Some students are natural writers. As a second grader in my room said earlier this year, “All you need to be a writer is 1. a pencil and 2. an imagination.” Except…it’s not that easy for every kid, especially those identified learning support students who may already find reading and writing a challenge.
My learning support students are not pulled for direct instruction in writing. Instead, they remain in the classroom for workshop. The idea of independent writing and the amount of choice they get is daunting to some. These are some things I’ve found particularly helpful in working with this population of students:
1. Use lots of lists and/or heart maps. Many students have a hard time getting started. Brainstorming a list of likes, dislikes, hobbies, etc. or filling in a heart map can help narrow topic choice and give students an entry point to their writing- writers write about what they know, and everyone knows about something!
2. Keep a portable word walls in writing folders. Sometimes it is a challenge for students with specific learning disabilities to utilize a word wall that requires them to get up, scan, and copy. A portable word wall they can be customized with sight words, content-specific words, or wonderous words that students may want to use in their writing.
3. Confer individually or in a small group before releasing students to independent writing. Prior to sending off students to gather their materials and head to their writing spots, I find it helpful to meet with my group of hesitant writers and make sure that they have a plan and a mini-goal for the day. We state our writing intentions: “I’m going to write about _________________.” We make a mini-goal for independent writing: “I’m going to try and write 3 sentences….I’m going to reread yesterday’s writing and check for capitals.” Whatever the goal is, it is short and attainable within the 20-30 minute writing block. Then we check in at the end and see if the goal was met.
4. Make mentor texts accessible during independent writing. Typically the use of mentor text is to teach or demonstrate a specific craft technique. Having these texts (multiple copies if possible) available for students to use as guides during independent time can be especially helpful. Students can look at a mentor author’s craft and imitate it.
5. Be intentional with writing partnerships and conference partners. When students are stuck, they can request to confer or work with a partner. I try to suggest partnerships between hesitant writers and eager writers. The student who is unsure can get a great model of what the writing could or should sound like. The confident writer gets a chance to improve his or her own craft by providing suggestions and feedback.
The overall goal is for students to feel like successful writers. Putting in place different strategies for success will benefit not only those learning support students, but all students in the classroom. Write on!