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I recently wrote an answer on Parenting.SE about the process of learning how to read. There are distinct sets of skills that need to be mastered before people become proficient readers, and often recognizing the skills that are being practiced is beneficial to supporting the needs of the reader. In that particular case, the child wasn't demonstrating reading comprehension, but his behaviors suggested that he wasn't quite at that stage yet, and needed practice in other areas first.

In the reading world, this is described as the reading continuum. There is an analogous writing continuum, but because of my lack of experience with writing development, reading about the continuum has left me with these questions (which I'm hoping a literacy or writing teacher can help me with):

  • How are fundamental writing skills developed?
    We have to learn the shapes of letters before we can write words. I'd like a short overview of the skills involved in mastering basic writing (similar to what I outlined in my answer about reading).

  • How are these skills assessed?
    We can see evidence of developing reading strategies through some typical behaviors that are present at each stage of learning. Along with naming the skills, what are some ways that these skills manifest as behaviors I can recognize?

  • Is there a means of figuring out what areas I am missing, or that need more practice?

I'm thinking of the development of basic, fundamental writing skills rather than developing specific writing styles (technical, creative, etc).

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I'm not a professional teacher, but here are two thoughts, based upon homeschooling my kids and working with other children for many years:

1) Children often develop a mental capability before the physical capability that it's usually paired with. For example, children being weaned can be taught simple ASL hand signs (for "please," "thank you," "more," and "done") long before they can speak those words. Turning to writing, children can dictate a story/report long before they can write it down. Furthermore, children who are slow at learning handwriting (or are just slow at doing it) will often get discouraged about writing. The physical act of putting the words down on paper becomes a big barrier to kids like that. They conclude that they "stink at writing," when in fact they merely stink at handwriting. Teachers should look for this and seek ways to counter it. (For example, teach kids to type and to use voice-to-text programs.)

2) The second leading cause of trouble with writing (and with reading comprehension also) stems from an inability to outline. In the past, outlining was taught in school as a skill in itself. Despite a moronic emphasis on "proper" outline formatting [I, A, 1., a., 1), a), (1), (a), proper capitalization, etc.], which turned off many students (and teachers), it was a great thing to teach, because it taught you to organize your own thoughts and to recognize the organization in other people's thoughts. Nowadays, outlining is deemphasized as passe and time-consuming, which is ironic because word processing programs can handle the formatting of outlines, so all the person has to do is the thinking.

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