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Handwriting and Spelling: The Struggle is Real

By The Joy of Learning

The struggle truly is REAL. As promised, let’s take a look at a few issues learners, especially those with dyslexia, face. Struggling students can have poor handwriting and spelling. Thankfully, there are ways to assist and support students.


One of the first things parents may notice is illegible handwriting. They ask, how can I help? Handwriting, specifically letter formation, is an important task to tackle. The muscle memory needed for legible letter formation can be developed. It may require ample time and reteaching. It will take a while to relearn poor handwriting habits. Don’t give up. Here are a few ideas and tools from to help with handwriting.

Try a handwriting program such as Handwriting Without Tears. You can find more information here:

  • Work on correct letter formation using techniques that don’t require writing, like finger writing in the air or in shaving cream.

  • Work on keyboarding skills if the student is old enough.

  • Use speech-to-text tools that allow student speech to translate to text.

Pro-tip #1: Incorporate verbal pathways. This technique is multisensory and increases mastery of the skill. Fundations, a Wilson Language product, is often used in schools. If your child’s school uses this product, these links may be helpful.

Pro-tip #2: Use the suggestions from the Orton Gillingham Online Academy to foster handwriting. I especially like the WET-DRY-TRY app that is mentioned.

Spelling and Reading Intertwined

As you know, dyslexic students struggle with reading. They are taught strategies to learn to read that incorporate visual, auditory and kinesthetic modalities. Spelling is used to cement the phonics skills used for decoding. It is quite common for students to learn to read words that they cannot yet spell. Hence, it’s common to hear, “My students can read, but can’t spell the words they read. What we should say is “My students can read, but can’t spell words they read….YET.”

There’s a need to focus on linking letter spellings to letter sounds. Learning to spell should incorporate the same multisensory methods that are used while learning to read. For example, students can break words into syllables. They can tap the sounds for each syllable and attach the letter to match the sound.

But here’s what students contend with. There are many spellings that represent sounds. For example, the long vowel sound for /e/ can be spelled:

  • Open syllable e

  • E consonant e

  • Ee

  • ey

  • y

When you look at all the options to spell the long e sound, it is easy to understand how complex and confusing spelling can be. So which letters do you choose? Struggling students, especially those with dyslexia,benefit from learning which sound spellings are most common and which rules can be used to help figure out the correct spelling. A skilled instructor can help with this task.

The Orton Gillingham approach uses the kinesthetic modality as a component of instruction. It also teaches students rules for spelling patterns and teaches them to determine which spelling rule to follow. An upcoming post will dig into Orton Gillingham. What is it?

I leave you with this quote. “Dyslexia is not a pigeonhole to say you can’t do anything. It is an opportunity and a possibility to learn differently. You have magical brains, they just process differently. Don’t feel like you should be held back by it.” -Her Royal Highness Princess Beatrice


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The Joy of Learning provides engaging, 1-on-1, evidence based instruction in reading, writing, and math, for students with diverse learning styles, taught by highly qualified learning specialists. We teach in person in the Boulder, Denver, and SF Bay area, and virtually at any location. Interested to Learn More? Book a Free Consultation Here.

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