Understanding Why Students Avoid Writing

By: Regina G. Richards

It is common for students in today's educational system to dislike and/or avoid the writing process. Many students feel writing takes too long. For some, writing is a very laborious task because there are so many sub-components which need to be pulled together. For others, the reason lies in some processing difficulties, such as dyslexia or dysgraphia. Some educators wonder if students no longer enjoy the slower, more refined process of written communication because they spend so much time watching the faster-paced visual modality of television.

Students with learning problems, even those who read well, frequently submit written work which is brief and/or difficult to read. Such students can be victims of misunderstandings, a problem which becomes much more pronounced at the secondary level. "Accusations of laziness, poor motivation, and a reprehensible attitude are often directed toward deficit writers. The results can be a serious loss of incentive, a generalized academic disenchantment and demoralization" (Levine 1998, 363).

There are many reasons students avoid writing. Primary reasons may be one or more of the following:

  • They have a hard time getting started and feel overwhelmed by the task.
  • They need to concentrate to form letters: it is not an automatic process.
  • They struggle to organize and use mechanics of writing.
  • They are slow and inefficient in retrieving the right word(s) to express an idea.
  • They struggle to develop their ideas fluently (poor ideation).
  • They struggle to keep track of their thoughts while also getting them down on paper.
  • They feel that the process of writing on paper is slow and tedious.
  • They feel that the paper never turns out the way they want.
  • They realize that the paper is still sloppy even though substantial time and effort were spent.
  • They are dysgraphic, which causes multiple struggles at the basic processing levels.
  • They are dyslexic, which causes very poor spelling and interferes with automatic use of writing mechanics.

As parents and teachers, we can help students deal with their lack of enjoyment of the writing process and also with poor skill development. The techniques are twofold. Students need to:

  • develop a greater understanding of and appreciation for the purpose of writing.
  • develop more efficient skills.

When students have a combination of this understanding and the skills, they are then free to apply techniques and abilities in a wide range of situations. This is especially true and necessary for dyslexic and/or dysgraphic students who are compensating for processing inefficiencies in the language domain.

Skill Development

Skill development

This graphic represents the necessary steps in developing writing skills. These steps are in a hierarchy: if a student has too many gaps in one (or more) of the lower levels, then the top levels may be shaky and unstable.

The underlying processing skills involve development in a variety of memory, motor, and language areas. Examples include:

  • Physical components of writing
  • Speed of motor performance
  • Active working memory
  • Language formulation and ideation

The mechanical skills involve lower level tasks such as automatic letter form, use of space, basic spelling, capitalization, and punctuation. More mature mechanics involve speed, clarity of expression, and appropriate grammar.

The content skills relate to organizing and expressing ideas. The upper level skills include:

  • Writing using different writing styles
  • Being flexible in the writing process
  • Understanding the viewpoint of the reader
  • Writing with enthusiasm

Overall guidelines to help students avoid the avoidance of writing

There are many reasons a student may avoid writing, but most relate to the concept that writing is not fun or enjoyable. When writing is not meaningful, it is difficult to pull together the variety of skills needed to develop enthusiasm about writing. Students learn to write by writing, which then gives them the confidence to continue to write and continue to develop their skills. Using a variety of modalities can help create enthusiasm for writing and help students view writing as a more meaningful activity.

It is also important to analyze the lower level skills to ensure that the student has appropriately developed automaticity in these skills. When students are frustrated with individual components related to the task of writing and/or when they struggle to get started or to keep track of their thoughts, then the writing process is not fun, and their lack of enthusiasm becomes evident. Writing remains at the level of drudgery no matter how exciting the topic and students may feel threatened by the process of writing.

The goal for these students is to reduce the frustration, struggles, and feeling of threat. Increasing automaticity of skills is required to increase overall writing automaticity for a student. When automaticity, as developed by metacognitive awareness of the writing process and use of specific strategies, is combined with skill development and bypass strategies, the student should be able to deal with the vast majority of written expression tasks. The next step is to integrate purpose and meaning to generate fun and lead to enthusiasm for writing.



Click the "References" link above to hide these references.

Acosta, Simone and Richards, Regina G. "Cursive Writing: A Multisensory Approach," in 1999 So. California Consortium Resource Directory, International Dyslexia Association, www.retctrpress.com.

Levine, Melvin D. Developmental Variation and Learning Disorders, 2nd ed., www.epsbooks.com.

Levine, Melvin D. Educational Care: A System for Understanding and Helping Children with Learning Problems at Home and in School, www.epsbooks.com.

Richards, Regina G. The Source for Dyslexia and Dysgraphia, East Moline, IL: LinguiSystems, 800/PRO-IDEA.

Richards, Regina G. When Writing's A Problem, Riverside, RET Center Press, www.retctrpress.com.

Richards Educational Therapy Center, Inc. - Riverside, CA 92507 - 909-787-0408 - May 1999