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POWER UP! Helping Students with Dysgraphia Improve Their Writing Skills

Posted March 08, 2024 in Articles

POWER UP! Helping Students with Dysgraphia Improve Their Writing Skills

Writing is a complex process. It involves working memory and switching between tasks that include generating ideas, thinking of words and their meanings, structuring good sentences, planning, and self-monitoring—all executive functions.

For students with dysgraphia, which is estimated to affect 7-15% of school-aged children, the process of writing can be laborious. Spelling accuracy, handwriting legibility, and the ability to express thoughts on paper are all impaired, often causing those affected to experience emotional stress or anxiety. At Lawrence Upper School, we use a mnemonic device called POWER UP to help students with dysgraphia improve their writing skills.

There are so many components to the writing process that students who struggle with it feel overwhelmed. POWER UP allows them to break writing tasks into manageable chunks.

“It empowers the students,” Upper School Academic Dean Rama Janamanchi said.

Each letter in POWER UP stands for one step in the process.

P — Prepare
O — Organize
W — Write
E — Edit
R — Revise

U — Understand
P — Publish


Step 1: Prepare

In step one, students prepare all of their ideas. Similar to a brainstorming session, students in this stage begin to generate ideas for a specific audience and purpose, explore those ideas, and develop what will become of their topic, thesis, and, ultimately, their written work.

Ask: Do I have enough information?

Step 2: Organize

After students gather their concepts, ideas, and thoughts, they must organize that information—a combination of research and what they know—and create a writing plan. This might be a formal outline or even a simple list of information with similar items grouped together. This is when students can check for unity and also start to see the flow of their written work.

Ask: Am I ready to write?

"The prewriting steps are really important for all of our writers, but especially kids with dysgraphia or other written expression challenges," said Sally Garza, Upper School Director of Educational Technology. "The more they think about and follow these steps, the better prepared they will be when they begin to write."

Step 3: Write

This is where students fill in the gaps and provide as many details as possible, such as descriptions, facts, numbers, reasons, explanations, and definitions. In the “W” step, students should write as much as possible and not worry whether it’s good or not. Remember, this is a rough draft—grammar, spelling, capitalization, punctuation, or word count doesn’t have to be perfect. The goal of this step is for students to get all of their ideas on paper so they can work with it later.

Ask: Did I write my ideas down?

Step 4: Edit

Once students have completed a rough draft, they can begin to edit. During this step, students reread what they have written, focusing on the mechanics, including grammar, spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and formatting. They also look at their sources and update their in-text citations, quotation marks, references to authors, and their works cited page.

Ask: Does my writing look good?

Step 5: Revise

After editing, it’s time to revise. This is a crucial step in the writing process as it allows students to hone their writing skills. In the revision process, students have the opportunity to take a step back and assess their writing from a critical standpoint, looking for ways to improve clarity, sentence structure, and overall effectiveness. During this step, students may discover that they need to reorganize their ideas, remove unnecessary words or sentences, or add new information. By making these changes, students can ensure that their final product is as strong as possible.

Ask: Does my writing make sense?

Step 6: Understand

Students in this stage are encouraged to understand that their writing is intended for a certain audience, and that audience should be considered before submitting their work. This includes reflecting on what they’ve written, edited, and revised, ensuring that all parts of the assignment have been addressed (i.e, mechanics, tone of voice, formatting).

Ask: Does my writing answer all of the essential questions of the assignment and is formatted correctly?

Step 7: Publish

This is the final step of the writing process, where students are ready to share a final copy of their work. Before students can publish, however, there are still a few tasks involved. Some of these tasks may have already been completed earlier in the process, while others may still need to be addressed. This includes double-checking formatting guidelines and making sure the work is submitted based on the appropriate delivery system (print-out, email, Google Classroom, etc.).

Ask: Is this the best it can be and did I give it to the teacher?

Technology Tools

In every stage of the writing process, Lawrence students who struggle with writing—including spelling, punctuation, grammar, word usage, and organization—can leverage a wide variety of assistive technology tools to help them power up and improve their writing. Additionally, some tools help students avoid the actual physical task of writing.

“There is no need to use every tool at their disposal, but it’s helpful to find the ones that work best for them,” Garza said. “What works for one writer may not necessarily work for another.”

Fortunately, there are many different tools from which to choose.

“The more tools we can give our students, the better we serve them,” Janamanchi said. “I really love POWER UP, and it’s one of my favorite instructional processes that we use.”

To see the list of technology tools associated with each step of the POWER UP writing process, download the printable PDF.

Download powerup.pdf

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