Teaching Tips to Help Developmentally Disabled Students Learn to Write
In today's classroom, teachers are required to meet many different student needs. With inclusive classrooms being the norm, developmentally delayed students are being taught alongside typically developing students. Luckily, teaching writing to developmentally disabled students doesn't have to be a daunting task. The following ideas will help you reach all your students, regardless of ability level.
Mini Lesson Plans
Teaching specific writing skills can be done using mini lesson plans. These lessons teach one specific writing skill at a time. They are direct, quick, active, and engaging. Mini lessons should be no longer than 20 minutes long. Keeping the lessons short, active, and engaging goes a long way towards ensuring that attention spans tolerate the lesson well. Break writing skills down into the smallest bits possible, and teach one skill at a time. Try to use methods for presenting mini lessons that engage more than one learning style.
The concept of using mini lessons comes from the book, "Teaching Writing in the Inclusive Classroom", by Roger Passman, Ed.D. This book is full of ready to use mini lessons that address many different writing skills.
Opportunities for Practice
After a writing skill is addressed through a mini lesson, teachers should provide plenty of time for practicing new skills. Worksheets are not the desired method of practice, however. Instead choose hands on activities, and provide practice exercises that are interesting for students. Allowing for student preferences is always a good idea if you want to get your students involved in what you are trying to teach. Mini lessons should be taught repeatedly as needed to facilitate understanding of the skill.
Extend Mini Lessons: Independent Learning
Build a skill box to help students learn specific writing skills independently. Building a writing skill box will take some time the first year, but then it can be used for years to come. Simply use an index card box. Fill the box with 3x5 index cards. You can separate them by color if you like, with tabs, or even coded with colored dot stickers. Code the cards by concepts: punctuation might be purple. Mini lessons like using a period, question marks, exclamation points, and commas would all have the purple sticker.
Provide an activity on each index card to go along with skills addressed in the mini lessons that have been taught. For example, one mini lesson may address the concept of avoiding run-on sentences. This works well after you have provided plenty of practice opportunities, but several students, including some students with special needs require more practice. On an index card labeled "Avoiding Run On Sentences", you would list the page number of a skill review sheet. Keep the skill review sheets in a 3 ring binder, with each page labeled with the same number as on the corresponding index card. The skill review sheet would contain a written explanation of the skill being addressed, and a list of practice activities. The student would review the skill, then complete one of the practice activities.
When a student needs more practice, he can simply choose a card and go to the appropriate skill review sheet/activity. He can then review the skill again, and complete an activity. Why not provide a block of time for skill review practice periodically? Assign each student a certain color code to work on for the day based upon teacher collected data. Data will be based upon practice scores/grades that indicate skills that need further practice. Students will be working on the skills that are challenging to them. This is a good way to individualize learning for all students, including those with developmental disabilities.
Teaching writing to developmentally disabled students can be done without a lot of extra preparation. Activities that individualize learning and provide plenty of practice at the child's own skill level work wonders when it comes to meeting the needs of all students.