Thursday, March 24, 2016

Guide to Writing Instruction in the Resource Room

I teach in the Resource Room at a K-5 school. So here is my disclaimer: If you are looking for Letter Formation and Life Skills writing tips, this is not the post for you. But please DO read on and see if you find anything that will be useful for you!

My first year teaching, I found writing to be one of the hardest things to teach. If you are in the same boat, I strongly suggest you buy or borrow 6+1 Traits of Writing by Ruth Culham. The Complete Guide for Primary Grades is a must have if you are teaching in students between Kindergarten and 3rd grade. I also own the complete guide for grades 3 and up and I have used it regularly.

These are great resources, because Culham helps you look at your student's current level of performance and determine next steps. If I am stumped or want another tool, I regularly grab one of these books off the shelf and look at the trait I am working on.

My second year teaching, I led a grant project with a team of other Special Education teachers and an ELL teacher to build up our tools around writing instruction. We observed a lot of General Education classrooms and saw how they formatted their instruction using Writers' Workshop; a 10 to 15 minute mini-lesson, followed by writing time in which the teacher conferences with students either in small group or one-on-one for the remaining 30 minutes. This is a format that most writing curriculums encourage.

I don't know about you, but in my setting I do not generally have my students for 45 minutes at a time, so I can't recreate this. Nor am I able to allow my students to continue writing without instruction and still consider it "Specially Designed Instruction." You may have a fantastic scripted writing program in your building. If you do, great! Use it! Just make sure that it is teaching grammar and sentence structure and not just focussing on spelling. If the writing curriculum does not teach how to structure a paragraph or create an outline for longer pieces of writing, I strongly suggest you decide how you want to supplement that.
If you have younger students or lower level writers, a sentence may be their Everest and that's okay. You climb that mountain! I have found that a combination of Direct Instruction and Writers Workshop creates well balanced and successful writing instruction.

In my own classroom, writing instruction looks something like this on a daily basis:
1. Mini-lesson on Graphic Organizer or Writing Trait
2. Individual Task with feedback and teacher input.
3. Word Sorts working on Spelling and Phonics skills when students finish their writing task for the day.


1. Graphic Organizers!

Whether your students are trying to write a sentence, a short story or a 5 paragraph essay, these will come in handy! For your students working on writing at the sentence or paragraph level, consider this free graphic organizer. Some kids don't have the language they need to explain their ideas, either because of learning difficulties or because they are English Language Learners. Don't forget the impact of language on writing!! Have your students talk about their ideas before they write them down. Give them the words when they don't have them. 

If your students are writing more complex pieces, start by planning backwards and creating your own graphic organizer. Or borrow one from a primary grade teacher. My school uses Lucy Caulkins, which is a very demanding curriculum. My students often need a ton of scaffolding and support just to get started. So before their class is teaching a new unit, I pull out the go to graphic organizer I want those students to use. I help them complete it during our group time and I send them back to class ready to begin a rough draft. Whenever possible, I give them source material for research that is at their independent level or lower, so they can do research with confidence. 

2. Word Lists and Word Banks

Some schools and students have access to amazing assistive technology that allows the teacher to create a word bank their students use regularly or will need to use for a writing unit. I have been fortunate enough to be in a school with this kind of access for the last two years. 
Another low tech option that I have found is also quite effective is to have a word list at a student's desk: preferably one page with all their words in alphabetical order. I have used this word list and had students be very successful. If a student needs a word that's not on there, just write it on. The goal in using a word list is production. We want students to get their ideas out on paper independently. Once they are able to do that, the rest of their writing will improve as well. 

Also: A list of words on the wall is NOT the same thing as a personal word list at a student's desk. Struggling writers are usually struggling readers as well. Sit in the student's desk and look around the classroom. Imagine that everything on your posters is in a foreign language. Can you pick out the high frequency words in French? Neither can the student. A list at their desk is manageable and easy for them to access. Words on the wall are overwhelming and hard for them to pick out. 

3. Writing Trait Mini-Lessons

I analyze my students writing during our group times and take notes in my planner. That way, I know what to plan for the next day and what our focus should be. At this point, I have a TON of writing books and go to lessons for different skills. When I was first getting started, these Evan Moor Writing Books really helped me to target writing skills with confidence. I also love how easy they are to hand over to a teaching assistant. My teaching assistants have often told me they feel uncomfortable teaching writing without a scripted curriculum or very structured lessons. It's nice to hear it from them, so I don't feel quite so OCD when I give them such detailed lesson plans! These books have structured lessons that target the skills you need, while also giving students an opportunity to plan their writing using a Graphic Organizer (YAY!) and then actually create a piece of written work. 

4. Writing Binders/Folders

Each student in every writing group has a writing folder or binder (depending on the group and availability of binders, lol). In their binder they have two tabs: Writing and Spelling. Writing contains their graphic organizers, rough drafts and most current piece of writing. Spelling contains spelling practice for if they finish the days lesson ahead of their peers. Students will always finish writing at different paces. So I have additional work for them to do that targets their IEP goals and is built into our classroom procedures. It's a win-win! Their spelling and sentence structure get better. I have a classroom that runs smoothly so I can meet with each student during group and conference on what I am seeing. 

I hope this post was helpful. Feel free to comment if you have questions about resources or ideas for Writing Instruction!

Clipart in this post came from: 
2 Super Teachers

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