Have you ever wondered why it is so difficult for some students to write a book report? Good writing takes many steps and depends upon executive functioning skills. Executive functioning is an umbrella term that refers to a number of cognitive processes and skills that facilitate learning. Being successful in writing depends upon many factors; to name a few: metacognition, phonological awareness and orthography. To put it simply, writing represents a complex task. It requires a range of linguistic skills, and also several cognitive processes—most important is a good working memory.
Now, let’s break down some of the steps needed before submitting a book report. The student must narrow down a specific essay topic, locate the appropriate resources, hold the information in his memory, organize and sequence ideas and then meet the requirements of a teacher’s rubric. When you write, working memory is essential to maintain your train of thought. Working memory is needed to recall spelling rules, sentence structure, punctuation and syntax, as well as organize ideas. When writing essays, a student needs to keep track of his ideas, must think of meaningful words and refresh his memory about what he read, recalling facts from his long-term memory. All the while, the student must avoid distractions. Often, he gets so frustrated that he may forget what he wanted to say, or was trying to prove, and then he will stop writing.
Writing a report for homework may be accompanied by feelings of frustration, procrastination and sometimes even tears. According to research, many children with executive functioning weaknesses don’t enjoy writing, and there are good reasons why. Particularly if a student has learning differences or ADHD, it’s a struggle just to get started. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual uses the term impairment in written expression to describe specific learning disorders that include deficits not only in spelling, grammar and punctuation, but also in clarity and organization of written expression. Actually, these same students often have an abundance of creative ideas, but may struggle to put their incredible thoughts down onto paper. When they get overwhelmed, they may stop or write quickly, just to have something to turn in on time. One of my students, whom I tutor, shared with me, “Sometimes I start writing to prove an argument and find myself switching to argue against my idea, before I’m done. It’s so hard to stay on topic and I forget what I’m trying to prove and say.”
The ability to write effectively is essential for success in school and later on the job. As you can see, the process of writing even the most “straightforward” of book reports, essays or papers is not a simple task. Writing is a process and takes patience and skill. Breaking down the process with key strategies can help you to help your child through the complexities of writing. This includes using strategies for self-regulation, planning, organizing, paying attention and recalling details.
There are evidence-based strategies for writing that I use as a learning consultant and tutor to help students, including those with executive functioning challenges, those who are gifted and those who just need a head start. As a part of my private tutoring practice, I work closely with each child to come up with an individualized approach for writing. Here are some strategies you can use to help your child get on the road to success:
Six Ways to Help Your Child Succeed in Writing
- Have your child take notes on sticky pads to jot down ideas while he is reading: characters’ names, setting, themes, reactions.
- Brainstorm in bullet points those words and phrases that come to mind about the topic or book, before writing.
- Organize and “map” out the ideas with headers: introduction, point one, point two, point three and conclusion. Use a white board or chalk board to outline and even erase.
- Talk through ideas out loud and start to turn the ideas into sentences—prewriting.
- Provide praise and encouragement for your child. Writing takes time and patience.
- Sometimes your child needs more guidance in the complexities of the process. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Understand that it is an opportunity for your child to learn the tools to get on a road for successful writing in school and in the future. Sharpen those executive writing skills and write on!
By Patricia London
Patricia London is an experienced, state-certified LDTC, school psychologist, resource teacher and counselor. Her tutoring practice, London Learning Center, is located in Englewood and provides diagnostic, prescriptive tutoring for students in grades pre-K through college. She is a recognized expert in the field of executive functioning, ADHD and language-based learning disabilities. Patti works with students with a wide range of needs including those with dyslexia, ADHD and anxiety disorders. She has achieved recognition in public and private schools and professional societies. She helps provide students and families with support and techniques to understand subject matter while learning efficient studying skills. She has taught at the university level and worked directly as a model teacher with Keith Connors, who developed the scale for diagnosing ADHD. She can be reached by email at [email protected] or call 201-871-1248 and leave a message to set up an appointment for consultation and tutoring support.