“Seven Steps to Writing Success” and students with learning difficulties

Jack? No, it couldn’t be.  He was dead.  I’d seen his bloodied body and been to his funeral. But I couldn’t mistake that walk for anyone else’s…

This was one of the “Sizzling Starts” I wrote yesterday at a “Seven Steps to Writing Success” workshop and according to the certificate I was given, I am now a graduate.

“Seven Steps”, developed by author and educator Jen McVeity, is “a unique system that chunks writing into seven main techniques” which a lot of Australian schools are adopting as a schoolwide method.

Writing success
Writing success

I came away with a lot of useful insights and ideas for teaching writing.  My reason for going was to pick up strategies for helping students with learning difficulties with writing and I was really encouraged that the presenter mentioned several times that students with LDs are definitely capable of writing creatively.

In particular I thought the following aspects of the program were beneficial for students with a learning difficulty:

  • The whole notion of “Seven Steps” provides structure for writers to hang their hats on and consider when they’re writing. A clear structure that they can remember is great to help these kids.
  • Planning is one of the seven steps. There is a story graph which makes it easy for kids to remember how to go about planning.
  • Short activities help to avoid cognitive overload
  • Repetition gives children with learning difficulties a better chance of assimilating new learning.
  • “Verbal is vital” is one of the catchphrases. A multisensory approach is great for students whose literacy skills are not strong.
  • Emphasis is on writing well and creatively. The training did include references to NAPLAN but doing well in NAPLAN is not the primary focus of the program.
Students with a learning disability can still be great writers
Students with a learning disability can still be great writers

Here are a couple of enhancements which may benefit those with a learning difficulty and make their writing experience even more productive and rewarding:

Tips for remembering a sentence – have a look at Dr Lillian Fawcett’s clip here, demonstrating how to help students remember a sentence they have created in their head while they work on writing it.

Assistive technology may be beneficial to help students

  • Make a plan electronically if writing is difficult with an app such as ShowMe or ScreenChomp
  • Write using text prediction and spell checking
  • Dictate their writing using speech-to-text programs or apps


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Achievable ways technology can assist students with learning disabilities (Part 1)

Whereas Assistive Technology has been expensive and obvious in the past, the rise of 1:1 technology and BYOD programs in schools is making AT simpler and cheaper to access and much easier for teachers to integrate into the mainstream classroom.


These technologies are not intended to replace learning support but rather to provide options for students to access resources and produce work without being hampered by their challenges with spelling and other language conventions.


Unfortunately, those with learning disabilities are often subjected to the same spelling and language convention assessments as other students so the following programs may not be appropriate in all situations. For a project where the real aim is that students can show their content knowledge and ability to analyse, some of these apps and programs can put them on a level playing field with everyone else.


This article merely scratches the surface of assistive technology but I have attempted to present options for different types of devices and different budgets. In some cases, negotiation with the school’s IT department may be necessary. In many cases a lite (free) version is available so you can try out the app and see if it suits your learners.

Speech to text 

There are some really good free options here.  Something really simple but very liberating especially for students in the middle primary age-range who are starting to need to research and work more independently but are still struggling with reading and spelling is to teach them to use a voice command for internet searching.  On an iPad or iPhone, ask Siri to search.  In a Google browser window, tap the microphone button and speak.




Google Voice Search
Google Voice Search



iPads have a built-in dictation feature. To enable the Dictation feature, go to Settings, General, Keyboards and then Enable Dictation.  You will need to be connected to the internet for dictation to work. Once you are in an app and ready to type, tap the screen and when the keyboard appears, tap the  microphone picture and start dictating.  You can give commands like New Paragraph but corrections need to be made manually.  Tap Done when you are finished dictating. I have found this feature easy to set up and use.

Speech options
iPad speech options



Setting up Windows Speech Recognition
Setting up Windows Speech Recognition

Setting up Speech Recognition in Windows 7 or 8 is a little more complicated.

You will need to set up a microphone and train your computer to understand your speech.  There is a tutorial on the Windows website which takes you through how to talk to your computer so your voice is understood accurately.  Over time the computer builds up a profile of your voice so accuracy should improve.






There are a number of programs and apps which also provide a speech to text feature.  The best known of these is probably Dragon Naturally Speaking for PC and Dragon Dictate for Mac.  There is an accompanying iPad and iPhone app, Dragon Dictation.  Because business and the health industry also use dictation, there are many dictation programs on the market and many free apps.  The robustness of these apps varies.  Some are glitchy or won’t allow easy export of text.

Nuance produces a range of Dragon Dictation programs
Nuance produces a range of Dragon Dictation programs



Have you tried any of these? Which one is your favourite?



Next time: Text to Speech

Kabilan29 at English Wikipedia [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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