I use writing surveys when I want to start a dialog with students about writing; I will also periodically repeat the survey or create one that better matches the student after progress has been made. Graphs are another effective way to help special needs students share feedback about the writing process. For my students who are high functioning autistic, graphs are especially helpful when words are inadequate. Twice exceptional students also find these graphs helpful in sharing strong feelings of inadequacy.
I often create a graph as I am working with a student. Kids are used to this process with me and typically look forward to showing me EXACTLY how they feel and where things break down in the writing process. The graph below uses a scale of 0 to 10. I let the student decide which represented the hardest level (in this case, 10). This student also chose the colors to use. Red indicated extreme difficulty, orange depicted a level below that, yellow was third in difficulty, and green meant things were mostly OK (although on an additional page, the student also used a single green line for “no problem at all.” The “icons” I drew represent, in order from left to right, time pressure, generating ideas, understanding teacher directions, creating a web or plan, writing in complete sentences with punctuation, staying on topic, spelling, working memory, and rewriting a final copy.
As you can see, this student has significant problems with the pressure to complete a writing assignment on time, use correct spelling, and rewrite his rough draft. The second page of his graph (not shown) indicated anxiety during writing was high. Once we reviewed the top three issues (with a solution of using a laptop or tablet for the writing process), we examined the areas in yellow and orange. (By the way, I REALLY dislike the continual rewrites that students are forced to complete. Much of the time, that step is required so the work looks good in the hallway. Yuck.)
As we discussed these problems, I could tell that the above graph gave us relative information but did not adequately convey the struggles this kid was having while writing. Here’s the follow-up graph. As we talked about the writing process again, it was evident that idea generation and mapping were essentially the same for this student, so I crossed out that second box. That left us with these areas of concern, from left to right: mapping/idea generation, remembering the directions, staying on track while writing (focus), and working memory. The student changed the meaning of “staying on topic” to “staying focused” because his attention difficulties increased significantly while trying to generate ideas. Notice that “understanding the teacher directions” and “staying on task/track” have now switched colors (from green to red in the former area). This kid is having a really hard time in writing. (That last icon is supposed to depict a brain and pencil, with drops of sweat- or blood?)
The next post will focus on some strategies to help this student with all these red zones.