Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Re-thinking writing workshop for students with intellectual disabilities

Before this year writing workshop was always my favorite time of the day. I love helping children get their thoughts and ideas on paper. I love the insights into their world that come out during writing conferences. I love the amount of literacy skills I can teach in a good writing lesson.
This year has been a bit different though.
Some of my children are ready for a traditional writing workshop with a focus lesson and the independent and guided writing, ala Lucy Calkins or Katie Wood Ray. Some still struggle to draw meaningful pictures or communicate with words or gestures so getting them to write books was a challenge in the beginning. I tried to teach it the way I had before, which worked for some of my kids but not all.

So I took a step back and tried to figure out the essential skills I want my students to get out of writing workshop and what skills they need to get there.

Essential Skills-

  1. Writing has meaning. We write or draw pictures to tell a story, ask a question, or tell someone something important. We write for other people.
  2.  When we write our pictures match our words.
  3. Our words and pictures stay the same each time we tell our story. What is on the page doesn't change.
  4. We can share our writing with others.
  5. When we read our writing we touch each word using one to one correspondence.
  6. . The words on our word wall are also words we can read in books, and are also words we can write in our own books. They are the same words no matter where they are.
  7. Words are made up of letters. If you say a word slowly you can hear and record the letters that make up a word (most of the time).
  8. Words make up sentences. We need to think about where the words go in our sentences so that they make sense to people. (Sentence structure). Where the words go on the page matters.
  9. We plan our writing. We plan our stories, our sentences, and our words. 
  10. Words have spaces. The spaces help us know where the words start and stop.

SO, I took one giant step back. We started using our word wall words to make class books. I started the first of these lessons with a stack of index cards that said 'look', a stack that said 'at' and a stack that had each child's name. Then as a class we put the words together on the page. We read and re-read and re-read each page. We took turns with the pointer, touching each word. Each child illustrated the page with their name on it so that the pictures match the words. We carefully put the book together and read and re-read the book for days.

I used the book in guided reading lessons. We re-built the sentences on the word wall.

Then each child had the opportunity to make their own book using the same pattern. I differentiated this based on their ability level. Some children were able to use the program Pix Writer where the teacher types in a word bank and the student is able to select the words he wants to use and put them in the correct order. Some children were able to write the sentences themselves without any aids. Some needed the words on board maker icons where they were able to select the order they wanted their words to be in and then select what they wanted to say "look at", "come here", etc. They did not have to stick to using the class names like we did in our class book. Instead they had a variety of words to choose from, most around a single topic- farm animals, snow words, school words, etc.
Each child produced a three page book. They each had to illustrate their page to the best of their ability. For children working on their handwriting someone may write the words in highlighter and the child can trace the words. 
At the end of every writing workshop period the children each share (my small class lets me do this) so that they are re-reading their writing and they continue to get the message that we write so that others will read/listen to us.


Now our writing workshop looks like this:
Week 1- we build a word wall based book together and illustrate it. The next day the students work on individual books. As they finish those books they publish them, illustrate and decorate them. After that they can start a new book, try to write a book on the computer (if they didn't before), or work on their handwriting. (In gen ed I separated handwriting from actual writing workshop. Now I need an independent skill for the students to work on, and because they need so much practice in handwriting I find it important to be connected to writing).

Week 2: Making a mural using interactive writing so that we can work on all those hearing and recording sounds in words skills that we are missing in our other writing lessons.

I'm not 100% pleased with this. I don't like that the kids aren't composing as much as they could be. I don't like handing the kids structured sentences. But for some of them that is where they are. Throughout the day we give them models to talk- so it makes sense that we would give them models to write.

There is a lot I am still tweaking and developing. But at the moment each child ends each week with a "published" book that they can read, or at least can point to the words while an adult reads it. They can connect the words on the page of their book with the words on the word wall and the words in our class book. They understand that words contain meaning.

It is very different than any writing workshop I ran when I was in gen ed, or even from last year. But we're creating building blocks (I hope) that will give us the language and tools we need to get into more creative planning and writing.


I Do, We Do, You Do said...

What a great post! Thank you for sharing. I have an ID student and this is very informative and helpful.


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Anonymous said...

I love these ideas. I teach preK and this year I just can't seem to get my kids interested in writing. I think they are going to love making these type of books!