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By Véronique Parent, Anne Rodrigue, Julie Myre-Bisaillon, Carole Boudreau, and Annick Tremblay-Bouchard

Image of a student Writing

Students with learning disabilities often experience difficulty with writing. These difficulties result from limited strategies, skills, knowledge, and motivation (Graham, Harris, & McKeown, 2013).

The Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) model combines instructional strategies with a means to self-regulate (Harris, 1982). The goal is to teach the strategies that students need in order to write, while supporting them to be motivated. Taking the specific needs of each student into account is central to this approach. It can be used with an entire class, small groups, and individual students, from Grade 2 to secondary school.

The SRSD approach consists of explicit teaching of:

  • general and specific writing strategies, such as:
    • using the right vocabulary,
    • being mindful of the intended reader,
    • creating interesting introductions and conclusions
  • the knowledge required to use these strategies;
  • ways to manage these strategies;
  • the writing process; and
  • one’s behaviour as a writer
    • self-regulation
    • self-instruction

This approach offers a general framework for working with students that the teacher can then adapt to the writing strategies students are working on. It consists of six steps that can be re-arranged, re-combined, revisited, modified or even omitted, depending on student needs.

Detailed Description of the Approach

Step 1: Develop Background Knowledge

In the first step of the SRSD approach, teachers must identify the skills students will need to use a particular strategy, assess whether the students possess these skills, and help students develop the necessary skills (e.g., vocabulary) they may need to learn the academic and self-regulation strategy.

Self-regulation strategies are integrated at this stage by having students think about whether their performance is adversely affected by any negative thoughts or perceptions; the teacher may then help them to demystify these perceptions.

Step 2: Discuss

In this step, the teacher and the students discuss the specific strategy to be used. Each step of the strategy is explained and mnemonics are used for support, where applicable. The teacher and the students explore how and when to apply the strategy, whether the strategy can by generalized to other tasks, and how the students will benefit from the strategy.

Self-regulation skills are also tied in at this stage by emphasizing the importance of effort in order to increase student motivation and the development of positive thoughts and perceptions. The students should also be taught to set goals for learning the strategy, using it, and then continuing to use the strategy. Self-monitoring can be explicitly taught at this stage by having students plot their progress on a graphic organizer, and highlighting the changes that will happen when they master the strategies. This is so that, later on, they can compare their new writing and their old writing.

Step 3: Model

The teacher models the writing process, demonstrating for the students when and how to use the strategy for writing, while incorporating self-regulation strategies.  This modelling includes:

  • A definition of the problem (“I must write an essay in eight parts.”)
  • A focus on attention and planning (“I need to concentrate. First, I need to choose an idea.”)
  • Implementation of the strategies (“I know what to do. I am going to use the first strategy.”)
  • Self-evaluation and correcting mistakes (“Did I use all of the steps of the strategy? Ooops, I forgot one. I’d better add it.”)
  • Self-control (“I can do this. I know the strategy. I’m going to slow down and take my time.”)
  • Positive reinforcement (“Wow! I like this part of my essay!”)

After modelling the strategy, the teacher talks about its benefits and challenges, and suggests ways for making it even more effective. Then, the teacher helps the students to come up with a short list of instructions that the students can give themselves before, during, and after the writing task. This list and other lists that are produced are placed in a folder, so that the students can refer to them throughout the learning process. Peer modelling can also be used.

Step 4: Memorize

This step begins as soon as the instruction begins. The students participate in fun, engaging activities that assist them in memorizing the steps of the strategy and the actions involved in completing each step. Additional time can be spent on this step for students who need it, in order to ensure that they have correctly memorized everything.

Step 5: Support

Step 5 is the longest step. The teacher supports the students as they apply the writing and self-regulation strategies during a guided writing task. This step features experiences of collaborative writing, with teacher accompaniment and incentives that support the process and that are based on the students’ progress. The teacher encourages the students and guides them, as necessary, to ensure that they meet the objectives that they have set for themselves.

Step 6: Independent Work

The teacher invites the students to use the strategies they have learned in written production tasks in order to demonstrate that they have mastered them independently and correctly. Booster sessions can be added as often as necessary in order to help the students to maintain their use of the strategies; during these booster sessions, the strategies are re-visited and re-discussed. Similarly, through the use of this approach, various procedures to help the students to maintain and generalize their learning can be integrated. These include:

  1. Identifying opportunities to use the writing strategies and self-regulation strategies in other situations;
  2. Analyzing how these procedures could be modified in these other situations;
  3. Creating homework assignments requiring the students to use the strategies in other contexts;
  4. Evaluating the success of these efforts.

Please refer to the Resources section for print and online resources relative to the SRSD approach.

Supports for the efficacy of the approach

There have been many studies on the SRSD approach. According to a meta-analysis by Graham, Harris and McKeown. (2013), it is a versatile approach for improving writing of different types of texts, for working with students of all ages, whether or not they have learning disabilities, and for working with entire classes, small groups, and individual students. The research also indicates that a regular classroom teacher who receives professional development can implement this approach. Other studies indicate that the SRSD approach can be used with students with learning disabilities to improve student attitudes toward writing. It has also been shown to increase the quality of written productions, the knowledge about writing, the time taken to plan a composition, and the length of compositions (Graham & Harris, 1989; Harris, Graham, & Mason, 2006; Reid & Lienemann, 2006, as cited in Sandmel et al., 2009).

Related Resources on the LD@school Website

Click here to access the article Writing Interventions for Children in Grades 1 to 6 with Learning Disabilities.

Click here to access the article Writing Interventions for Adolescents with Learning Disabilities.

Click here to access the article Expressive Writing.

Additional Resources

Click here to access interactive online tutorials on the SRSD approach.

Click here to access interactive online tutorials from the Iris Centre for improving writing (English only).


Graham, S., Harris, K. R. and McKeown, D. (2013). The writing of students with LD and a meta-analysis of SRSD writing intervention studies: Redux. In L. Swanson, K.R. Harris, & S. Graham (Eds.), Handbook of Learning Disabilities (2nd Edition). MY: Guilford Press.

Harris, K. R., & Graham, S. (2011). “An adjective is a word hanging down from a noun”: Learning to write and students with learning disabilities. Annals of Dyslexia, 1-15.

Harris, K. R., Graham, S., & Mason, L. H. &  Friedlander, B. (2008). Powerful Writing Strategies for All Students. Baltimore: Brookes.

Harris, K. R. (1982). Cognitive-behavior modification: Application with exceptional students. Focus on Exceptional Children15(2), 1-16.

Sandmel, K. N., Brindle, M., Harris, K. R., Lane, K. L., Graham, S., Nackel, J., & Little, A. (2009). Making it work: Differentiating tier two self-regulated strategies development in writing in tandem with schoolwide positive behavioral support. Teaching Exceptional Children, 42(2), 22-33.

horizontal line tealJulie Myre-Bisaillon is a full professor at the Département des études sur l’adaptation scolaire et sociale (Department of Academic and Social Accommodation Studies) in the Faculty of Education at the University of Sherbrooke. She is in charge of the Collectif de recherche sur la continuité des apprentissages en lecture et en écriture (CLÉ) (Research Group on the Continuity of Learning to Read and Write), a research team with roughly twenty members. Her research interests focus on teaching accommodation for special education students, using by-project approaches based on children’s literature from a multidisciplinary perspective, and on reading and writing awareness in disadvantaged areas. She has also taught at the high school level and performed remedial work.  

Carole Boudreau teaches at the Département d’études sur l’adaptation scolaire et sociale (Department of Academic and Social Accommodation Studies) at the University of Sherbrooke. Before accepting this position, she worked as a remedial teacher in the school environment, as a guidance teacher specialized in hearing impairment and as a project officer for the Quebec Ministry of Education’s Direction de l’adaptation scolaire (Academic Accommodation Branch). Her research interests focus on reading and writing difficulties as well as remedial instruction. She is a member of the Collectif de recherche sur la continuité des apprentissages en lecture et en écriture (CLÉ) (Research Group on the Continuity of Learning to Read and Write).

Véronique Parent is a psychologist and professor at the Département de psychologie (Department of Psychology) at the University of Sherbrooke. Her research interests focus on cognitive disorders related to learning disabilities and accommodation. She is also interested in using novel intervention approaches in school environments, such as the use of cognitive training programs, to promote the development of special education students’ learning potential. She is a member of the Collectif de recherche sur la continuité des apprentissages en lecture et en écriture (CLÉ) (Research Group on the Continuity of Learning to Read and Write).

Anne Rodrigue is a Ph.D. student in the Département des études sur l’adaptation scolaire et sociale (Department of Academic and Social Accommodation Studies) at the University of Sherbrooke. She was trained as a remedial teacher and for over 10 years has been dividing her time between research at the University and practice in schools.

Annick Tremblay-Bouchard is a Masters student in Education Science focusing on academic accommodation at the University of Sherbrooke. Trained as a primary school teacher, she specializes in students with hearing disabilities.