Written language derives from an oral language foundation. As Mark Seidenberg, author of the new Language At The Speed of Sight writes: “Writing and speech are not interchangeable, but they are closely intertwined, each deeply affecting the other, like a couple of linguistic codependents with serious boundary issues.” As with spoken language, it involves the five language domains: phonology, morphology, semantics, syntax, pragmatics. Written language is the most complex of all language modalities. Broadly, the task is to communicate by squeezing complex ideas out through the point of a pencil, (or strokes of a keyboard) properly spelled, well constructed, into complex discourse structures for a specific purpose of communication.
COMPONENTS OF WRITING COMPETENCY
HANDWRITING skill is critical. The physical act of writing by hand is i cements the sound/letter/word frame links that promote speed and automaticity essential for efficient written language production.
SPELLING is the ability to accurately and automatically encode words into their orthography, or print. Spelling’s linguistic underpinning include: phonology, morphology, orthography, vocabulary, and phonics.
Spelling is an unforgiving public skill and its errors are subject to severe consequences. Spell-check is not a real solution.
CONTENT is critical. Writers must translate their ideas into specific vocabulary. Sentences must be formulated in a formal register, with a variety of sentence types.
PLANNING AND REGULATING the writing process requires self monitoring. The purpose for writing, along with organization, content and text structure choice of topic, argument all influence successful writing.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
Problems may occur at any, or all, levels of the process. There can be difficulties at the word level with sounds, syllables, and their symbols, as well as at the sentence and discourse levels, related to syntax, use of cohesive devises, formulation challenges, and even pragmatic issues related to purpose of writing.
There are also the self-regulatory components of writing that are critical to success. In fact, research shows that self-regulated strategy development trumps process instruction. These include planning, executing, and revision.
Spelling, alone, can be a significant challenge for some writers. Its linguistic underpinnings in phonology, morphology, and semantics can provide challenges and interfere with automatic written output. Writers with poor mental orthographic images of words also struggle with choosing the correct letter patterns for the sounds in the words.
Also essential to writing are well developed fine motor and handwriting skills. These, when taught with reading and spelling skills, wire together and reinforce each other, as there is a bidirectional relationship between spelling and word reading. Difficulty in one can influence performance in the other area, and progress in one area can influence the other.
Children are exposed to letters and writing with few, if any, writing demands. It is more of an exposure period. Preschool children who have unusual difficulty with letter recognition, letter formation, alphabet skills and word recognition may be at risk for writing issues. Additionally, ability to segment words into syllables and sounds is a critical oral language skill related to spelling. These are developed at the preschool level with rhyming and singing activities along with engaging read alouds.
Elementary grades are where writing expectations ramp up. Sentences more formal. Organization is valued. Discourse forms are introduced, along with cohesive ties. Spelling accuracy is expected. Writing becomes more automatic. Written language demands increase across the curriculum. Not only do students write book reports, they write explanations for math solutions, lab reports in science, historical identifications, as well as literary analysis. Each subject has its unique written language conventions.
MIDDLE and HIGH SCHOOL
In middle and high school the disciplinary writing demands are significant. Expectations increase in terms of formality of syntax, the level of thinking that goes into analytical writing, and discipline specific discourse structures. Disciplinary writing expectations also increase as the volume of writing increases significantly. At this stage, and through graduate school, writing is used to demonstrate a student's learning in papers and tests.
Writing deficits are very responsive to instruction, particularly when their language base has been accurately diagnosed.
A thorough diagnostic evaluation can determine the type of writing disorders and the appropriate scope and sequence of remediation appropriate for each individual.
Speech pathologists have unique knowledge of the subsystems of language (phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics) as they relate to written language.
Well-trained speech-language pathologists are equipped to treat the language underpinnings that are responsible for written language production disorders. They are able to capitalize on the bidirectional relationship of reading and writing, and the oral language foundation.