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From Brain to Pen toPaper . . . The Neuropsychology of Writing & Best Practice InstructionalRecommendations Day 1
Myths to be exploded across these two days . . • ‘Writing is just a written extension of oral language.’ • ‘If kids can speak well and use a pencil, they should be able to write well.’ • ‘Most kids who fail to write up to their potential lack motivation – they’re lazy.’
What’s at stake . . We’d need only to try and imagine the enormous changes in the cultural development of children that occur as a result of mastery of written language and the ability to read – and thus becoming aware of everything that human genius has created in the realm of the written word. -- Lev Vygotsky
What’s at stake . . According to a 2006 survey, 81 percent of employers describe recent high school graduates as “deficient in written communications” such as memo, letters, and technical reports (Casner-Lotto & Barrington, 2006). As a result, private companies are spending an estimated $3.1 billion per year—and state governments are investing another $200 million—to provide writing instruction to their employees (National Commission on Writing, 2004; 2005).
What’s at stake . . The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, or “the Nation’s Report Card”) writing exam was last given in 2002; it measured the writing skills of fourth, eighth, and twelfth graders and translated their scores into three levels of proficiency: basic, proficient, and advanced. Across the three grades, only 22–29 percent of students scored at the proficient level, and only 2percent were found to write at the advanced level (Persky et al., 2003). In other words, 70–75 percent of students were found to be writing below grade level.
Two-Day Agenda Day 1 (March 21) Day 2 (March 22) 8:30Quick Review of Yesterday . . 8:45 The Neuropsychology of Writing II (Dyslexia/Dysgraphia) 10:00 (Morning Break) 10:15The Linguistic and Grapho-Motor Elements of Writing 12:00 Lunch 1:00 Strategies & Implications for Instruction II 2:00 (Afternoon Break) 2:15 More Strategies 3:00 General Discussion/Q & A 3:30 Adjourn • 8:30 Welcome/Introduction • 8:45 Why Writing Can Be So Bloody Difficult and the Skill Components of Writing • 10:00 (Morning Break) • 10:15 The Neuropsychology of Writing I (Attention/Executive Functioning & Memory Processing) • 12:00 Lunch • 1:00 Strategies & Implications for Instruction I • 2:00 (Afternoon Break) • 2:15 More Strategies • 3:00 General Discussion/Q & A
Although many students acknowledge that writing is important and directly related to success in school and life, the thought of writing often evokes feelings of stress, anxiety, dread, and avoidance. L. M. Cleary
“I love being a writer. What I can’t stand is the paperwork” Peter De Vries My writing speed is akin to head stone carving . . . Gloria Steinham
And from Gene Fowler Writing easy – All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead . . .
Writing . . From the early formation of letters to crafting an essay, writing involves perhaps more sub skills than any other academic task. To write well requires combining multiple physical and mental processes in one concerted effort to communicate information and ideas. For instance, we must be able to move a pen or press a key, precisely and fluidly to produce letters, remember the rules of grammar and syntax, place out thoughts in an order that makes sense, and think ahead to what we want to write next. This combination of tasks makes writing the highest form and more complex use of language. -- Mel Levine
Writing This combination of tasks makes writing the highest form and more complex use of language. -- Mel Levine
The simple truth: Writing, from a neurobehavioral perspective, is incredibly complex and hard!! Involves the fluid and simultaneous (!!) coordination of the following core skill areas: • word knowledge, retrieval, and sequencing • working memory, sustained attention, planning, organization • spelling, punctuation, and grammar • visual/spatial functioning • fine-motor/grapho-motor functioning • higher order reasoning/cognition
Spoken: Casual Makes use of common slang and colloquialisms Supported by the speaker (the speaker fills in any knowledge gaps the listener might have) Can be understood in the absence of strategies Written: Often more formal/structured Makes use of words and styles that are not common in the speech of children and teens Written language does not gauge the reader’s comprehension and fill in gaps/resolve confusion Comprehension of writing is often dependent on strategic processing. Thus, written language is not ‘speech written down.’ Key Distinctions Between Spoken and Written Comprehension Oakhill & Cain, 2007
Please . . Activity 1 . . list all the skill elements (mechanical/conventional, spontaneous/ideational/executive) of the writing process.
To become competent writers, students must: Become proficient in spelling, punctuation, and grammar; They must learn to write in various styles and formats (depending on the particular situation/audience); They must build strong vocabularies and deep reservoirs of background knowledge; They must learn to cope with writer’s block and develop the stamina needed to get through long and difficult assignments (writers’ resiliency); They must learn strategies (such as preparing outlines, soliciting feedback, and writing/revising multiple drafts that help them to organize their writing projects and complete them successfully.
The Five Stages of the Writing Process • Prewriting (brainstorming, planning, sequencing/organizing, etc.) • Drafting (writing the initial draft) • Revising (content-oriented revision/correction) • Editing (proofreading and mechanical revision/correction) • Publishing (preparation of the final draft in its final form)
Vicki Spandel’s 6 + 1 Traits 1. Ideas/Content 2. Organization 3. Voice (personal tone/flavor; personality) 4. Word Choice (specificity/exactness of language) 5. Sentence Fluency (rhythm/flow of language) 6. Conventions (mechanics; e.g., spelling, punctuation, capitalization) + 1 Presentation (the visual/verbal presentation of the final piece on paper)
Writing Ability & the Neurodevelopmental Functions: Spatial-Motor Comprehending the spatial relationships involved in letter/word production; coordinating small muscles of the fingers needed to form letters Attention Maintaining concentration & self-monitor work quality Memory Fluid recall of letters, rules, and ideas; simultaneous holding of all of this in working memory WRITING Executive Functioning Generating ideas & taking a stepwise approach to planning, organizing, and revising work Language Production Using words and constructing sentences correctly
Attention Controls Neuromotor Functions Executive Skills Memory (LTM) Language
Breakdowns in one or more of these processes can lead to . . Dysgraphia: A disorder of written expression – there are ‘language-based’ and ‘non-language-based’ types of dysgraphia (4 – 17% of the population, Hooper et al., 1994) A ‘shadow syndrome’ of a writing disorder: ‘Sub-clinical‘ elements of a writing disorder that make the writing process arduous/tedious (??% of the population – certainly LOTS of kids . .)
Please . . Activity 2 . . Pick a kid and complete the first part of the Personal Case Study Form.
Graham & Harris (2005) have found . . • Most elementary teachers advocate structure/routine in teaching the writing process (i.e., ‘Writer’s Workshop’ programs) • BUT, many teachers rely on informal (or incidental) teaching methodsto teach planning, drafting, editing, and publishing • Bottom line: Many (most?) teachers fail to explicitly teach writing process strategies
Another instructional problem • Eclectic instructional methodologies from class to class and grade to grade • Leads to a lack of continuityin writing process instruction • Leads to kids getting mixed writing messages
Another key research finding • Younger kids and LD kids rely on ‘knowledge telling’ as a writing strategy. • This approach is limited to content generation (‘This is what I know about this topic’) • Involves little planning (kids are just ‘winging it’ or making it up as they go) I think kids should choose their own pets, because whatever pet they want their mother can just get it for them. Third grader with LD (Graham & Harris, 2005)
Brain OverviewExecutive Functions, Memory, and Writing Neuropsychology of Writing I:
DA’ BRAIN: Its two hemispheres and four lobes
Left versus Right Hemispheres Sequential Processing Factual Processing Verbal Processing Routine and ‘Over-Learned’ Info Processed Here! Simultaneous Processing Synthetic Processing Emotional Content Novel Info Processed Here!
Input vs. Output Regions of the Cortex Input & Sensory Processing & Storage Output & Self-Direction
Executive Functioning and Writing: A basic fact well-known to teachers . . SO MANY KIDS WITH ATTENTION DEFICITS HATE TO WRITE!
Executive Functioning Refers to the ability to regulate and direct one’s emotions/behavior and to plan, initiate, attend to, and organize tasks Impact on writing is huge
Pre-Frontal Cortex: Site of Attention and Executive Function
Frontal Lobe Specifics (Adapted from Hale & Fiorello, 2004) Motor Cortex Prefrontal Cortex (Dorsolateral) Planning Strategizing Sustained Attention Flexibility Self-Monitoring ------------------------------- Orbital Prefrontal Impulse Control (behavioral inhibition) Emotional Modulation
Executive functioning and writing No academic task requires more executive functioning efficiency than writing Writing, after all, is all about self-direction and self-regulation of the product on the page For younger children and older kids with limited grapho-motor skill, there are fewer cognitive resources left to the complex task of organizing and developing thoughts on paper.
A Key Fact Logical extrapolation Kids with EF weakness tend to struggle with identifying text structure when they read. Difficulty identifying text structure (e.g,. somebody-wanted-but-so) also impacts the writing of kids with EF weakness!!!
Task Persistence and Frustration Tolerance Two essential EF’s related to the writing process!!
Recursive Writing Cycle (With Developmentally Appropriate Levels of EF) • Pre-Writing Phase • Adequate EF skill allows: • Task Analysis • Schema/Prior Knowledge Activation • Brainstorming • Thought Sequencing/Organization • Adequate writing confidence and • motivation to engage in writing • Writing Phase • Adequate EF (particularly WM) skill and • mechanical automaticity allows: • Fluent transfer of ideas to text • Simultaneous processing of ideational • and mechanical aspects of writing • Revising and editing of text as it is produced • (revising ‘on the fly’) • Persistence and motivation to continue • Revision/Editing Phase • Adequate EF skill allows: • Deep processing of one’s writing (such • that content revision is possible) • Awareness/recognition of one’s error • patterns • Careful scrutiny of written work and • correction of all (or at least most) errors • Persistence and motivation to continue
Recursive Writing Cycle (As Impacted by Executive Dysfunction) • Pre-Writing Phase • EF weakness contributes to: • Poor task analysis (‘What are we • supposed to again?’) • Little to know brainstorming or thought • organization (just jumps into • writing, using ‘knowledge telling’ approach) • Minimal writing confidence (desire to avoid • writing) • Writing Phase • EF weakness land a lack of mechanical skill • Automaticity contribute to: • WM easily overloaded by simultaneous • ideational and mechanical writing demands • Minimal writing • Writing that includes numerous content and/or • mechanical errors • Very limited ability to revise/edit ‘on the fly’ • Limited persistence and frustration tolerance • (desire to be done as soon as possible) • Revision/Editing Phase • EF weakness contributes to: • Superficial processing of one’s text • Disregard of mechanical and content • errors • Very limited motivation to revise and • extend writing • Limited persistence/frustration tolerance • (very limited willingness to revise/edit)
Activity 2 • Please take a moment to consider and jot down one or a few of the key instructional implications of the impact of attention/EF weakness on the writing process. • Briefly share/discuss your thoughts with those seated around you.
The Three Primary Levels of Memory: • Short-Term Memory (STM): The briefest of memories – information is held for a few seconds before being discarded • Working Memory (WM): The ability to ‘hold’ several facts or thoughts in memory temporarily while solving a problem or task – in a sense, it’s STM put to work. • Long-Term Memory (LTM): Information and experiences stored in the brain over longer periods of time (hours to forever)
Directed Attention Short-Term Memory Auditory/Verbal Visual/Nonverbal Working Memory (‘Cognitive Workspace’) LEARNING Long-Term Memory Declarative Procedural Retrieval Adapted from CMS Manual
Working Memory: Some kids have got ‘leaky buckets’ • Levine: Some kids are blessed with large, ‘leak proof,’ working memories • Others are born with small WM’s that leak out info before it can be processed
Activity 3 AWorking Memory Brain Teaser! I am a small parasite. Add one letter and I am a thin piece of wood. Change one letter and I am a vertical heap. Change another letter and I am a roughly built hut. Change one final letter and I am a large fish. What was I and what did I become?