The achievement of students with special needs is a critical issue for all schools and teachers. Writing effectively is one of the areas in which students struggle most and in which classroom teachers struggle most to support them. This is the first in a four part series chronicling my efforts at teaching writing to students with special needs in a world dominated by the Internet and digital media.
Writing is always a process. For some students, it’s an even bigger struggle to know what steps in that process go in what order, or if they are relevant to the big picture at all. Knowing what to write is difficult, and often when given a topic that is not personally interesting, can lead to even bigger problems. In the world of my students, often times, this is the case. I’ve found the pre-writing strategies I discuss here are a good way to begin to overcome some of the inherent challenges students with special needs face.
My background is working with students who have special needs. Many struggle with comprehension and/or writing and are in my Resource English class to help support and build these skills. The class runs just like any other general education English class, but I work with a Special Education background in mind. We read the same books, write the same types of essays, and have the same types of discussions. At my school, the overarching goal we have is Academic Discourse. Through Academic Discourse, all students are expected to respond to text in a thoughtful way. This uses language in ways that better prepares our students for life outside of high school.
The bigger struggle comes when students are expected, after high school, to be able to use technology and to use it properly to achieve specific work-related goals. This becomes a challenge when students are confronted with these high expectations and are also expected to have brilliant writing skills. To prepare them for this eventuality, my goal with my students is to teach them ways to support their learning through writing, by utilizing the online tools that they will eventually need to be successful adults.
In the case of writing, I have a process I use to help support my students with their work. Since my school requires that we follow an Academic Discourse model, my students already have high expectations. With Academic Discourse, not only are students expected to read and write as we have traditionally expected them to, but now they are expected to be heard. No matter if you’re the smartest kid, the shyest kid, it doesn’t matter: your voice will be heard. To ease them into this transition, there are many ways I have implemented modified learning to help support them on this journey.