For many students writing can be an overwhelming, taxing chore. In order to be proficient, students must be able to manage multiple tasks at one time, and to juggle these responsibilities, the following skill must be developed to near automaticity:
1. Conjuring up and organizing ideas.
2. Understanding and being able to implement basic grammar and sentence structure.
3. Recording words through legible penmanship or proficient typing.
4. Comprehending and utilizing various literacy devices.
5. Knowing how to spell.
If a student struggles with any of the above tasks, their writing will likely suffer.
How Can Students Develop the Needed Skills to Automaticity?
I evaluate each student's current writing capabilities and note any difficulties. Then the two of us collaborate and write together. The student picks the topic. It could be a story, a research paper, a blog, a book of poetry, a diary, a recipe book... In fact, I have been known to write 20-40 page documents with young learners that are illustrated and later bound.
I never came across a student that didn’t have a wonderful imagination that could be unearthed, and I provide the support needed so they can get those ideas in writing. I offer a scaffolding approach, which gifts the needed backing until the student can do each task on his or her own. In the beginning, I am doing the majority of the work, but by the end, the student has taken over most of the tasks. This means that I first offer repeated demonstrations, then I present recurrent verbal reminders - where I think aloud, and eventually, I pass responsibilities on to them – when they are ready.
What Are Some Examples of a Scaffolding Approach?
1. If spelling, penmanship, and typing is a problem, I offer to be the secretary - so I can capture their ideas.
2. If organization is a problem, I help the student to shape their approach.
3. If sentences are simple and word choice is poor, I teach the student how to use a thesaurus and help him or her to learn how to visualize their ideas and “paint with words.”
4. If grammar and sentence structure is poor, I walk the student through the process. For example, if capitalization is a problem, I might say for each sentence. “I start with a capital letter.” After ten sentences, I say, “I start with a…” and let them fill in the blank. Later I ask, “How do I begin my sentence?
5. If they struggle with thesis statements, topics sentences and supporting details, we weave those concepts into the project.
I do offer three writing games that can also help to bring joy to the learning process. Five W's Detectives was created for my beginning writers, Show Don't Tell helps students to develop creative writing abilities, and Word Shuffle assists students with the mastery of grammar and literary devices.
Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator, and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning. She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Learning Specialist Courses.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Cheers, Dr. Erica Warren