What Should Writing Look Like in Self-Contained Classrooms?
I recently spoke with a progressive special ed director in Florida who systematically overhauled her self-contained special ed curriculum. She had a 5-year plan and started with reading and then moved to math, science, and social studies.
Then she got stuck when she got to writing.
What exactly does writing look like for a middle or high school student who is scribbling and tracing? Most self-contained classrooms are using Handwriting Without Tears for their “curriculum”. It’s a great curriculum to learn how to form letters (I have personal experience—my daughter just graduated from it). But, it isn’t a writing curriculum. By writing, I mean conveying ideas through text. Now that many of our life skills classrooms are raising expectations to become academic skills classrooms, teachers need to feel empowered to teach writing.
They need a path.
Fortunately, over the last several years, we’ve been working with Dr. Janet Sturm through an NIH grant to solve this challenge. (A little background on Janet—she spent over 15 years focusing on teaching writing to students with developmental disabilities.) We’re rolling out new writing software that came out of this grant.
The software does two things really well:
- First Author® guides students through a three-step writing process and supports them with built-in accommodations, automatically created word banks, and picture prompts on nearly any subject.
- The software walks teachers through the process of measuring writing progress using a 14-point scale from scribbling to paragraph writing. First Author tracks all other writing metrics and graphs them for student portfolios.
Back to the special ed director…
She is now using First Author and its measurements in their writing curriculum in all of her classrooms. In the first month, they’ve already been floored several times by students writing better than anyone expected. One student, who up to this point had only copied words and traced letters, chose to write on the Texas explosion. Through First Author’s on-the-fly word banks, he wrote “Texas Texas Texas, boom boom boom” to describe the recent disaster. No one even realized he was cognizant of this event!
These before and after writing samples shows the impact First Author had on one emergent writer from this Florida district:
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