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Josh A Case Study

By Julie Way
Dedicated to Josh: Inside my head theres a lot to say But when I start, the words go away I form the sentence in my head But then I write something else instead Forming letters with such imperfection Is hard when you have a poor sense of direction Was it left or right, above or below? My hand asks my eye, Which way should I go? I thought that I spaced my work but I see One big long word staring back at me Now, what was it I meant to say? My thoughts are all mixed up today It takes so much time to write what I think Why cant I just say it and save all that ink? When you look at my paper youll see such a mess Right now I wish it was time for recess.

Ten year old Josh was excited. He was sitting at the kitchen table putting the finishing touches on the title page of his Jet book. He had been working on it for the past three weeks and it was almost completed. He had been so excited when I taught him how to trace using paper on a window pane. Just then his uncle stopped by and noticed him hard at work. He took one look at Joshs feeble tracing of the jet and remarked, Well, thats not gonna work. For what seemed like forever Josh was left watching his uncle take over his project and draw a real cool jet. There, he said, I did the work and you get the credit. Joshs mom called shortly afterwards to share the incident. The next day when I questioned Josh about it he was quick to reply, but I erased it as soon as he left! It took a while to talk through the incident with him. He draws better than me, he said. I reminded Josh that his uncle is a lot older and has had a lot more practice. I like your jet better, I said. Its something you did all by yourself and you can be proud of it. The truth is Josh has major issues with visual perception and fine motor coordination. Handwriting and drawing are both very difficult tasks for him. Although

he had done his best, the drawing was quite immature for a 10 year old. I came away from our discussion wondering how his uncles words may have affected him.

The process of handwriting is complex and depends on many different abilities. The first is the ability to accurately distinguish graphic symbols and patterns. Next is the skill to have keen eye/hand coordination along with the control of arm, hand, and finger muscles. Writing also requires accurate visual memory of letters and words (Handbook of Learning Disabilities, 2005). For students with handwriting deficits this is a very difficult task. Oftentimes these students are viewed as lazy and unmotivated because they often fail to turn in written work due to the amount of effort it takes to produce it. This study is about an intelligent 10 year old boy with learning disabilities that involve poor handwriting and perceptual skills. Up until this point, I have been his reading recovery teacher and his educational therapist working to remediate these cognitive deficits. I am now approaching this same student with the eyes of a researcher, in order to support him in the classroom and allow his strengths to be celebrated in spite those areas that challenge him.

Background information:
Josh is a bright, ten year old boy in fourth grade. He has been attending a small private school in rural New Hampshire since kindergarten. He is an only child, friendly to both his peers and teachers. As Josh progressed through each grade, handwriting has been a consistent problem. Due to a lack of spacing between words, and the size and orientation of letters, his handwriting is often illegible. This has affected other academic areas as well. In third grade Josh entered a reading recovery group which I taught. There were some improvements in phonemic awareness however other issues did not improve. I recommended that he be tested for learning disabilities. A battery of tests was

administered including the WISC IV (Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children). This test identifies intellectual ability as well as cognitive strengths and weaknesses relating to learning disabilities. The WISC placed Josh in the high average range in verbal tasks and low average in perceptual reasoning. The gap between these two scores was over 30 points. The school psychologist wrote that the results were not a valid indicator of overall intelligence. In other words, Joshs perceptual skills were so severe that it may have masked his true intelligence. This test helped identify specific areas of challenge for Josh that were causing his poor handwriting and reading performance. The main areas identified were: visual motor coordination (affecting handwriting), visual spatial perception (which affects how he sees and organizes things on a page) and directionality (causing reversals in writing, reading and improper execution of math procedures.) As a result of this testing, Josh was enrolled in NILD Educational Therapy (also known as The Discovery Program). Rather than teaching students to compensate for their weaknesses, this program offers remediation through the use of cognitive deficit stimulation (NILD parent guide, At the core of its philosophy is the belief that the brain is malleable and can be retrained by intense focused intervention. As an educational therapist trained and certified in the NILD methodology, Josh became my student in January, 2008. For the past year and a half, we have met for an hour three times a week. I have chosen Josh for this research project because of his unique profile. His verbal expression far exceeds his written work. As previously mentioned, Joshs deficits have affected his grades in many subject areas. For example, in math he often makes errors due to poor alignment of numbers. Issues with visual discrimination sometimes cause him to misread operation signs (- +). In penmanship and composition Joshs work appears sloppy, often illegible, containing numerous omissions and spelling errors. His compositions are limited in length and quality.

I began this study by asking, How can the use of dictation affect the composition skills of a student with handwriting difficulties?

Studies have shown that although handwriting and composing involve different cognitive processes, there is a significant correlation between handwriting and compositional length and quality throughout the elementary grades (Graham et al, 1997). As I considered my research question and continued reading, I learned that The more automatic low-level handwriting and spelling are, the more the spatial and temporal resources of working memory are available for high level composing (Berninger 1999) and (McCutchen, D. 1996). While this confirmed the importance of my work with Josh in Discovery therapy, it also underscored the fact that so much of Joshs energy goes into the mechanics of handwriting that little is left for a flow of ideas, complete thoughts and creative expression in composition. Using 5th and 6th grade students with learning disabilities, De La Paz & Graham (1995) discovered that by allowing students to use dictation in place of writing, the length of their stories tripled. De La Paz & Graham, (1997) and Danoff, Harris and Graham, (1993) both revealed that dictation needs to be accompanied by explicit planning instruction in order to produce greater length and quality of the students composition. Equipped with this information, I revised my research question to read, How can the use of dictation and planning instruction affect the composition skills of a student with handwriting difficulties? Since there is a strong correlation between handwriting and composition, particularly in Joshs case, I have approached this study giving attention to both of these essentials.

Data Collection:

First, I interviewed Josh, his mom and his classroom teacher. Next I visited Joshs classroom to observe him during a composition lesson. During this time I began collecting artifacts such as writing samples from classroom assignments and compositions. Finally, I kept a journal to record my thoughts, questions and comments which helped me reflect and connect my findings with other data. The interviews significantly helped me understand Josh in more depth. Through his responses to my questions, I learned that he is amazed if he finishes writing something big and feels good even if its small. He said he just wants the handwriting to be neat. Correcting is what he likes least about the writing process. He would prefer to use a keyboard (even though he is limited in these skills) because its not writing and doesnt hurt my hand. Things that he feels would make him a better writer includes: practice, a sharpened pencil, and a good idea. He was quick to add that The sharper it [the pencil] is, the neater you can write. He can write about 8 sentences comfortably in pen and about 3-4 sentences if using a pencil. He added, Pens are round and write nice and smooth. Pencils are bumpy and hurt my finger.

Joshs mother invests a lot of time with her only child. His father is out of the home for large amounts of time due to high work demands. There is often tension when Josh and his mom do homework together. She has him write his spelling words five times each (15-20 of them) in order to learn them. She mentioned that he got 100% on his spelling test and feels this is an effective way for him to learn. When I asked

questions about Joshs writing abilities, her answers referred directly to penmanship. She wishes it could be better and look nice. Aside from penmanship, I asked how she viewed Joshs abilities to create composition. He can do it if he applies himself, was her reply. She felt he did well with one word types of things. I learned that homework time in the household is a struggle. Josh procrastinates and mom admitted that she nags. When asked what constitutes good writing, his mom replied, Letters

that can be readable, legible in cursive or in print. My final question was a fill in the blank; Josh could be more successful in writing if he_________? Moms response was: Practiced.

Joshs classroom teacher knows him well. She has had him in Kindergarten, 3rd and now 4th grade. She describes Josh as a student motivated by good grades and slippery because he doesnt like to put a lot of effort in his work. When I asked her to elaborate on this she said, Slippery in general, probably due to handwriting. I learned that Josh wants to do well, yet his writing abilities are poor to fair. If he just has to write by himself, he has poor sentence structure and doesnt always follow through on the thoughts or ideas he is trying to express. His teacher sees Joshs greatest hindrance to becoming a successful writer as His ability to get his thoughts down into the written word in a way that makes sense without a translation. Before the end of fourth grade, she would like to see Josh improve in overall neatness, get thoughts down in words, master the complete sentence, put capitals and periods in his writing and consistently make sense without leaving words out. In a response to my question concerning the amount writing students are required to produce in class daily, she responded: They are given a couple of work pages to fill in the blank; they might have about 20 words per sheet. Once a week they have a writing assignment involving one page. They have math daily and need to copy the problems out of the book and complete them. Then I have them take minimal notes in social studies or astronomy which is less than one page resulting in about 10-40 words.

Accommodations made for Josh in the classroom are: Less spelling words, special math page template allowing more room in sectioned off boxes, and sometimes I decrease the number of problems he has depending on the amount of written work. My final question was to fill in this blank: is_____________. Her response: to write. The greatest challenge for Josh

I observed Josh in his classroom setting during a language arts lesson. The first part of the lesson included a vocabulary review. Josh was quick to raise his hand to define each word. Another activity involved matching a vocabulary word on a card with someone who held the definition. Josh was successful with both of these verbal and interactive activities. The second part of the class time was a continuation of the previous days lesson. The students had filled out a work sheet that was meant to be a pre-writing exercise to create a book review on Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey. On this day the teacher handed out students pre-writing work papers to be used as a guide to write the first draft of the book review. After giving final directions, she had the class work independently. Josh was up to sharpen his pencil then sat down, got up again to use his hand sharpener, and then used the electric sharpener once again. Finally, when he settled down and began to write, he worked diligently. He used an improper pencil grasp while writing. By scrunching his index finger off to the side, he used his middle finger to drive the pencil.
Translation: This is about two ducks that are trying to find a home to lay their eggs. But every time mister duck sees a home mom says that is no good. Then they find a good home but danger struck. Mister duck almost get hit by a bike this no good we are not living here she says. Then they move on to a new town then hatch their eggs the end. Note: Josh omitted the part of the story where the policeman helped them.

Above is the pre-writing page Josh used to make the book review on Make Way for Ducklings

Along with this classroom assignment, I collected other writing samples as well. I asked Josh to write a basic composition titled Things I like to do. I wanted to use this data as a baseline in order to compare it to his future work. Josh wrote 39 words. All but two were one syllable. The first sentence was the most legible. By the end, the

there were multiple misspellings, reversals, erasures, and some illegible words. The piece totaled five short sentences that contained no punctuation; it appeared as one long sentence with no ending mark. Using the same sentence structure, each line began with I like. The word and was used five times. The size of the letters grew toward the end of the composition.

I like to do Legos I like to play the Wii I like to watch T.V. and ride my bike. I like to play board games and as and I like to play tag and sled and snowball fight.

Math pages were also collected and examined.

Although a template was created to provide Josh with extra space, and boundaries to contain each problem, his writing is so large it often spilled into the next box. It had a messy appearance though he worked at keeping the decimal points lined up.

In order to keep a better perspective of this project as well as note incidents of interest or questions I had, I kept a journal. These notes were helpful as I considered the data I was collecting: As I observed Josh in my office, I noticed how he subvocalizes while he writes, whispering each letter as he forms a word During the classroom observation I saw Josh as an engaged student that raised his hand often When Josh has a paragraph to copy during therapy, his first question is, How long is it? Josh did a wonderful job dictating his composition today. I thought his mom would be pleased and offered to print it for him to take home. He didnt want me to do that. When I asked about it, he told me his mom might want him to work on it more. He said if it had a sticker on it she would know it wasnt homework.

Data Analysis

The interviews were the most helpful. Joshs comments concerning handwriting were very revealing. The remark about how a sharp pencil can help you write neater, helped me understand his behavior during the classroom observation. The

preoccupation at the pencil sharpener was not an attempt to waste time; it was an attempt to create a neater copy. His comment about his ability to write more with a pen was an eye opener. The poor pencil grasp (observed in the classroom and also in my office) contributes to his hand hurting and cramping when he writes too much. During the classroom observation I also saw Josh as an engaged student that raised his hand often, wanting to tell the answer and share things he knew. His zeal and desire to share things he knows made me wonder how much this may boost his self esteem. After reviewing some of Joshs writing samples, his personal assessment of being able to write 3-4 sentences before his hand hurts, seems accurate. The writing samples reveal a deterioration of handwriting as the composition grew in length. There were a greater amount of misspelled words and larger and sloppier handwriting towards the end of the samples. Joshs mom also seemed pre-occupied with his handwriting. When asked

questions about writing she often referred to his penmanship. Requiring Josh to write spelling words 5x each along with the incident when he didnt want to take home the great composition he dictated made me understand some of the tension between him and his mom. His moms answer to the fill in the blank question was very revealing. Josh could be more successful in writing if he

It is hard for parents and teachers to

understand that these students can sometimes produce a decent copy. However, this task is very time consuming and takes a great amount of energy.


The interview with Joshs teacher helped us both realize that more accommodations were necessary. The amount of writing required each day is not unrealistic for the average student, but for Josh it must be extremely overwhelming. It is understandable why his writing is so messy through the day. It must take a

tremendous amount of energy to not only endure the mechanics of writing but to have to write in complete thoughts without omitting words. Journal comments referring to Joshs sub vocalization while writing, confirms how much of his energy goes into the mechanics of writing. It also helps explain why there are so little spatial and temporal resources of working memory available for high level composing (Berninger 1999) (McCutchen, D. 1996) .

I began writing instruction by creating a template (guide) for Josh to use in order to brainstorm, organize and edit his work (shown below). It was designed, used and later modified to allow for a minimal amount of writing. Josh was required to use one or two words that were meant to prompt him when dictating his composition.

Page 1: Brainstorming page for student to write ideas about the subject and pick 3-4 to write about.

Page 2: Mind map: top line is topic sentence. Long diagonal lines are for each of the main ideas chosen from brainstorm list. The boxes attached to the main idea are for student to write two more details to support the main idea. 11

Page 3: Editing: 1. Clear: Sentence interesting Need examples? 2. Word Choice: Just right words? Good description words? 3. Audience: Will they understand? Make sense? 4. Repeating: Words Sentences starting the same way? 5. Punctuation: Capitals? Ending marks? Spelling?

Page 3: Editing: questions to answer

Mind map Josh created for the composition: A Day on my Grandpas Boat

I began our writing instruction time by modeling how to brainstorm ideas and create a mind map to organize my thoughts. I chose a simple topic and spoke my thoughts out loud for Josh to hear my thinking process step by step. Joshs role was just to listen and observe. I used transition words and shared how they help us move smoothly from one topic to another and help give order to a composition. Then I had Josh choose a topic. He selected TV Programs. Next I walked through the process with him. As he verbally generated ideas during the brainstorming process, I wrote them on the blackboard. I wanted him to be totally freed up from the mechanics of writing and put his energy into ideas and organization. I did all the writing and he dictated his thoughts during this first planning session. Next we created a mind map together on the board (shown on page 11). When the map was completed Josh sat next to me at the computer and began to use it to dictate his thoughts. His words and thoughts began to flow smoothly using complete


sentences. The following compositions are Joshs final copies. Details of the editing process are noted following each composition.

T.V. Programs Dictated by Josh There are some TV shows that I like. First I like Pirates of the

Caribbean. There are a lot of very funny ideas in the show. There are lots of pirates that are terrible. In the show there are many cool things like painted eyes on Captain Jack Sparrow s face. Funny videos are also in the show. The animation is better in the movie. It is also a Disney online game. Next, come Transformers. There is a lot of action and animation in the show like Jazz blowing up Megatron. They are big robots that can turn into a car or a jet. Transformers are not half bad for ages seven and up. Finally, Johnny Test because it is filled with fun and action. For

example, Johnny, a kid with flaming hair and Dukie, a dog, blew up the lab because they fooled around. They make the show funny by

goofing up. It is very good to watch in the morning because it is so interactive. First, it is very funny and has a lot of animation to it. It is very historical. For example they discover a dinosaur. It s the funniest thing I ever heard of. There are many other shows, but these are my favorites.

209 words/ 4 paragraphs Josh used sophisticated vocabulary while dictating. The quality of word choices such as: animation, interactive, flaming, and historical was far above those used in his initial writing sample (see page 8) where all the sentences began with I like He used examples as well as transition words. The sentence structure varied; some

sentences reflected more adult language such as not half bad for ages seven and up. After the composition was completed, we began to edit using page three of the template. The purpose of the first read-through was clarity. Was each sentence clearly expressing what he wanted to say? Josh wanted to change the adjective vicious (describing the pirates) to bad. Afterwards he returned to bad and wanted to 13

change it to something more meaningful. Since he was sitting next to me, I showed him how the computer can suggest other synonyms for a word. We looked at the list of synonyms for bad; he chose the word terrible. The purpose of the next readthrough was to have the audience in mind. Did everything make sense? He quickly said yes. I reminded him that I didnt know anything about Transformers and he was using names I wasnt familiar with. We returned to those spots and he clarified it for his audience. The next time around we listened for repetitive words. He didnt catch the fact that he began four sentences in a row with the words There are. I had to point this out to him even though I accentuated it a bit when I read the piece. Since we have worked on rearranging the structure of a sentence during some of our discovery sessions, (such as, starting with the who or the when), I encouraged the use of this strategy to help Josh change some of the sentence structure. Finally we reviewed the composition once more expounding by using the words like and for example. We read it through a few more times. Josh kept getting more and more ideas and wanting to add them. At one point he got off topic and I needed to help him decide what was and wasnt important. Josh was so excited about this piece that he was engaged the whole time. He didnt try to change the subject, look distracted or tired at all. I praised him for his diligent work. His final statement that day was a very appropriate analogy; he told me that creating this was like carving a thick pumpkin. It took a lot of work but in the end, I really like how it turned out!

On the second composition, I decided to have Josh mind map independently. I also decided not to give any input during the editing process. Although it was only the second time, I was curious to see what skills he remembered from the first instructional writing session using the template. The following composition is Joshs independent work. I typed as he dictated. All words and editing were completed by him.


Things People like to Collect Dictated by Josh Things people collect are amazing. The first things that people like to collect are game cards like Pokeman, Ugeeo, and Bockugon. It is fun to play with cards. You can learn all about them. People like them. They are amazing and fun. Next are rocks. They are very cool. They are very pretty in a lot of ways. Some rocks could have crystals, diamonds or rubies in them. But the prettiest rock is the rock I have home. It is an actual diamond. Finally are model cars. They are very fun to build. If it is a rainy day you can build them instead of playing your game system. For example, you can build a tank or truck or pretty much almost anything you want. It is a lot of fun to do. They are very exciting in a lot of ways. I wouldn t let your little brother or sister play with them though, because they are really easy to break and have a lot of little pieces. There are many other collectables in the world that are good for ages six and up.

192 words/3 paragraphs Although this is longer in length than if Josh were writing by hand, the choice of words were very generic and the overall composition was not terribly informative or interesting. Sentences were short and limited. Adjectives such as fun, cool and pretty were used. He used similar words of advice as in his previous composition warning, good for ages six and up. Josh quickly went through the editing process and didnt notice the overuse of some words. He did, however, use an example and continued to use transition words. I felt he had learned from our previous session. This was a good lesson to him since we later discussed that a composition is only as good as the words one chooses to describe and express. This was also a good lesson for me to see that he was retaining some of the skills from our previous session, and to realize the importance of slowly building on this method. I felt this was a process that needed repetition; I shouldnt expect too much too soon. We continued using the template with each composition. We took our time through the editing process, re-reading with a different purpose each time. I noticed Josh was retaining many of the new skills he was learning. He seemed to 15

become more aware of his audience and listened more carefully during the editing process as a whole. This was encouraging for me to see as studies show that LD students dont often write with the reader in mind; they make more writer-based revisions. (Graham 1997) Josh continued to struggle with topic and concluding sentences. I realize that he is a part to whole thinker. As a result I began having him review the body of his mindmap first (which contains the details), and then think of a topic sentence. This seems

to be helping. He still confuses a title with a topic sentence and often gives a phrase for his topic sentence. This is a hard concept for a fourth grader. I believe it will come in time.

The third composition:

My Favorite Challenging Games Dictated by Josh All games have a type of challenge for some people. Brawl is the most challenging game I have every played. For

instance, it has a lot of hard levels and funny looking people to beat. Most of the guys look cool in it. Once you get on it, you are very addicted to it. That s what makes it fun. It is very good for after school after you are done with your homework because it is a nice quiet game. Next is Wii sports. It is so challenging that you can barely hit the baseball that they throw at you. My friend Max and I have so much fun with it. We laugh so hard because he cannot hit the ball. There is not just baseball to play, there is boxing and golf and lots of other fun things. It is very interactive as well. It is very lifelike because when you swing your body it swings its body also. The game is very amusing and entertaining. Finally is my most favorite game of all, pro bass fishing. It is very lifelike as well as Wii sports is. It is very interactive just like Wii sports. It is the second most challenging game I have ever played. You have to wait patiently because the big fish don t bite right away. There are a lot of different fish you can catch; small fish, big fish, medium fish and the biggest fish is the twenty pound pickerel I caught


once in my life when playing it. It was so exciting I could not believe it. After that I think I fainted! These are all my challenging games and they are fun.

286 words/3 paragraphs Joshs vocabulary and use of adjectives continued to grow. He used words such as challenging, addictive, interactive, lifelike amusing and entertaining. He used examples, and began to use the phrase as well in place of also. A concluding sentence seemed to be easier for him, since he was already in the flow of thought while dictating; a natural ending seemed less complicated than a topic sentence was for him. It seems that since the hurdles of handwriting and spelling were not involved, he was freer to use more mature vocabulary.

Composition four: A descriptive assignment As a pre-cursor to this assignment I showed Josh a picture with various characters on it. I asked him to give descriptions of the various characters and their placement in relation to others in the pictures. This pre-writing activity was meant to help him use placement words and adjectives when describing in the upcoming assignment. Josh seemed to be dictating more information. He seemed to be under the impression, the more words the better. Sometimes he would stray from the topic. I discussed this with him and encouraged him to look at the title every now and then to be sure he remained on the topic. We discussed the idea that good writing doesnt have to do with length as much as organization and choice of words. When this composition was completed, I used the last sentence in Paragraph #2 as a way of encouragement and as an example of how he was painting a picture for his audience with his words:


Things in My Room Dictated by Josh I d like to tell you about my room. First I d like to tell you about my poster. The poster has exciting planes like the #22 plane, the bomber and the F15 C-Eagle. It also has pictures of red and blue flying arrows that are meant to look like other planes. There is another poster with other planes. One of the jets on there is the F16 fighting falcon. My bed is next to the wall in my room. It has wooden walls. It is very enjoyable. The bed also has a fluffy cushion and the

heated cover that goes on it is very squishy. The bed is very soft because it is like a temperpedic bed. You also could jump so high on it that you could almost reach the ceiling. My toy chest is next to my closet. It is made of wood. My grandpa and my dad hand built it in the basement. It also has my name carved into it. There are a lot of fun toys in the chest like a Spiderman hand held video game. And watch out because the lid of the chest is splintery. Finally I want to talk to you about the Nascar pictures I have on the side of my wall. Not only do I have them on the wall, I have them on the ceiling. My room is very big to fit them. I have a fun time playing in my room because I play with the cars that are in the pictures. If you get 3-D glasses you can see some of them in 3-D. I also have one that glows in the dark. My favorite cars are the #20 car whose driver s name is Tony, the #40 car whose driver is Mark Martin, and the #77 car whose driver is named Jasper. These are all my favorite drivers and one of them usually wins when I watch. These are some of the things in my room.

334 words/5 paragraphs This composition was a little different from those in the past. He needed to paint a picture with his words, for the audience to see his room. Josh was very pleased with himself when this was completed. His choice of adjectives such as: exciting, enjoyable, temperpedic, and splintery added to the piece. When Josh completed this assignment, I felt I had a great snapshot of the layout of his room! 18

A Day I Had On My Grandpas Boat Dictated by Josh I had the best day on my grandpa s boat. First I went

swimming. I did a canon ball into the chilly water. The water was really deep. I couldn t see the bottom it was pitch black. My friend Max fell in right behind me and my mom made me swim around the boat ten times. When we got out of the water we had lunch. Max had a piece of pizza and I had a tuna sandwich with chips. For desert we had ice cream. Both our ice cream was huge but Max almost

fainted because it was so big. It had rainbow sprinkles. It was a twist and the ice cream was very sweet. Next we got on the boat and saw a lot of cool boats. For instance we saw a Baja and a Formula with painted flames on the side. They were racing each other. The Baja had two engines and the Formula had four engines. The Formula finally got pulled over by the Marine Patrol. And when we got off the boat we went inside this big boat. The boat had a big couch that reclined and folded out into a bed. Everything inside of it was leather. It also had two chairs, a kitchen that had a sink on the wall and a flat screen TV. It had a bed that folded into the wall; it had four bunk beds, a big bathroom and a T.V. in the bedroom. It had a sink next to the bed. It also was so sunny out if you looked up you would see nothing but sun. It was hot out. It was so hot we lay down and we fell asleep because heat makes you fall asleep. I don t think I ever had a more fun day with my best friend Max.

315 words/4 paragraphs These are Joshs words. He brainstormed while I wrote down his ideas. He created the mind map independently using one word or phrase (see page 11). Again, I tried waiting until after he wrote his mind map ideas before having him create a topic and closing sentence.


His first idea for a topic sentence was: These are some things I did on my grandfathers boat. This was getting to be the standard beginningan

announcement type topic sentence. I decided to do an exercise with him on topic sentences so he could practice with other examples; then we tried again. I asked him to give me a sentence on what he thought about that day. He came up with I had the best day on my grandpas boat. This was a different introduction, and it worked. Once again we went through the dictation process. As he was completing the composition he ended with a very good closing sentence (which was not on the mind map) and then proceeded to add the closing statement that was on his map: My boat is cool too. It didnt really fit, and when we did a re-write he decided to use the newer sentence that seemed to be a more natural and fitting ending. Some of the changes Josh chose to make in this re-write were: changing cold to chilly when referring to the water and he also wanted to add chips to his tuna fish sandwich. (He told me he was learning to make more interesting sentences in class.) He had difficulty recognizing what might not be clear to the audience. I even had him pretend he was someone else that didnt know Josh or anything about his class. He didnt pick up on the fact that they might not know his friend Max when he first said his name. I pointed this out to him, and he went back and added my friend Max. When we were reviewing for clarity, in paragraph #1 he first put, Max almost fainted but didnt explain why. When we went through it a few times, he still didnt pick up on it so I asked if it was clear why Max fainted? He ended up clarifying it. In paragraph #2 he first said the sinks were in the beds. When I read the story back to him, he said, Wait, I didnt say that. I told him he did say that I left it in purposely because I wanted him to find this error. Thankfully he did notice it (which showed me he was really listening.) Going through the editing process together helped him learn the kind of things to look for when we edit. Studies show that most of the corrections and editing LD students make on their writing involves correcting mechanical errors and producing a


neater product (MaCarthur and Graham, 1987) Josh is now aware of the red and green squiggly lines produced by the computer and what they mean. He corrected repeated words by himself and listened for repetition in sentence structure also. He mentioned something he had learned in the classroom and tried to integrate it into the composition by trying to choose words that made a more interesting sentence. He continued to expand his thoughts by using examples. During this session he learned about combining sentences using and or taking a thought and changing it to an adjective and combining it with another sentence. For example he wrote, I did a canon ball in the water. The water was very chilly. He changed it to, I did a cannonball in the chilly water. I had to keep reminding him that it is not the amount of sentences we write but the quality of them. Up until this point, I had been scaffolding this process by using questioning to help Josh along. I had peppered the sessions with instruction tailored to his errors or oversights in clarity. This final composition was done entirely by Josh. He brainstormed, and

completed the mind map at home and came into our session prepared to dictate. He used page 3 of the template to complete the editing process. We read through the composition together and he dictated any changes he wanted to make.

The Weird Night Dictated by Josh Last year I had the strangest day of my life. That night is when I caught the biggest fish I ve ever seen. It was the 8 pound bass that wrapped itself around the dock. After that I finally pulled it out with my rod. It was so heavy I had to use two hands to lift it. The fish was so big that my dad s fist could fit in it. It was very nice to catch it. I couldn t believe it when I caught it. My mom laughed because it hit my dad in the face. I giggled too. After that my dad was able to pull out a good size bass by my mom was only able to pull out a sunny that was very spiky. That s also the day I got new shoes.


But the weirdest thing that happened was the boat fire. I got out of the Jeep Liberty that we owned and I smelled smoke! I saw fire trucks heading to the Weirs Piers. I saw fire and huge

flames, a lot of smoke and a lot of pieces flying everywhere and hit the water. I could not believe my eyes. Everybody on the beach was freaking out including my mom and dad. The flames almost got bigger than the oak trees. But I think I know what happened. The guy was so anxious to see the fireworks that he forgot to turn on his blowers when he was getting gas. Blowers are the things that cool off the engine when you are getting gas. If you don t turn the blowers on, it could clog up the engine. But it did not pull into a regular dock, it pulled into a special dock. It was the Mt. Washington s dock and the I am very

Mount Washington was coming at that minute too.

thankful that it didn t actually pull in or otherwise the boat would have caught on fire as well. The firefighters saved the day. After that we got popcorn and watched the fireworks. My dad got a beer and mom got water because they were very thirsty. We stayed up to watch a movie after that. That had to have been the best day with my mom and dad. I think that was the strangest day of my life.

Joshs composition was 390 words/5 paragraphs. It was apparent that this topic was something close to his heart. Even though it happened four months ago, it was still vivid in his mind. He included humor, details, anticipation, tension (like smelling smoke and the Mt. Washington approaching toward its dock) and excitement. Transition words were used to keep order. Josh added information to help the reader understand what may have caused the fire and why it was important to keep the blowers on when getting gas. During the editing process he was trying to be aware of his audience understanding and chose to add details like the Jeep Liberty instead of saying car. He also changed his parents getting a drink because they were thirsty, to: My dad got a beer and mom got water


The words flowed easily from Josh. By examining his mind map I realized that he added a lot more details than he originally wrote down. For example, the two details under the big idea boat fire was explosion and sparks. He added peoples

reactions, the size of the fire; he described the scene with the Mt. Washington approaching and gave his view on what may have caused the fire. All of these details added a lot more to the composition. My only concern is that he doesnt stray off the topic by doing this.


When I began this study, Josh had already been my student for a year and a half. I felt I had intimate knowledge of him as a student; I knew his strengths as well as his weaknesses. This project enabled me to view him in a new and different way. I began to understand the huge role poor handwriting was playing in his life and the affect it was having on his self esteem; his relationship with his mother; his academic performance in the classroom as well as the restrictions it placed on his ability to freely express himself in writing. I assumed that if he were freed from the mechanics of handwriting and given planning instruction, his ability to compose would improve, and it did. What I hadnt expected were the changes I have seen in Joshs attitude about composition, his excitement and ideas about new books he wants to write, and the biggest surprise; he is now adding punctuation to his handwritten work. When I arrived at Joshs classroom to get him for our session, his teacher was excited to show me his latest written composition. Although it contained the standard length of 3-4 sentences degenerating in legibility, the difference was that all but one sentence began with a capital letter, and ended with a period! On our way to my office I congratulated him on this new occurrence. He responded, Yeah, I think something clicked in my head.


Josh came to my office with plans for a new Jet book he wants to work on. He told me this one was going to be big. When Josh wrote an earlier book, he used the same terminology and meant big in size so that he could fit his large handwriting on each page and include pictures. This time Josh told me his new book was going to be bigger. He explained that he didnt mean large like his last book, he meant thicker with more pages. He wanted it to contain more information, pictures, a glossary and activity pages for his audience to use. Now that handwriting is no longer a limiting factor Josh is free to be as creative as he likes. With the newly acquired information this project has provided I plan to meet with Joshs parents and teacher to discuss ways we can further accommodate and support him both in the classroom and at home. We have seen that Joshs vocabulary and ability to compose are far more advanced than his handwriting abilities. However, handwriting is an important part of everyday life. Thus, I want to work on both of these compositional rudiments. Ways to help Josh with composition include: the consistent use of the template to help with organization, pre planning, mapping and editing compositions. I have researched bypass tools to replace handwriting when Josh needs to freely dictate lengthy compositions. Keyboarding may not be a viable solution to this, since students who have trouble handwriting often have trouble keyboarding (Scardamalia, Bereiter & Goelman, 1982). I have, however, been experimenting with voice recognition software called Dragon Naturally Speaking created by Nuance and would like to train Josh to use it. Although he would need instruction on learning the basic commands, there is minimal pre-reading involved in order for the computer to recognize the users voice with an accuracy rate up to 99% (, and may be a potential solution for Josh to gain more independence and excel in his composition skills without the obstacle of handwriting. Since handwriting is an essential part of a person's ability to function in the world, it is important to continue working on handwriting skills with Josh. I will be


consistently reinforcing the use of a proper tripod pencil grasp. I will address pencil pressure by finding a comfortable mechanical pencil for Josh to use. Since mechanical pencils are sensitive to pressure, it will help Josh become conscious of pressing too hard while writing. The regular use of the Rhythmic Writing technique in Discovery therapy as well as at home should help Joshs handwriting to steadily improve. During my meeting with his parents and teacher I plan to suggest practical ways we can team together (such as reinforcing the use of a proper pencil grasp and using an effective and comfortable writing instrument) to assist Josh in creating new habits which will help relieve hand cramping and promote greater pencil control. Considering the profound affect this deficit has had on Joshs life, it is reasonable to believe that teachers in the lower grades may also benefit from some of the results discovered through this project, perhaps sparing younger students from what Josh has experienced. Educating parents about the importance of a proper pencil grasp can add extra support in the home to children acquiring this new skill. Although further research is needed in this area, Berninger, Whitaker, Feng, Swanson & Abbot (1996) share that early intervention in helping children increase speed and allowing letter production to become more automatic, may effect their written composition in their middle school years. With the permission of Joshs classroom teacher I would like to teach Joshs class how to write a composition using the writing template I used for this project. Will the quality of their compositions change? Will their writing be more organized? How will the use of the template help students that arent limited by handwriting? There are many more questions to be answered and subjects to explore. For now, I know this; there is a ten year old fourth grade young man that is excited about composing a book about Jets, and its going to be big!


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