Wednesday, January 7, 2015

My Son's Challenges with Writing

My son, S, is a senior and plans on attending college next year.  As an upcoming college student, we know he will have to write in college...a lot of writing...including research papers. As homeschool parents, my husband and I have pushed writing...A LOT of writing including research papers.  

Overall, S is a good writer.  He knows what it takes to make a good sentence.  He can put together a good paragraph.  He can compose a 5 paragraph essay.  He can do all of these things; however, he is not fast at doing these things.  

Challenges he faces during writing
*Challenges related to his Cerebral Palsy: S works slowly. His handwriting has been impacted by his CP. He has functional handwriting, so he uses the computer to write. He doesn't type quickly.  He uses Dragon Dictation which is sometimes hindered by speech difficulties related to his CP.
*Challenges related to his ADD: He becomes easily distracted while he is writing slowly.  Since S is speaking slowly, Dragon types slowly; he becomes distracted by watching Dragon type out Editing is a challenge because he becomes distracted during the process and forgets where he is in his paper or what he is supposed to be doing.
*He believes (wrongly) that what he wrote is without error the first time around, so there isn’t a need to edit.
*He doesn’t like word limits.  “That’s too many words.  How can I write that much?”  “That’s not enough words for me to say everything I have to say.  How can I possibly share my knowledge?”
*He feels he can just tell people what he has to say rather than writing it down.

What have we tried?
We have tried different writing programs with him.  The programs we have tried have been good programs.  It’s just that they aren’t necessarily good for S.  We have also just had him write.  We have talked about the process.  We have modeled the process.  You name it.  We have done it.

Where are we now?
The process is improving.  He is learning to overcome some of these challenges.  Part of this improvement has come from other adults telling him he needs to become faster since he will have to do a lot of writing in college.  Could it be that mom and dad might know what they are talking about?  

The biggest challenge - the dreaded research paper
In addition to the writing challenges listed above, S has some additional challenges with research papers.
*Most writing programs use index cards or some form of organizational technique that doesn’t work for him because of his Cerebral Palsy and/or his ADD.  
*Because of his functional handwriting, everything he does needs to be computerized; therefore, programs that stress the use of index cards don’t work for him.
*Because of his ADD, organization is not a strength for him.
*Because of his ADD, he is a global thinker.  In his mind, there is always more research to be done even if it is obvious he has enough to write a paper.
*His global thinking makes it difficult for him to come up with a good sequence for his paper since he is always making connections that make sense to him but appear random to us.
*Searching for things on the internet is a challenge because of his ADD.  He is great at researching; however, he will jump down so many different paths that it is difficult to figure out how he got there from the original search.

These are just a few challenges he has to work through.  

Every year, we ask him to do a research paper.  Every year, he is challenged by the task. With him being a senior, we I feel a little lot more stress about helping him gain the necessary skills to write a research paper effectively and efficiently.   

This year, my husband and I spent a lot of time discussing what we needed to do and get to help S with this process.  We looked at it step by step.  We searched the internet for more information on writing research papers looking for the one "golden" suggestion that would be the breakthrough for S.  [We are still searching for it.]

Knowing that S needs all of his tools to be computerized and accessed in one location, we decided that a subscription to EasyBib would be beneficial.  S can create his outline, take notes on electronic index cards and tag them for future sorting, create his citations, and have the citations formatted correctly in one place. This was helpful.

Through each step of the process, he had guidance.  He wrote a good thesis statement.  He had a good outline to refer to while taking notes.  This helped guide him while he was doing his research.  My husband helped him learn how to use EasyBib for taking his notes and showed him how well it would help him stay organized.  He created his citations.  He reworked his outline. We discussed how to determine when you have enough notes. He had everything he needed to write his paper, and it was all in one place!

The writing of the research paper
This was his assignment for the 2 weeks prior to our Christmas trip:  Write your paper.  He had everything he needed.  This was his primary focus.  He knew how to put it all together.  

Every day he sat at the computer.  If asked, he would tell me he was doing fine. I let him work. After four days, I was feeling really good about this.  I felt some pressure lift (homeschool mom stress trying to make sure I have done everything I needed to do for him to be successful). Then he proudly announced, “I finished my fourth paragraph.”  What??????  Four days of writing have produced four paragraphs.

We clarified for him that if he wasn’t finished with his paper he would work on it in Minnesota since all of his notes, etc. were on the computer.  We thought that might be motivation to stay on task. Long story short, he didn’t finish.  He worked on it in Minnesota.

What went wrong?
You know those challenges mentioned above….Even though he had a really good outline and all of the necessary notes to support the outline, he decided he needed “a little more information”. He was spending his time searching on the internet and jumping down new pathways of information making connections to things that didn’t need to be connected in this paper. He strayed from his outline which made him think he needed more notes. It's a vicious cycle.

He was deleting sentences and entire paragraphs that he had written just because….There was a little stress creeping back into our lives.  

What now?
He finally finished writing his paper in Minnesota, and we put it away.  No one looked at it there. My husband and I each read through our own copy once we had been home for a couple of days. I didn’t even have a pen near me the first time I read through it.  As I was reading through it, I noticed some generalizations of skills that need to be addressed.

Now, we are going through his paper with him word by word, line by line.  He told me it needs to be dealt with point by point.  Fine.  We will look at each point and its supporting statements word by word, line by line.

Because we are dissecting his paper word by word, line by line, point by point, he is more receptive to the skills we are addressing and the format he was told to follow. It is meaningful to him.  It’s not just something that he thinks we are suggesting should be done.

He is going to write another research paper this spring.  He isn’t excited about it, but he knows it needs to be done.  He understands that this is a skill he has to have if he is going to college.

You know where to find me after all of this….on the couch with chocolate!

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