Writing is a complex process that involves organizing and sequencing ideas and knowledge of the grammatical and stylistic rules of language. At Craig written expression is taught as a process rather than drilling a student in the mechanics of writing (e.g., grammar, punctuation, spelling). Teaching writing as a process is also a metacognitive exercise in that the student continually reflects on what is being learned.
The Writing Process
Prewriting. At Craig the writing process begins with the software program, Inspiration. Students use the program to brainstorm ideas beginning with a main idea and supporting details. Inspiration displays these ideas in boxes or idea clouds often illustrated with clip art showing supporting details radiating from the main idea. A variety templates in Inspiration are used as graphic organizers to develop graphic organizers or webs showing the interrelations among different ideas. Once the graphic organizer is complete, it can be transformed into a traditional linear outline.
The graphic organizers help students order and prioritize information and explore relationships among ideas. Different webbing formats are used for different types of writing assignments, for example one type of web might be used for a narrative exercise, another for a research paper. The ensuing traditional outline format is a valuable representation for students who have sequencing difficulties.
Drafting, Revising and Editing. Students use their outlines to prepare a draft on Microsoft Word. Each child is given a checklist adjusted for the type of writing, grade level and individual student’s needs. The checklists cover style and format, the type and number of sentences and paragraphs to include, the number of predicate expanders and questions related to proofreading and editing. All students are given a color-coded graphic representation of the five-paragraph essay modeling the sequence of paragraphs and their supporting arguments. These tools foster independence as the children work through the checklists on their own.
Students proof read their work by reading it out loud both to themselves and to an adult as well as listening to the text with the aid of text-to-speech software. Corrections are made on a paper copy prior to correcting the computer version. A customized checklist helps students to review their work for correct grammar, proper style and intelligibility. The checklist is specific to each piece of writing and is expanded as the student acquires more “tools” such as new software programs to assist with the writing process. These checklists, which are developed across all subject areas and for all learning tasks, promote independence and accountability as students monitor their own work. The checklists are also used as rubrics when conferencing with the teacher to determine a grade.
The following are some of the software programs and assistive devices that Craig students use while editing their work.
- Word Talk is a free text-to-speech plugin developed for use with all versions of Microsoft Word. It speaks the text of the document and highlights it as it goes. It contains a talking dictionary to help decide which word spelling is most appropriate.
- Clip Talk is also a free text-to-speech program that “reads” the text to the student. The program is often used for research projects as the student downloads text from the internet.
- Ginger is a grammar and spell checker that is integrated with MS Office. The program identifies and marks spelling errors and misused words while considering context and offers alternatives. Ginger can provide corrections while the student is typing or can scan an entire document for mistakes.
- Write:OutLoud is a software program that provides the student with auditory feedback as text is typed. A student will often fail to recognize a spelling error until the word is spoken aloud.
- Co:Writer is a word prediction program designed to help students write complete sentences with a few keystrokes. As the student begins to type, Co:Writer offers a list of completed words for the student to select. The program also provides a customized word bank so that students may store and retrieve additional words not included in the program. Co:Writer may be used with any word processing software.
- “White Phone”. This device is a simple plastic elbow pipe which is held against the ear much like a conch shell. As students read aloud drafts of their compositions into the pipe, they can hear mistakes in words and/or grammar. It is simple but extremely effective auditory feedback device.
- Dragon Naturally Speaking is a speech-to-text software program that can be used for children who have significant difficulty translating their ideas into written language.
- Drop Box. The Google Drop Box is a personal use file storage service which makes it easy to share files within a group. Students can upload their work whether at home or at school for teachers to review.
Publishing. The final version is completed and printed using Microsoft Word. Students hand in all the components of an essay, e.g., the outline, the graphic organizer, various drafts and other materials along with their “published” report. In this way both the teacher and the student have a record of the entire writing process for future reference.
Project Read: Written Expression. Project Read: Written Expression is a multisensory language arts program that teaches the structure of written language using symbols to represent the component parts of a sentence. The program is designed for students who have difficulty understanding grammar and the parts of speech, write in run-on or incomplete sentences, and/or always use the same sentence structure when writing longer compositions.
Project Read: Written Expression teaches grammar in the context of writing rather than the traditional method of naming the parts of speech and their functions. As the student learns the structure of written language, comprehension and vocabulary are improved. For example, teachers encourage students to use predicates with “punch”, e.g., “gazes” is preferred to “looks.”
Sentence structure is presented in a sequential order beginning with the simple “bare bones” sentence consisting of a subject and a predicate (verb) represented by graphic symbols and accompanied by hand gestures. The student learns to build onto the basic structure with predicate expanders. Additional symbols are used to construct more complex sentences as the student moves from the simple sentence to five kinds of paragraph development. Each paragraph type is taught with unique graphic organizers which are designed to encourage writing independence.
Handwriting Without Tears. Handwriting Without Tears is a multisensory, developmentally based program for children in the 3rd through the 5th grades. The program was developed by Jan Olsen, an occupational therapist, and is particularly helpful for children who have low muscle tone or coordination difficulties. The formation of letters is taught as a fluid process with each letter flowing from a preceding one, e.g., the “c” is extended to form an “a”. Creative methods are used to reinforce motor memory. For example, a child might trace the shape of a letter on a chalk board with a wet wipe wrapped around a finger to erase the letter.
Preventing Academic Failure. Preventing Academic Failure (PAF) teaches cursive writing to children in the 5th through the 8th grades. The program uses a cartoon-like figure to guide the placement and direction of a letter. A green vertical line at the left of the work area is a starting point for letter formation. The child is taught to move a pencil toward or away from the line rather than to the left or right--directions that are often confusing to the learning disabled child. All lower case letters are learned before the child is permitted to use cursive, but once cursive is mastered it is required in all classes.