Teachers

Teacher and KidWith 4 to 6 percent of all students classified as having specific learning disabilities (SLD) in our nation’s public schools, every teacher can expect to find students with learning disabilities in the classroom. Success for these students requires a focus on individual achievement, individual progress, and individual learning. Despite obstacles, recent research tells us that we can teach these students how to learn.  We can put them into a position to compete! 

Specific strategies apply to specific learning disabilities, and many are outlined here. You will also find tips for working with children who have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

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The Fear Factor

 

By Foley Bezane Burckardt
Educational Specialist

Brad is a nine-year-old boy who like many other kids brings a lot of background knowledge about a variety of subjects to the table. He is able to talk for hours about how a computer works or what life is like in the rainforest. You would think he could easily transfer all of this knowledge to paper. However, when you look at his written output one asks: “Is this the same student?”

Julia, also a nine year old, has trouble putting sentences together and using varied vocabulary. She seems to always write about the same things and writes very simple sentences.

Many students who have diagnosed learning disabilities like Brad and Julia struggle with written output and may become afraid to write for fear of failure. This fear is often genuine because they may have poor graphomotor skills, poor expressive skills, can’t seem to organize their thoughts, are afraid to spell words incorrectly, have trouble with syntax, do not know how sentences go together, or have trouble retrieving vocabulary words.

Some students may have never been taught the necessary steps to begin or complete the writing process. Writing calls on active working memory and the ability to keep a series of steps in mind and execute them at the same time. It is a juggling act of ideas, vocabulary, mechanics, letter formation, spacing, spelling, and organization—all often especially difficult for students with learning disabilities.

Educators who want to help students with disabilities overcome their fears and turn writing into a more pleasurable, less pressure-packed experience may find useful the following the following techniques:

Explain how to set a purpose for writing. Help them fill out a form that has the following: What am I writing about, why am I writing, whom am I writing for, and how will I organize my ideas?

Students need to be taught about types of writing: writing to inform, writing to explain, writing to describe, and writing to persuade.

Show students several examples of each type of writing and Brad is a nine-year-old boy who like many other kids brings a lot of background knowledge about a variety of subjects to the table. He is able to talk for hours about how a computer works or what life is like in the rainforest. You would think he could easily transfer all of this knowledge to paper. However, when you look at his written output one asks: “Is this the same student?"

Julia, also a nine year old, has trouble putting sentences together and using varied vocabulary. She seems to always write about the same things and writes very simple sentences.

Many students who have diagnosed learning disabilities like Brad and Julia struggle with written output and may become afraid to write for fear of failure. This fear is often genuine because they may have poor graphomotor skills, poor expressive skills, can’t seem to organize their thoughts, are afraid to spell words incorrectly, have trouble with syntax, do not know how sentences go together, or have trouble retrieving vocabulary words.

Some students may have never been taught the necessary steps to begin or complete the writing process. Writing calls on active working memory and the ability to keep a series of steps in mind and execute them at the same time. It is a juggling act of ideas, vocabulary, mechanics, letter formation, spacing, spelling, and organization—all often especially difficult for students with learning disabilities.

Educators who want to help students with disabilities overcome their fears and turn writing into a more pleasurable, less pressure-packed experience may find useful the following the following techniques:

  • Explain how to set a purpose for writing. Help them fill out a form that has the following: What am I writing about, why am I writing, whom am I writing for, and how will I organize my ideas? Students need to be taught about types of writing: writing to inform, writing to explain, writing to describe, and writing to persuade.

  • Show students several examples of each type of writing and and “Write to Inform,” by K. Rogers, are worthwhile. “The Paragraph Book,” by D. Tucker-LaPlount, obtained through Educators Publishing is another valuable tool for Primary students.

  • Let students choose their own organizer (web, outline) so that they feel in control of the process. They may want to design their own organizer or use the computer. “Kidspiration,” a computer-based written organization program, is a valuable resource for students who enjoy the computer.

  • Encourage students to draw their ideas prior to writing in the form of a cartoon strip or have them create a visual that will help them generate vocabulary words to include in their writing. This can be especially helpful for students who have difficulty with description.

  • Propose that students pick a topic of high interest to them personally so they forget any fears that they have or the fact they may dislike writing.

  • They could write about a favorite TV show, favorite sport or a celebrity, or try their hand at poetry.

  • Suggest a mnemonic phrase or word that they can visualize as they complete each step of the writing process. One such word is POWER (Pre-write, Organize, Write, Edit, and Revise). Another is TREE (Think of a topic sentence, Reasons to support the topic sentence, Examine reasons, and Ending). When using TREE, students ask themselves what do I believe? What are three reasons I believe this?, How will I  explain my reasons for believing this and convince my readers?, and How will I end my  piece of writing? For research reports the word POW reminds students that they have  to pick an idea, organize their notes, write and say more.

  • Have a variety of picture books available to students to look thorough to get ideas for their writing.

  • Encourage the use of word banks before writing. Students can generate lists of nouns, adjectives, and verbs that are associated with their  subject. Have students keep in mind the Who? What? Where? When? Why? and How questions and use their five senses to come up with new vocabulary words.

  • Give students a list of ideas in the incorrect order and have them reorder the list into a paragraph. This work at sequencing can be very difficult for some students. An excellent resource for this is “Writing Fabulous Sentences and Paragraphs” by Evan-Moor Publishing.

  • Teach students such words as explained or declared or whispered for such over-used words as said and help them generate a list of synonyms.

  • Teach signal words such as First, Next, and Then. An excellent resource for his is “Just Write,” by Educators Publishing.

  • Provide students with an editing rubric and a mnemonic such as COPS (capitalization, organization, punctuation, and spelling) as they go through the editing process. Older students can create rubrics or essay checklists of their own.
  • Encourage students to use spell-check on the computer and the thesaurus on the computer.

  •  Insist that every student keep a Writer's Notebook that they can refer to for any writing assignment. This should be divided into PreWriting, Revising, and Publishing. Students can refer to this to decide which graphic organizer to use, and it should also contain a pocket dictionary and thesaurus.

    There are so many steps in the writing process that one cannot begin to mention all of the techniques that go into developing good writers. I cannot stress enough, however, the need to give positive feedback every step of the way. Using these simple approaches gave Brad and Julia increased confidence, built their skills, and hopefully set them down a path that will turn them into enthusiastic writers. If we can instill a love of writing in our students, teach them the techniques and give them plenty of practice, just think of the advantages they will have in later life as they compete with so many others “who don’t know how to write.”

Foley Bezane Burckardt is the Coordinator of Special Services at Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School in Chicago. She also is in private practice, delivering reading, writing and mathematics remediation to students in Chicago and its northern suburbs.