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Helping young learners succeed in writing

November 03, 2020

Writing well by Grade 1 is one of the keys to school success because most students who struggle with writing also have difficulty learning throughout their academic career.  

As part of the Faculty of Education’s Let’s Talk Education Speaker Series, Associate Dean of Research, Professor Perry Klein will discuss how research on writing education has shifted over the last five years to investigate how to ensure success for all learners.

It takes place online Thursday, Nov. 12 from 7 – 8 p.m., ET.

During the presentation, Klein will highlight the writing skills that are essential for children and how educators can effectively teach them when there’s a wide range of skill levels in the classroom. Parents will also learn how they can help their children succeed.

“For educators, I want to offer an update on evidence-based practice. What does research show really works in beginning writing education?  And what are some classroom resources that use an evidence-based approach?” said Klein. “For parents, I want to suggest some things that they can do at home to help young children learn to write.”  

Recently, researchers have turned their attention to early intervention. In the past, students received intervention for literacy problems after they were diagnosed with a learning disability. These diagnoses usually happened part way through elementary school. As a result, most research focused on those grades when examining writing intervention techniques. However, it’s been the success of early assessment and intervention for reading that has shifted the focus to early assessment and intervention in writing, said Klein.

There are many reasons why children struggle with writing. Some of them include: a learning disability in reading, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), developmental language disorder, emotional and behavioural disorder or a lack of experience with literacy outside of school, said Klein. He added research indicates school closures due to COVID have also affected learning, which probably includes students’ progress in writing.

“The idea that there are many reasons that students can struggle with writing is an important take-away. We should be helping all kids who struggle with literacy, regardless of the cause,” said Klein.

In addition, Klein’s research team’s work with the London District Catholic School Board will also be discussed. Their research focused on a child-friendly approach to teaching writing strategies for Grade 1. They worked with nine teachers and 120 students, and found that this approach was highly effective with students who are struggling with writing.

While much of the Ontario curriculum is consistent with research on writing education, Klein said printing or cursive handwriting also impact’s children’s ability to express their ideas. Students who struggle to form letters will also struggle to compose. He added printing or cursive writing doesn’t need to be beautiful, but it needs to be legible and fluent.

“Ontario should put systematic teaching of printing back into the early elementary curriculum. Some students will need to use assistive technology, such as speech-to-text, so for those students, it’s important for them to learn to use that technology effectively,” said Klein.