1. Choose a Curriculum
I decided to implement the Building Writers program from Handwriting Without Tears this school year. My colleague in the upper grade cluster program had implemented it and reported that it was a good fit for the students in her class. Building Writers covers the different types of writing (e.g. narrative, descriptive) and uses a direct instruction model to teach. I also liked that each student would get their own writing book, which students like and I don’t have to make copies. When choosing this curriculum, I also thought of the current levels of my students, so I could make sure I order the correct level workbook for each of my students. I ordered my books directly from Amazon.
2. Establish Routines & Procedures
I would love for students to be able to write everyday, but this is currently not realistic for my current schedule. When I am establishing routines and procedures, I will choose a time of day for the lesson or activity. Then, I will teach students the procedures, which is just as important as teaching students to write. I have drawers that students keep their writing journals in, along with a pencil. This week, I am using my teacher time during language arts to get students used to using the journals and noting what modifications and supports they need.
Collaborating with the OT and speech pathologist is important in order to make sure that I am helping my students to progress in their writing. Teaching writing to students with special needs can be difficult, since writing combines communication, language arts and handwriting all in one subject area. In the past, the OT has given me the same sized lined paper she uses for her sessions, to ensure that my students are able to physically produce their writing with the accommodations they need. I also am able to sometimes watch the OT’s sessions when she pushes into the classroom to service students. I also like to invite the speech pathologist into the classroom when we are sharing our writing in order to get ideas on how I can best support students as they communicate and present their writing to the class.
4. Train Staff
This is important because a variety of adults should be able to work with our students and help them to write as independently as possible. After trying out different supports, I created a Google Doc that is an overview of a student’s accommodations, modifications and supports for writing and written assignments. I am going to share this with the paraprofessionals in my classroom and my students’ specialty class teachers (art, music library). I also added a picture of a writing sample for each student, which also helps me because I am a visual learner. In addition to providing this information to staff, I have been having the paraprofessionals join teacher time in order to observe how I am working with each student on writing.
Having a curriculum is great for planning and making sure that foundational skills are covered, but to meet a variety of needs and interests, it is always good to have supplemental materials and writing projects. I like having checklists for students who are able to write with less supports, such as these checklists pictured below from TAH’s 10 Writing Centers for Special Education or from ISME’s free online resources (you need to create a login for the free digital resources). You can find their free writing checklist here. For other supplemental writing materials and activities, check out Sentence Building Literacy Centers for Special Education and Write About Winter Visual Writing Prompts and Activities.