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Kelly McManus, Lauren D. Goegan & Gina L. Harrison

Image d'un schéma d'un plan.


Adolescents with learning disabilities (LDs) invariably experience writing difficulties. For many of these students, problems with spelling and handwriting fluency persist from childhood, impeding basic transcription skills. Persistent difficulties with transcription can reduce the cognitive resources students have to devote to the higher-level aspects of generating and organizing their ideas coherently in text. Some students have primary language impairments that interfere with the content and structure of written texts, but have less difficulty with fluent spelling and handwriting. Writing difficulties can be especially frustrating for adolescents who typically are assessed for their curricula content knowledge through writing. While many high school students receive accommodations for their writing difficulties (e.g., extended time, use of the computer to write), without intervention their difficulties will persist into adulthood, limiting success in higher education and in the workplace.

To date, the most widely researched and effective approach to support writing in students with LDs is intervention based on the self-regulated strategy development (SRSD) model. Within this model, the teacher’s role is to support the application of a writing strategy in guided practice, and to support the student’s progress towards independent self-regulated use of that strategy. The SRSD approach also targets motivation and positive self-statements that emphasize the student’s problem solving agency. The focus on becoming a more self-regulated writer is particularly relevant for adolescents, who are often overwhelmed by the complexity and the sophisticated skill set required to write effectively at the secondary level. Through explicit, collaborative instruction, the teacher demonstrates the purpose and procedure for using a strategy, usually presented as a mnemonic (e.g., POW – Pick my idea, Organize my notes, Write and say more; click here for more information about mnemonics). Gradually, the student practices and adapts the strategy with teacher guidance, as needed, until they develop independence in using the strategy to complete the writing task.

Research indicates that this approach can help students engage in the cognitively demanding task of writing in a more coordinated and consistent way (e.g., Graham & Harris, 2003; Graham & Perin, 2007). For example, the SRSD approach can help students employ metacognitive routines that allow them to (1) focus on communicating, organizing and evaluating their ideas, and (2) balance higher-order concerns (e.g. logic, structure) with concerns about lower-order mechanical difficulties (e.g. spelling, capitalization and punctuation) that are often present in the writing of students with LDs.

The Supporting Research

The SRSD approach conforms to the recommended instructional methods advocated by leading writing researchers to help adolescents develop writing competence (e.g., Graham & Perin, 2007; Mason & Graham, 2008). One such recommendation is to provide direct instruction in the processes and products involved with writing (e.g., Troia & Graham, 2002). Specifically, teachers demystify the writing process by explicitly and systematically outlining the steps and strategies involved, including planning, sentence construction, summarizing and revising (Graham & Perin, 2007).Research examining the efficacy of the SRSD approach with various populations including students with LDs is based on single (e.g., Milford & Harrison, 2010) and multiple case-study designs (e.g., Kiuhura, O’Neil, Hawken, & Graham, 2012) in addition to quasi-experimental designs comparing groups of students who have received the intervention to a control group of same-age peers receiving no intervention (e.g., De La Paz & Graham, 2002). In a meta-analysis of 107 experimental and quasi-experimental studies of writing interventions and their impact on essay quality, Graham and Perin (2007) found that studies incorporating the SRSD approach demonstrated the greatest effect compared to fourteen other treatment types. These authors listed increased support in compositional planning, revising and editing strategies at the top of their list of ten recommendations for policy makers and educators supporting adolescents. In other reviews of the efficacy of the SRSD approach, including case study research, Mason and Graham (2008) and Graham and Harris (2003) also identified strong effects for students with LDs in the SRSD research. The SRSD approach helped students to improve their writing in areas such as essay quality, the production of more essay parts, and better overall writing performance post-intervention

Implications for practice:

  • SRSD can help writing in different genres (e.g., informational or quick writing, persuasive writing, narratives).
  • SRSD can help students to master processes like reading and researching, planning, revising and editing.
  • SRSD can be combined with specific writing accommodations like speech recognition software.
  • SRSD can be employed by regular or special educators, within the general classroom or to students receiving learning assistance, in one-on-one, small-group or large-group settings.

How to Implement an SRSD Approach in Your Classroom

Once educators have identified an appropriate strategy or tool (e.g. PLAN, SCAN, WRITE, POW), the next step is to introduce that tool by using the SRSD instructional framework. This framework is a recursive process of six instructional phases:

  1. Develop background knowledge. Instructors evaluate student’s prior knowledge about the content of the lessons and introduce the strategies.
  2. Discuss it. Instructors discuss the practices of good writers and the features of good writing. They also discuss the purpose of introduced strategies and tools.
  3. Model it. Instructors model effective metacognitive processes and strategy use.
  4. Memorize it. Students memorize the strategy, the steps and components of the strategy and the purpose for each of these parts.
  5. Support it. Instructors provide scaffolded support of the strategies, self-regulatory processes and metacognitive routines of the intervention material.
  6. Independent performance. Students employ the writing strategies and coordinate writing routines without teacher support.

For an overview of these instructional steps, see Mason, Harris and Graham (2011). Teachers progress through these phases of instruction at a pace that meets the student’s needs, moving back for more practice or review as needed, or progressing forward when the student is ready. It is also important to measure the student’s progress before, during and following the intervention. These activities will require the instructor to carefully consider the targeted skills and measures for quantifying those skills. See the following practice based studies (e.g., Harris, & Graham, 2011; Milford & Harrison, 2010; Mason; Santangelo, Harris, & Graham, 2008) for meaningful, practical ideas about graphing and measurement in the SRSD approach.  Click here another helpful site to find more information about progress monitoring in writing, and click here for information on collecting ongoing curriculum-based measurements of writing, and in the resource:  The ABC’s of CBMs: A Practical Guide to Curriculum-Based Measurement (Hosp, Hosp, & Howell, 2007). It is often recommended to have students take an active role in tracking their own progress through the intervention.

The following table outlines some specific writing strategies and studies of their effectiveness among adolescents with LDs:

Image of the cover page: Specific Writing Strategies for Adolescent Students with Learning Disabilities

Click here to open the document,"Specific Writing Strategies for Adolescent Students with Learning Disabilities".

Related Articles on LD@school

Click here to visit the LD@school website and access the article “Strategies to Assist Students with Writing Difficulties”, by Diane Wagner.

Click here to visit the LD@school website and access the article “Developing Interventions for Students with Writing Disabilities: Addressing the Most Complex Academic Problem”, by Jessica A. Carmichael and James B. Hale.

Click here to visit the LD@school website and access the article “The COPS Editing Strategy”, by Nicole Lauzon.

Where to Learn More

The articles below provide helpful practice-based suggestions for implementing SRSD instruction in the classroom.

De La Paz, S., Owen, B., Harris, K. R., & Graham, S. (2000). Riding Elvis’s motorcycle: using self-regulated strategy development to PLAN and WRITE for a state writing exam. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 15(2), 101-109. Retrieved from http:// web.a.ebscohost.com

Mason, L. H., Benedek-Wood, & Valasa, L. (2009). Teaching low-achieving students to self-regulate persuasive quick write responses. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 53(4), 303-312. Retrieved from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/30250071

Mason, L. H., Harris, K. R., & Graham, S. (2011). Self-Regulated Strategy Development for Students with Writing Difficulties. Theory Into Practice, 50, 20-27.

Milford, T., & Harrison, G. L. (2010). Using the PLEASE strategy with a struggling middle school writer with a disability. Intervention in School and Clinic, 45, 326-332.

Santangelo, T., Harris, K. R., & Graham, S. (2008). Using Self-regulated strategy development to support students who have “Trubol Giting Thangs Into Werds.” Remedial and Special Education, 29(2), 78-89. doi: 10.1177/0741932507311636


De La Paz, S. (1999). Self-regulated strategy development in regular education settings: Improving outcomes for students with and without learning disabilities. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 14(2), 92-106. doi: 10.1207/sldrp1402_3

De La Paz, S. (2005). Effects of historical reasoning instruction and writing strategy mastery in culturally and academically diverse middle school classrooms. Journal of Educational Psychology, 97(2), 139-156. doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.97.2.139

De La Paz, S., & Graham, S. (1997). Effects of dictation and advanced planning instruction on the composing of students with writing and learning problems. Journal of Educational Psychology, 89(2), 203-222. doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.89.2.203

De La Paz, S., & Felton, M. K. (2010). Reading and writing from multiple source documents in history: Effects of strategy instruction with low to average high school writers. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 35, 174-192. doi:10.1016/jcedpsych.2010.03.001

De La Paz, S. & Graham, S. (2002). Explicitly teaching strategies, skills, and knowledge: Writing instruction in middle school classrooms. Journal of Educational Psychology, 94, 687-698.

Ennis, R. P., Jolivette, K., & Boden, L. J. (2013). STOP and DARE: Self-regulated strategy development for persuasive writing with elementary students with E/BD in a residential facility. Education and Treatment of Children, 36(3), 81-99.

Graham, S., MacArthur, C, Schwartz, S., & Page-Voth, V. (1992). Improving the compositions of students with learning disabilities using a strategy involving product and process goal setting. Exceptional Children, 58, 322-334.

of students with learning disabilities using a strategy involving product and process goal setting. Exceptional Children, 58(4), 322-334.

Graham, S. & Harris, K. R. (2003). Students with learning disabilities and the process of writing: A meta-analysis of SRSD studies. In H. L. Swanson, K. R. Harris, & S. Graham (Eds.), Handbook of learning disabilities (pp. 323-344). New York: Guilford.

Graham, S., & MacArthur, C. A. (1988). Improving learning disabled students’ skills at revising essays produced on a word processor: Self-instructional strategy training. Journal of Special Education, 22(2), 133-152.

Graham, S., & Perin, D. (2007). A meta-analysis of writing instruction for adolescent students. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99,(3), 445-476. doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.99.3.445

Harris, K. R., Graham, S., & Mason, L. H. (2003). Self-regulated strategy development in the classroom: Part of a balanced approach to writing instruction for students with disabilities. Focus on Exceptional Children, 35(7), 1-16.

Hosp, M., Hosp, J. L., & Howell, K. W. (2007). The ABCs of CBM:  A practical guide to curriculum-based measurement. New York: The Guilford Press.

Hoover, T. M., Kubina, R. M., & Mason, L. H. (2010). Effects of self-regulated strategy development for POW+TREE on high school students with learning disabilities. Exceptionality: A Special Education Journal, 20(1), 20-38. doi: 10.1080/09362835.2012.640903

Kiuhara, S. A., O’Neill, R. E., Hawken, L. S., & Graham, S. (2012). The effectiveness of teaching 10th grade students STOP, AIMS, and DARE for planning and drafting persuasive text. Exceptional Children, 78(3), 335-355.

MacArthur, C. A., Graham, S., Schwartz, S. S., & Schafer, W. D. (1995). Evaluation of a writing instruction model that integrated a process approach, strategy instruction, and word processing. Learning Disability Quarterly, 18(4), 278-291. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1511234

Mason, L. H. (2013). Teaching students who struggle with learning to think before, while and after reading: Effects of self-regulated strategy development instruction. Reading & Writing Quarterly: Overcoming Learning Difficulties, 29(2), 124-144. Doi: 10.1080/10573569.2013.758561

Mason, L. H., & Graham, S. (2008). Writing instruction for adolescents with learning disabilities: Programs of intervention research. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 23(2), 103-112.

Mason, L. H., Kubina, R. M., & Taft, R. J. (2011). Developing quick writing skills of middle school students with disabilities. Journal of Special Education, 44, 205-220. doi: 10.1177/0022466909350780

Troia, G. & Graham, S. (2002). The effectiveness of a highly explicit, teacher-directed strategy instruction routine: Change the writing performance of students with learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 35, 290-305.

Stoddard, B., & MacArthur, C. A. (1993). A peer editor strategy: Guiding learning disabled students in response and revision. Research in the Teaching of English, 27(1), 76-103. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40171213

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Kelly McManus is a graduate student in Educational Psychology at the University of Victoria. She has worked with children, adolescents and adults with learning disabilities as a writing tutor and learning strategist, most recently as the coordinator of the Learning Strategies Program at the University of Victoria’s disability service office. Her research interests include writing interventions for postsecondary and high school students with disabilities, the use of assistive technologies, and literacy development in children. She holds a Masters degree in English Literature.

Lauren is a graduate student in Educational Psychology specializing in Special Education at the University of Victoria. She is a long time volunteer with the LDA and has worked on both LDAA and LDAC initiatives. Currently she is working at the University of Victoria’s Disability Service Office assisting students connect with services such as tutors and learning strategists. Her Master’s research examines extended time as an exam accommodation for students with Learning Disabilities within the context of writing. She holds a BA First Class Honours degree in Psychology from the University of Calgary.

Dr. Gina Harrison is an Associate Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Victoria, and a Registered Psychologist. Dr. Harrison has been working with children and adults with learning disabilities for over 20 years. She served on the executive of the Saskatchewan Learning Disabilities Association, and has recently partnered with the South Vancouver Island chapter of the LDAC, with doctoral student Breanna Lawrence,  to implement a writing intervention for children with LD. Dr. Harrison’s research examines the cognitive and linguistic aspects of reading and writing disorders in children and adults, second language literacy acquisition, and effective academic intervention approaches.