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Causes of Delay and Difficulty in the Production of Written Text Julie Dockrell Psychology and Human Development Faculty of Children & Health

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Presentation on theme: "Causes of Delay and Difficulty in the Production of Written Text Julie Dockrell Psychology and Human Development Faculty of Children & Health"— Presentation transcript:

1 Causes of Delay and Difficulty in the Production of Written Text Julie Dockrell Psychology and Human Development Faculty of Children & Health

2 Overview 1.Is there a problem? 2.Long term impacts of writing difficulties 3.Teachers’ knowledge and understanding 4.Basic premises 5.Children with Special Educational Needs and problems with text production 6.The role of developmental models in addressing writing difficulties: profiles and processes 7.Implications 2

3 Is there a problem ? a) extent b) nature

4 Extent of the problem An inability to produce sustained, accurate, and competent writing has been identified as a pervasive weakness for many children. US National Assessment of Educational Progress  a significant proportion of fourth graders (16 percent) were below basic achievement levels  60 percent had only partial mastery of the writing process. The most recent published figures illustrated a similar pattern in England (37%) Difficulties are more pervasive when children have additional learning needs

5 5 Problems in the production of written text are arguably the most prevalent developmental disability of communication skills (Lerner, 1976 cited in Hooper et al., 2002)

6 Nature of the problems 1.Children with learning difficulties produce shorter, less interesting and poorly organized text at both the sentence and paragraph level (Hooper et al, 2002). 2.Texts marred by inordinate numbers of mechanical and grammatical errors (Anderson, 1982; MacArthur and Graham,1987). 3.Handwriting is less legible and the texts poorly punctuated (Graham and Weintraub, 1996).

7 Nature of the problems 4.Texts produced are restricted to knowledge-telling rather than knowledge transforming 5.Little planning and revising (Troia and Maddox, 2004). 6.Even when specific strategies are taught, the maintenance and transfer of strategies can be a problem (Troia and Maddox, 2004).

8 Summary Within child problems: »Basic skills »Knowledge of writing processes »Strategic behaviour »Planning »Revising 8

9 Long term impacts?

10 The long term implications ‘Deficits’ persist unless receive intervention 1970 British cohort study  18% of all cohort members reported some difficulty with writing,  of men and women with lower literacy. »Spelling 35% men, 31% women » 15% of men with lower skills »struggled with writing a thank-you letter, »legible handwriting »'to put down in words' what they wanted to say. 10

11 Without help pupils continue to write at an 8 year old level throughout secondary school (Meltzer, 2007)  Half sentences complete  Simple sentences Quality of text produced at 11 strong predictor of quality of text produced at 16 but mediated through spelling and reading skills ( Dockrell, Lindsay & Connelly, 2009) 11

12 Teachers’ knowledge and skills

13 Teacher knowledge and needs Considerable variation in the time teachers allocate to writing /writing instruction (Cutler & Graham, 2008) 40% make no adaptations for struggling writers (Graham, Murphy et al., 2008) Emphasis placed on teaching grammar although little evidence to its efficacy Graham & Perrin, 2007) Limited handwriting instruction (Barnett et al, 2006; Graham et al, 2008) Teachers report being inadequately prepared to teach writing 13

14 Basic Premises

15 Premises 1.Significant minority of children struggle to acquire basic competence in text production 2.Majority of children with writing difficulties are in mainstream classes 3.Problem of Equipotentiality 15

16 Equipotentiality Many different experiences/problems lead to the same difficulty Single behavioural outcome different pathways Interventions based on single models not effective 16

17 Therefore Requires an understanding of the writing difficulties experienced Analysis of both product and process Understanding of problems should drive evidence based practice 17

18 Children with special educational needs and associated difficulties with the production of written text

19 Developmental disabilities and writing Disorders of writing concern for over 100 years (Ogle – agraphia) Writing is the most common problem of 9 to 14 year old students with learning disabilities (Cobb-Morocco et al., 1992; Mayes and Calhoun, 2006). Unlike some developmental difficulties, problems in writing may not be evident until children are well into formal education, about the age of eight An important early indication of writing difficulties is the amount of written text produced under timed conditions, and this correlates with the quality of written expression in the primary years (Berninger and Fuller, 1992). Range of difficulties identified which make it difficult to identify developmental trajectories and appropriate interventions

20 Patterns of difficulty linked to diagnostic criteria ?

21 Manifestation of wide range of developmental difficulties Predict 1. General delays 2.Developmental coordination disorders /dysgraphia 3.Oral language difficulties (SLI) 4.Literacy difficulties

22 Confirmed 1.General delays  Slower in acquiring basic research competence (Katims, 2001; Rousseau et al, 1993) 2.Developmental coordination disorders /dysgraphia (e.g. Barnett et al)  Handwriting lacks consistency  Restricted production of accurate text  Increased errors with spelling 3.Oral language difficulties (SLI) (e.g. Dockrell et al)  Spelling  Text generation  Grammatical errors 4.Literacy difficulties/dyslexia (e.g. Connelly et al)  Spelling  Text generation  Planning & revising

23 Overlap at the behavioural level TextSpelling Grammar Handwriting fluency 23

24 Writing problems a manifestation other difficulties Surprising ? 1.Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (Re et al, 2007) 2.Bipolar disorders (74%) (Mayes & Calhoun, 2006) 3.Children with autism (60%) (Mayes & Calhoun, 2006) Why ?  Insufficient instruction  Working memory

25 Patterns of difficulty linked to diagnostic criteria Fail to differentiate at the behavioural & cognitive level Therefore interventions not diagnosis specific? 25

26 The role of developmental models in addressing writing difficulties: profiles and processes

27 Need a developmental model Simple view of writing derived from Berninger and Amtmann (2003: 350) Text generation: words, sentences and discourse Executive functions: planning, reviewing and revising Transcription: handwriting and spelling Working memory

28 Identify cognitive constraints in the process ? Oral language a)Poor oral language skills associated with difficulties in fluency in producing words and clauses b)Phonological difficulties affect spelling c)Non phonological language dimensions affect idea generation and formulating ideas into text

29 Transcription – handwriting & spelling a)Speed of handwriting important factor »Fine motor skill contributes independently through orthography to text production b) Spelling – based on phonological, orthographic and morphological principles »Delayed or different? »Usually recognizable in English »Deaf »Specific language impairment c) Lack of automaticity in retrieval of accurate spellings »Loss of ideas and plans

30 Working memory Poor writers have reduced memory capacity – a.Predicts text generation more than transcription b.Affects punctuation, a.Children with writing difficulties have problems in recalling and using punctuation c.Planning and revising a.Children with learning difficulties spend a disproportionate amount of time revising lower level writing components e.g. spelling and word choice d.Changing in processing demands a.All writing draws on working memory

31 Summary Developmental disorders can give indication of breakpoint(s) Profiling skills and competence to identify specific barriers Interaction effects are to be expected in relation to  Task demands e.g. single word versus text spelling  Genre – narrative versus expository …argumentative  Pressure »Task »Domain 31

32 Implications for research and practice

33 Cause versus effect? Within child versus educational opportunities –Interaction effect Lack of practice and instruction  Handwriting (Stainthorp et al, )  Spelling  Text production Working memory  Within child versus task Motivation  Poor writers less motivated  Cycle of disadvantage

34 Role of instruction & practice (meta analyses (Graham et al)

35 Further Issues: Level of analysis? »Yes word, sentence and text level product level »Also process level Task Single word or different genres? Motivation to write? Pathways of development »Need longitudinal writing samples

36 Conclusion Writing is a complex process Writer’s expertise, the instructional support they receive and the demands of the specific writing task. Struggling writers have difficulties with basic writing skills and writing processes Many children with learning difficulties have associated problems with text production Careful analysis of the writing process and product and an assessment of transcription skills are required to provide appropriate intervention 36

37 37 Thank you for listening Any questions? Institute of Education University of London 20 Bedford Way London WC1H 0AL Tel +44 (0) Fax +44 (0) Web

38 Thanks to Collaborators: Vincent Connelly Oxford Brookes University Geoff Lindsay University of Warwick Barbara Arfè University of Verona Clare Mackie Institute of Psychiatry 38

39 New references: Graham, S. & Harris, K. (2009). Almost 30 years of writing research” making sense of it all with the Wrath of Kahn. Learning Disability Research, 24, Shumaker, J. & Deschler, D. (2009). Adolescents with learning disabilities as writers: are we selling them short?. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 24,


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