to our tenth—and final—article in the series 10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing. I’ve really enjoyed writing each one, and I hope you’ve found them inspirational too.

Today I’m going to spend a few minutes looking at a different kind of stumbling block altogether: learning challenges. 

Stumbling Block #10 

Problem: Learning challenges and special needs create many stumbling blocks to writing.

Solution: Short writing projects, frequent practice, and bite-size assignments are some of the ways to make the writing process manageable.

Does Your Child Learn with Difficulty?

Has your child been diagnosed with ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, or Asperger’s? Does he have an auditory or visual processing disorder? Depending on the severity, it’s likely that his symptoms interfere with schooling to some degree.

Many such children live in a world littered with stumbling blocks that make learning a struggle. While these can include physical limitations like arm and shoulder tension or vision problems, a learning challenge will ultimately result in difficulty performing mental tasks like math problems or writing.

Writing issues can include:

  • Awkward or tight pencil grip
  • Illegible handwriting
  • Poor word and line spacing
  • Poor written expression
  • Problems with details (paying too little attention or obsessing too much)
  • Inattention and carelessness
  • Disorganization
  • Impulsiveness and difficulty planning
  • Poor self-monitoring skills

Helping a Student with Learning Challenges

How do you come up with a plan to help your special needs student? First, recognize that parents are a child’s first and best teachers. You know your child better than anyone, and you care more deeply about his needs. There is much you can do!

I’m certainly not an expert in this area, but I can offer you some helpful suggestions. For starters:

  • Establish a distraction-free work space for your child to do schoolwork: quiet, well lit, uncluttered.
  • Set a regular time to study with your child, and work closely with him.
  • Help him organize study materials before beginning.

As for writing, there are many things you can do to help a child who learns with difficulty. Consider using these ideas:

Graphic Organizers

Students do better when they can use graphic organizers such as mind-maps (clustering), charts, lists, or diagrams to help them outline and plan their work.

Self-Editing Checklists

It’s important for the struggling learner to be able to mark his progress. Provide a writing checklist for every assignment to walk him through self-editing step by step. A checklist (such as the ones introduced in WriteShop Junior, or the comprehensive checklists found in WriteShop I) reminds him of every element that needs his attention. As he compares his rough draft to the checklist, he can make corrections and improvements.

A visually overwhelmed student can use a plain sheet of paper to help him track each line of the checklist.

Colored Pencils

Have your child use colored pencils to circle or underline potential corrections. Each color can be used for a different strategy: capitalization, spelling, punctuation, repeated words, dull or vague words, etc. The colors provide students with a focus for editing and revising as they revisit their work for each task.

Frequent Repetition and Practice

Make sure writing lessons build on previously learned skills. Good checklists help students apply these skills regularly.

Short, Specific Assignments

Writing projects that are short, contained, and relevant are more effective than fuzzy, open-ended, “write-whatever-you-want” assignments. Single-paragraph compositions are excellent for students who have trouble staying focused. Whether they’re overwhelmed by longer assignments, or they ramble and take rabbit trails, short assignments help them stay on task.

And just as important, make sure your writing program includes topic ideas and clear directions. Give specific requirements for each lesson, from brainstorming to writing, so your student always knows what he needs to do.

Tasks Broken into Bite-size Chunks

A child doesn’t have to learn with difficulty to benefit from working on a writing project in small increments. Breaking the writing process into manageable steps helps all students, including those who are disorganized, lazy, easily overwhelmed, or prone to procrastination. Spreading out assignments over time allows for paragraphs to rest between drafts and eases anxiety and stress.

Appeal to Different Learning Styles

A multisensory approach to writing  helps many students who learn with difficulty.

  • Visual: Use graphic organizers and checklists, calendar or schedule, and written instructions.
  • Auditory: Play word games, give verbal instructions, ask questions to prompt writing.
  • Kinesthetic: Describe textured objects the child can pick up and touch. Same for foods: touching and tasting the real thing makes it easier to describe. When writing about a place, take a notebook and pen and visit the place so your child can describe it firsthand.

Copyright © 2010 Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

. . . . .

WriteShop Primary, WriteShop Junior, and WriteShop make excellent choices for the homeschooling parent with a learning-challenged child. Their step-by-step instructions, helpful schedules and lesson plans, and appeal to different learning styles are just a few of the reasons parents have loved using WriteShop.

Images: Lydianne Aquino and D. Sharon Pruitt, courtesy of Creative Commons.


  1. Isabelle aka Canadianladybug

    My son Alexandre, age 8 1/2, goes too fast sometimes and then he misses a letter. Then he tries to include it by squeezing it in between the two letters where it should go. I am trying to tell him to take the time to erase the word and redo it. It’s better than having a word not written properly or clear enough to read. Repetition is paying off. He is slowing down on his writing. *grin*

    OH and the idea of using multiple colors is so neat. He thought of that one himself one day… using a different color for each word when he is doing something special. Cute!

    • Kim

      Sounds like you’re doing a great job with Alexandre!

  2. Kim

    Carol: Your advice is excellent, and something I did fail to mention. My learning-challenged son required much, if not most, of my time until he was about 13 or 14, but the girls were older and already working quite independently, so my time with him didn’t affect their schooling at all. However, if I’d had younger children, I would have had to make adjustments in our schedules in order to give Ben all he needed while devoting time to the littles as well. Your words are wise: “Do what you can, when you can and do not beat yourself up for what you cannot.” Thanks for sharing!

    Sarah: You’re always so sweet! I appreciate you!

  3. Sarah Allen

    Thanks for this! All of your advice has been incredibly thoughtful and helpful. I feel greatly benefited by it. Thanks!

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

  4. Carol J. Alexander

    Thanks for the tips. I’d like to add that a lot of parents cannot work too closely with an older child that may need them to because they also have younger children that need their attention as well. My advice, do what you can, when you can and do not beat yourself up for what you cannot.


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