Writing, like reading, is really many skills used together to produce a product. These skills include:
- prewriting skills (deciding on a topic, narrowing it down to one main idea, gathering information, and sequencing it)
- composition skills (figuring out how to begin, sticking to the plan, concluding, writing in complete sentences, including details, and using good vocabulary, grammar, spelling and punctuation),
- revising skills (adding missing information, reordering ideas or sentences, deleting off-topis information, and confining or expanding to the desired length),
- editing skills (checking for grammar, spelling and punctuation),
- handwriting legibly, and
- finishing by the deadline.
For children without ADHD, integrating all these skills produces anxiety. But for children with ADHD, writing might produce tears, temper tantrums, and shut-downs. Yet there are ways to mitigate the fear of writing, and with time, to overcome it.
Some of the most noticeable problems ADHD students face when writing and some solutions to those problems include
- Staying focused long enough to remember what to say. One solution is demanding that students create a written prewriting organizer. It can start as a list of ideas/details related to the topic. Then students can group the related details, using colored highlighters to identify what ideas go together. Lastly the student can number the colors in the order in which he/she wants to use them in the writing passage. Teachers need to model how to create such organizers and how to implement them, over and over, until students realize organizing before they begin is as much a part of writing as using a pencil is. Later, as students advance, writing a thesis and subtopic sentences can become part of the prewriting organizer.
- Figuring out how to start and how to conclude. Looking at that blank piece of paper can be daunting. One solution is for a teacher or parent to brainstorm various ways to begin and end with the student, and to write those beginning sentences and ending sentences as options. You might think, but the student is supposed to do the work himself. Eventually, yes, but not when the student begins. When you learned to walk, didn’t you have an adult right there to catch you when you stumbled, and to lift you up again? When you learned to ride a bike, didn’t you have an adult running at your side to keep you balanced and to “launch” you? Students need adults “launching” them in the writing process too. With enough practice, students will gain the skills to start writing and to conclude on their own. But at first, they need an adult to provide models of good writing.
- Sticking to one main idea. Following organizers will keep students on course. An adult should ask the student to read aloud his in-process work, and the adult should match the sentences with the organizer. Students might not realize they have drifted off-course. It’s important to discover off-topic information quickly, before students have invested too much time and too many sentences into information that needs to be deleted.
- Using correct grammar, spelling and punctuation. One method to deal with these kinds of errors is to allow students to write without regard to them. Then, after the compositions are finished, go back and help students fix some of them. One time, focus on run-on sentences. Another time focus on apostrophes. If the student is expected to fix all his errors as he goes along, he will lose the flow of his writing and might never finish. Another method to deal with grammar, spelling and punctuation errors is to give two grades—one for composition and one for conventions. Or give one grade for composition only.
- Taking time to revise and edit. ADHD students are impulsive. They tire quickly of activities where they need to sit still and focus. Yet revising and editing are necessary steps to produce good writing. One solution is to separate the revising process from the composing process. Do composing today and revising tomorrow. Do twenty minutes before recess and twenty minutes after. Write post-it notes to students identifying one problem for each student. If Jimmy can’t identify run-ons, underline the run-ons he needs to fix and ignore the other problems. If Mary can’t figure out when or how to use apostrophes, underline the words which might need them. Help them start on the revision process so they needn’t start from scratch. Not every piece of writing needs to be perfect.
- Writing legibly. Allow students to use computers, laptops, iPads or other electronic devices to write school assignments. Not only allow them, but teach them how to use these devices during writing classes. Show them how to swipe a sentence and move it to a better location. Show them how to look up spelling or synonyms. Show them how to indent or double space or whatever helps them to write better.
Like all skill-based activities, writing well depends on practice. If a teacher assigns one writing assignment a month or a semester, the student will not improve. Yet, this is often the case since reading and marking student writing is time-consuming. If your child is not assigned writing weekly, then you, as the parent, can assign it. If you think you are not qualified, may I suggest you buy my writing instruction book, How to Write a 5th Grade (or Any Other Grade) Essay, available on Amazon. Everything I’ve talked about here is included there but in more detail.
If you hope your child will attend college or professional school, he or she will need to be able to write. Reading and writing are two of the most basic skills your child needs to do well in life. Don’t let fear of writing (his or yours) handicap your child.