For children living with dyslexia, literacy and creative writing in schools can be excessively challenging and ultimately unenjoyable. The satisfaction that some children derive from expressing themselves in this way is not always shared by children who process language-based information differently, or for whom the process of reading and writing gets in the way of the meaning to be gained and enjoyment to be had. The fact that other children can engage with apparent ease can be baffling and the path to gain learning and satisfaction from these lessons can seem like an uphill struggle.
Dyslexia affects between 10-15% of people making it the highest incident specific learning difficulty or learning difference (source: British Dyslexia Association). Support for dyslexic children can be thin on the ground leading to frustration all round, for teachers, children and their parents.
Benefits of the Therapeutic Storywriting method
Research has shown that Therapeutic Storywriting offers children specific benefits that may be of particular help to those with dyslexia. For example, research by Harris (2013) found that Therapeutic Storywriting led to significant improvements in children’s emotional vocabulary and sense of belonging. Holder (2015) found that it led to a significant reduction in levels of anxiety and improvements in verbal working memory. Other researchers reported benefits such as improvements in pupils’ motivation to write, in listening skills, in confidence in their own ideas, and in being more willing to work independently and put forward more creative ideas.
Setting out mindfully
Therapeutic Storywriting Groups start with a mindfulness exercise which helps the pupils to relax before the writing begins. This pause can then help to focus minds on the content of the story as Therapeutic Storywriting is not primarily concerned with spelling, grammar and structure but on developing plot coherence and characters that the child can relate to. This may be why teachers often report that children write more in these groups than they ever write in class.
Staying focused, staying engaged
Whereas a busy and at times noisy classroom can be distracting for some children, not least those with dyslexia, Therapeutic Storywriting groups are small and held in a non-threatening atmosphere. This sense of safety can help the development of social skills, which is particularly helpful for those children whose dyslexia has led them to becoming socially withdrawn. Children are encouraged to project difficult feelings they may be experiencing onto their story characters. One Year 5 boy commented, “It’s helped me to release my anger in small portions. Now it goes into my pencil and into stories. I can make a story around how I feel.”
Results over time
Children are challenged appropriately in the groups, and are encouraged to build their confidence in their school work through participation in the groups. Over time, writing skills can improve and with that comes potential development across the curriculum for children in Therapeutic Storywriting Groups. The fact that children receive their finished stories typed up, with correct spelling and punctuation, can greatly boost their confidence as a writer.
Story Links, which also includes parents in the storywriting groups, has been shown to increase pupils’ engagement with reading in part through developing the parents’ engagement with their child’s reading. Part of the Story Links process is two weekly individual follow-up sessions with the child’s TA which focuses on specific word and sentence level work at the child’s individual stage of literacy.
The lifelong view
Around 40% of our top entrepreneurs are dyslexic, which is around 3 times more than the general population. Dyslexia can bring great strengths, and the confidence and skills nurtured in Therapeutic Storywriting and Story Links groups can help to draw those out so that classroom life might be less frustrating and bewildering. From this place of developing confidence and calm, and growing skills in literacy, solutions and strategies for the impact that dyslexia might be having on a child can be better sought and put in place.
Therapeutic Storywriting and Story Links have a clear and evidenced role to play in the support of dyslexic children, with benefits that may reach beyond literacy and reading. Kindling a love of the experience of storywriting in children who may thus far have felt excluded from the party just might be the transformative experience they need in order to thrive.