Writing is such a challenge for students with special needs. It’s physically demanding. Many students fatigue easily. They have difficulty with size, shape, spacing, and printing on the lines of the paper. They spend so much time trying to remember what the letters look like that they want to get on paper, they often lose their ideas. When they are able to overcome these obstacles, they have to figure out grammar, punctuation, capitalization, word choice, staying on topic, etc. So, how do we teach our students with special needs to become competent writers?
These are some of the tips/strategies that I use in my classroom. I have an amazing OT that I work with. She gives me equipment for my students that helps increase hand strength and improves visual motor processing. Increased hand strength improves student endurance. By improving visual motor skills, the students are able to recall letter/word formation automatically which increases the number of words per minute students are able to print on paper.
Once we have the physical part of writing under control, we can begin to focus on all of the other requirements of writing. I teach beginning writers to make a picture in their head of the topic. They have about one minute to do a quick sketch so they can refer to their picture as they write. The first sentence we write tell the main thing that each character is doing in their picture. We move into writing two or more sentences about each character in the picture. The first sentence always tells the main thing the character is doing and the second and third sentences add details about the character. The next step is answering some how, why, and where questions about the topic.
Graphic organizers are essential. Students need tools to organize their thoughts and layout the different parts of their paper and graphic organizers allow students a way to manage their thoughts.
Once we have the ideas flowing, what do we do about grammar and punctuation? Mini lessons are very beneficial to the students. They are more likely to master basic grammar and punctuation skills, if they receive small bits of teaching paired with meaningful practice of the skill.
Do you use anchor charts in your classroom? They are amazing. Anchor charts are most effective when your students help create the charts. They should be posted in the classroom so students can easily refer to them. When students make a mistake in their writing, don’t tell them the mistake. Tell the student, “You have a mistake in capitalization in paragraph two. Refer to the capitalization anchor chart and fix your error.” In the beginning, you must go through this process with the entire class. It works best to project the child’s paper on a smartboard with a document camera. Tell the class what type of error you see and where it is in the paper. Model thinking by talking through each step. Model this process several times and each time use less teacher talk while having the students explain the process of finding and correcting the errors on their own. Eventually, you want students to be able to edit their own paper independently.
Rubrics are also helpful tools for students to use to edit their paper. Rubrics help to focus student editing to specific skills. Rubrics should change as the students learn and master new skills. A rubric at the end of the year should be much more detailed than a rubric used at the beginning of the year.
Rubrics are also an excellent way to differentiate your instruction. In my class, I have 1st-5th grade students all day. When I give a writing assignment, I have very different expectations for my older students than I do for my younger students. I can give a writing assignment to everyone and use 3 (or more) different rubrics to modify what is expected for each grade/ability level. Rubrics are quick and easy to make and can be used numerous times. They are effect methods for documenting writing progress. They can also be used to keep track of the type of errors individual students, or the class as a whole, make on a particular assignment or on multiple assignments over time.
Do you have a tip for teaching writing? I am always looking for new ideas and would love to hear what you have to say.