It’s spelling time at ALP, and I’ve just given Sam his paper, pencil and eraser.

“Here’s your word – spot.”

Sam grabs his pencil and makes a mark on the paper. I stop him by covering the paper with my hand.

“So what’s our word?”

Sam grins sheepishly. “Spot.”

“Great! Let me hear you make the sounds while you’re writing.”

“S – p –o-t.”

He finishes his “t” with a flourish and looks up for his praise – about a minute and a half after he started writing. The “s” is formed backwards, and the “p” is formed in the middle of the primary-ruled paper instead of underneath the line, but that “t” is perfect and his “o” stayed in the lines this time. I praise what I can, then ask him to check his letters. He notices the “s” on his own, but doesn’t say anything about the “p.”

“So tell me about your ‘p,’ what could we fix to make it extra neat?”

“Well…” Sam hedges a little. “It needs to go down more.”

“Alright, then. I’m going to erase this one, and you tell me out loud what you’re doing when you make the new ‘p,’ okay?”

“You make a straight line from the middle line almost to the top of the next line. Then you go back to the top and draw a straight line going to the right, then a curve down that bumps out to the right a little, and a straight line to connect.”

While telling me all this, he has been following his own directions, and the result is a perfect “p.”

This method may seem more time-consuming and confusing than anything else, but for dysgraphic students, converting shapes to words helps them monitor what they actually draw. Sam has analyzed the letter and knows what lines he needs to work with to get the shape he wants. Although this takes him much longer than a student without dysgraphia, he has learned a more independent way to write.

At Applied Learning Processes, we focus on integrating language with drawing and writing tasks. This shows the clinician what the student is thinking and provides a self-check method. Our students might go on “field trips” through the building, looking for objects shaped a certain way or practice pointing to things to their left or right to strengthen that concept. Talking about distance, proportion and shapes builds a better understanding of those concepts by making them more tangible.

Rachel Phelps

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