How do you transform a writing-phobic, dyslexic, twice exceptional student into a willing and competent writer? I’ve been working on this challenge for a while, with gradually improving results. One key to transforming a non-writer is to dissect the process into its stages of failure and opportunity.
First of all, why would a student with reading struggles find it so hard to write? While typical learners are creating sentences like “I see anmuls. Thay are big,” my student is writing “I am…..” The other kids generated their own ideas and spelling. Despite his giftedness, my student got stuck in the idea phase and had no clue how to spell more than a couple of words. At the end of this year, other students have writing portfolios. My kiddo has a lot of blank pages.
Opportunity #1: Separate the writing and thinking processes. Provide idea-challenged student with opportunities to talk, record, and draw ideas instead of writing words at this stage. Focus on skills such as categorization. Allow time for sorting pictures into meaningful stories. Play games where students eliminate the “odd” picture or create a theme based upon similar groups. Provide sufficient exemplars of single sentences and analyze their features with the student. Use only writing topics of interest for this student, which will enhance motivation and allow him to draw upon a deeper understanding of how ideas are connected.
Opportunity #2: Work around the need to spell until the student has the prerequisite skills (which will take specialized instruction). Allow recording, dictation, and copying. Use technology.
Something to think about: This challenged writer has spent a school year pretending to write, if he is compliant. If not compliant, he has spent a year learning how to avoid writing in less desirable ways. His only completed assignments are likely to be those where the teacher sat next to him until he had one or two sentences on his paper. Other kids are now writing four or more sentences at a time, developing decent spelling skills, and many are writing for pleasure.
Next: The “I know you can do it” stage. Help!