A few years ago the thought of having to teach writing to students with complex communication needs was overwhelming. I didn’t know where to start and every curriculum out there was way too involved to support the basic needs of my students. However, after a few years of researching and testing out different things in my classroom I can now say writing is one of my favorite things to do with students. I see the most progress and it is easily implemented into my day. Keep reading to see how I am able to have all of my students participate in independent writing.
The first thing to know is that all of my students do independent writing every single day. We incorporate our writing routine into our emergent and conventional literacy blocks. You can read about those here and here. The students in my class all have complex communication needs and use some form of AAC.
The word wall is a vital part of our independent writing routine. Students need to have access to an abundance of words. They need to be able to have a spot that they can look at to help them build sentences. Remember, the main focus here is that this is INDEPENDENT writing. We want to be able to develop skills in students that allow them to put words together to make functional and meaningful phrases. Also, keep in mind that your word wall doesn’t have to be pretty. Kids don’t care what it looks like. As long as they know it is a tool they can use make something that you are able to keep up with. This is what our word wall looks like. I took notecards to make the alphabet letters, attached them to the wall with push pins, print out our weekly focus words and glue them to construction paper (the colors have no significance, I just try and have different colors to show contrast) and then staple them to the wall. I use zero laminate and didn’t use a ruler to put up and measure out where my letters would be. Oh and how about that title at the top. Yep, just computer paper and Sharpie :).
Encourage your students to come up with topics on their own. Remind them of their interests. Maybe make a chart of things for them to reference. I do this until my students sentences start to become repetitive. Meaning, I have students writing the same thing every day, I see mom. I like dad. Once we reach this point I assist students by giving them access to picture cards. **Reminder: I do this for ALL of my students. Even the ones who are not using a pencil independently. You could even keep a working anchor chart in the classroom and add new activities and exciting events you do throughout the month/year. This would be a great thing for students to pull ideas from. The big part about this is remembering that this is independent writing. So while we should be teaching students to write about a variety of topics we should not be telling them what to write. I simply state “What would you like to write about today?” I they say the same thing they always do I will say “I like that idea but you wrote about that yesterday, do you have anything else you would like to share?” If they say yes go with it, if they don’t you could say “Here are some things that I like to write about, maybe you could pick something from my collection and write about it too.” This still allows students to be selective with their topics but offers them support if needed. Here are the picture cards I use. I grabbed them from Lakeshore Learning.
Ways to Write
Another fun thing we incorporate are different ways to write. I have choices in the front of my room for students to pick from everyday. At the beginning of the year the students loved choosing different ones. I can say now they have all picked their favorite way and do it everyday. You could add more ideas but this is what I have in my classroom.
Some of these pieces were created with pencil, some are scribed (letters/words/phrases given in Proloquo, some are typed and some are a combination of both. I also encourage students to pair a drawing with their writing but it is not a requirement.
Keeping It Altogether
I give each of my students a writing notebook. They put their new piece of writing on the top each day. This allows them to see their progression and review previous writings they have done. The kids love looking back and rereading things. I take everything out and send it home at the marking period. Make sure to save a few to a digital portfolio or in a file so you can share at conferences or IEP time.
Every Friday I have the students select a piece of writing to share. They can pick any piece in their binder as long as they have not shared it before. I create a fun sharing space in the front of the room to make it special. The rest of the students sit in the audience and practice their listening skills. The kids come up one by one to share their piece. If they are able to read it orally they do. If they have a device we work on building the sentence during their sharing time. They are then able to show their picture. At the beginning of the year I have the adults make comments and/or ask questions about the writing piece (I may have to help the student respond). In the middle of the year I challenge the students not presenting to make a comment or ask a question about the writing piece. Then at the end we of course celebrate by clapping….but we have added excitement because each student has a hand clapper. I also record each individual share out and send it to their SeeSaw portfolio. You can read about how to use SeeSaw here.
I hope I was able to give you some ideas to include independent writing in your classroom. We devote 30 minutes to this each day. If you have any questions please leave a comment :). Good luck introducing this into your classroom.