Written Language – Finding a Program that Works

Deena Seifert, MS, CCC-SLP

In graduate school (more than a few years ago), written language was not addressed in my courses. When I began in a group private practice, guess what my first student needed? You guessed it – help with written language.

My student was an athletic 8th grader who had just been identified as dyslexic. He had managed to go unidentified because he had fairly good memory skills. He finally hit a brick wall and couldn’t rely on memorizing any longer. In our first session I asked him to write a paragraph for me so I could get a sample of his work. This big athletic guy started to tear up. He was anxious and frustrated with even putting one sentence on paper. As a matter of fact, the first 3 sessions I put a box of tissues on our work table and he used them. A year later the same student was writing beautiful research papers and felt such an accomplishment. How did we do it? (I say “we” because you really have to partner with your student in the writing process.)

Very quickly I began reading everything I could find on written language and looking for a program I could adapt to my practice. I happened upon a great writing program called Teaching Competence in Written Language by Dana Phelps-Terasaki & Trisha Phelps-Gunn. It’s a systematic writing program that takes the student through 4 phases: developing ideas, independently writing and expanding sentences, paragraph writing by purpose, and theme writing. When I begin working with a new student, I evaluate their writing skills so I know where we need to begin in the program. I’ve modified how I use the program, adding my own writing lessons and drawing from other sources through the years. However, it’s a great program and a good starting point if you are looking for a writing program.

Teaching Competence in Written Language by Dana Phelps-Teraski & Trish Phelps-Gunn

This program comes with a workbook, but I’ve adapted the lessons for computer. I’ve added my own lessons, as well, for when students need further practice in certain areas, such as complex sentence writing. For students who have keyboarding skills, I’ve put all my lessons on computer and iPad. Why not write on paper, you ask? Middle school and high school students are writing the majority of their papers on computer and even turning papers in online to their teachers. The laptop or computer gives the student more freedom in rearranging sentences. Using the word processor’s editing skills to fix spelling, find synonyms, and use the thesaurus is a helpful lesson on new strategies for struggling writers. In addition, it’s less frustrating to edit your paper on computer rather than having someone mark up your handwritten paper. Finally, and maybe more importantly, it helps boost a child’s self-esteem to produce written work they’ve edited themselves and looks professional.

Even though we’ve come along way since I was in graduate school, parents, speech-language pathologists and teachers are constantly evaluating their students’ needs and searching for ways to inspire them to improve their writing skills. In the next written language blog, I will talk about ways to improve a students’ sentence structure.