The Writing Process Through the Eyes of Children with Special Needs (Part 4)

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Photo by U.S. Department of Education via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

This is the 4th and final installment of my thinking about the writing process for students with special needs. In my first post, I describe how I use gallery walks to establish pre-writing strategies with my students. In my second article, I outline how my students will read deeply into written works for more meaning, and in my third post, I explain the drafting process and how to use programs online to write their essays. In this final post, I will discuss how to edit, revise and finally publish my student’s final work.

Writing for all students, and especially for students with special needs, is a process that takes time to learn. It is essential to develop student skills throughout the school year so they aren’t bombarded with a huge essay and not be sure of what to do. In doing this, my expectations build throughout the year, just as I would hope my student’s expectations of themselves would rise as they learn as well. My hope is that through training the students to write, they will be better editors of their own work and their writing will better demonstrate what they know.

In the beginning of the school year, you don’t know your kids well enough to get a good grasp on how each one individually learns, and the idea is to get them to teach you how they learn. I have them do many writing assignments throughout the school year, all to train them for longer writes. Because most of my students struggle with reading or writing on some level, I find it important to access it at their level. Students love to talk about themselves, which is why I incorporate thoughtful writing tasks where they can do just that.

In November, shortly into the 2nd quarter of the school year, I do a program called National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). This program has been around since 1999. Recently, they have developed a Young Writers Program which includes curriculum for Teachers and a workbook version for students to access the program within the classroom. NaNoWriMo is 1-month event from November 1 to November 30 where individuals join in to commit their free time to writing a 50,000 word novel. I personally have written 9 novels in the last 9 years. As an educator, I am always looking for new ways to encourage my students to write. The Young Writers Program offers an option for students to set their own goals (which don’t have to be 50,000 - because that number can be daunting to almost anyone). And, I can create my own online classroom specifically for them to compete with each other.


The purpose of using NaNoWriMo with my kids is to encourage them to write and get their voice out there. I want my students to feel comfortable with themselves and their writing. As a teenager, this is often a difficult feat.

Using the confidence they have gained from our NaNoWriMo project during November, and continued practice reading and writing throughout the school year, my students have many of the experiences they need to begin to edit and revise their writing. The goal is to utilize each person in the classroom, at home, and in their lives to help them take the best approach to the final stages of the writing process.

I use a peer editing format in my classroom. With students with who have an IEP, there is often a stigma that they don’t learn as well in a special education classroom or won’t access the same learning. This is entirely wrong. If you set achievable expectations, students will make progress toward these goals. By having students interact by editing each other’s work, they will access other people’s thoughts and opinions and ideally obtain some valuable insight on their own writing and learning.

I use a form similar the one below, and it can also be accessed here.

This checklist is first explained to the students. I put it up on the Smartboard and go through each section with them, explaining the different things I am looking for them to do with their partner’s work. Of course, if students don’t know what you want them to do, they will have a harder time accomplishing it. My goal is to have the students use the Reader’s Apprenticeship ideas we have discussed in my second article. Students are encouraged to write their ideas on this sheet about their partner’s work and identify questions, comments, thoughts, concerns. By allowing them the opportunity to write their ideas here, it eliminates any unnecessary notes on the partner’s paper.

During peer editing, I limit the time to certain segments – taking away down time as much as possible while still allowing for students who need more time. I start by explaining the worksheet, and then allow 15-20 minutes to read their partner’s essay and write their comments on the worksheet. I then have the students come back together with their partner for 10 minutes. They trade back their papers and share out 2 things they would change on their partner's essay, as well as 3 positive take-aways from their essay (allowing positives to outweigh things they need to fix). This whole peer editing process takes approximately 30-35 minutes and gives the students time to interact on a personal level with their partner while meaningfully discussing their essays.

Understandably, there are times when someone’s work will be limited. I have students whose essays are written very minimally (and I have some that go overboard with writing). To make sure the students are paired up evenly, I pair them up based on their original versions – sometimes even putting them in groups of 3 to add more quality and quantity to their efforts. By doing this, the students get more than just one opinion, which means more added benefit for their own essays.

The last 15-20 minutes of the period is usually allowed for the students to make the revisions their partner suggested for their essay, ask them more questions if they need to, or ask any needed questions of me before they leave my room. The idea is that if the students feel comfortable with the changes they discussed with their partner then they will be able to finish the rest of the essay revisions on their own. Because we have access to technology, I allow my students to access me through email or essay comments. Of course they can also talk to me before, during or after school.

By getting comfortable with writing early in the school year, it grows their ambition to be  successful writers and eliminates a lot of the fear of the writing process that plagues many of my students.

Thank you for taking the time to read about the writing process for the special needs child. I hope this has given you some insight on what writing looks like in the special education classroom, as well as the process I have successfully used to encourage them to produce their best work.