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Reluctant Writers: Understanding Common Issues for Gifted Children

Gifted Education and Support

You know the scene – the blank homework assignment, the pencil thrown in anger, the tears – these are all the hallmarks of a reluctant writer. Writing battles like these might even be nightly in some instances. It may come as a surprise, but the elementary school years make for some of the most harrowing writing experiences gifted students face. While some educators might label these students as lazy or obstinate, there are several common reasons within the profoundly gifted population (PG) that might contribute to writing challenges, especially for students around ages 6 to 11.

Asynchrony. This is a likely explanation for the discrepancies you see in your little one’s intellectual ability and their physical output, like a written assignment. When it comes to writing, younger PG students become frustrated that their fine motor skills aren’t able to keep up with the torrent of ideas in their head. They might also be thinking in abstractions at a young age and lack the vocabulary to capture their concepts. If this is the source of stress for your reluctant writer, try to help them capture their thoughts with digital recorders or speech to text technology and then work through turning the ideas into written answers.

Rigid Thinking. It is common for many profoundly gifted and twice-exceptional students to approach the world in black and white – much of life’s structure can be reduced to a formula or scientific principal for these students. This may turn a student into a reluctant writer when the writing exercise is too open-ended, and writing seems to be an abstract process without rules. To aid these students, teach them about the processes and concrete steps of writing, such as brainstorming, outlining, drafting, revising, and editing, coupled with examples of writing at each stage.

Perfectionism. Gifted students frequently set high standards for themselves and are likely to experience perfectionism to some degree. For writing, this can become paralyzing when they spend hours trying to perfect their handwriting or rewriting the same sentence until it feels flawless. Perfectionism is often tied to feelings of acceptance, so it is important to help create an environment where these students feel valued for effort and parents model instances where being less-than-perfect is acceptable.

Personal Interest. Asking a student to write a two-page paper on how paint dries might be as boring as, well, watching paint dry. Writing assignments can come with unreasonable expectations. Just because you know a student physically can write a two-page paper, asking them to may feel unreasonable if the topic holds no personal interest for the student. For a curious brain, try seeing if they can write their paper in the form or a folk tale or a scientific natural law or in some other frame they find stimulating. Personal interest can provide some motivation to get the work done.

Looking into Twice-Exceptionality. If you suspect your child might be struggling with something else, such as dysgraphia, it might be a good idea to observe, ask questions, research, and keep an objective log of your child’s struggles for a few weeks to see if there are any patterns. It might be time to reach out to a professional if the duration, intensity, or frequency of the writing challenges increases.

Getting to the root of reluctant writing helps students get the support they need rather than internalize the message that they are “bad” at writing. You might be looking at a combination of some of the above or perhaps there is something else that is contributing to your child’s writing difficulties. Once the source of the challenge has been identified, parents, educators, and student can work together to create writing interventions that are informed by the individual child, their unique needs, and what works well for them. For more on helping differently wired students succeed with writing, check out some of these resources below:

Follow the Fear: Anticipating Missteps in Learning to Write” by P. Sciortino from the 2e Newsletter

Teaching Writing in the Elementary Years” by Suki Wessling

Trouble Expressing Ideas in Writing: What You Need to Know” from Understood.org

Patterns in Writing 1: Introduction” from Byrdseed

How to use the Writing Process (in plain English!)” – by Seth Perler

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