Some people utilize writing as a tool and a means to an end; other people use it as a creative outlet and way to interact and comprehend the world around them; personally, for me, writing has acted as a lifeline.
At the age of 15, I sustained a massive stroke, and was subjected to spinal meningitis. My blood temperature rose to 107˚F, leaving me with a profound memory deficit. I embarked on a strange new journey, re-learning how to learn and learning how to compensate for my newfound inability to process information as readily.
I was no longer the same student I had been before my stroke, and was forced to acquire skills that would allow me compensate for my newfound inability to process information quickly or effectively. I was forced to redefine by personal notion of what it meant to be successful.
I came to believe that perfection was less important than taking action. As long as progress was made, I realized, learning would follow and if I maintained focus and engagement, eventually, I would be able to access newer, better things.
Luckily, in the early stages, following my final stroke and ensuing brain surgeries, one class, creative writing, captivated me and provided me a distinct affinity for writing, as a means to express myself and to allow me to have confidence in my communicative abilities.
This sustained and motivated me, even though I struggled with academic writing that was requisite for my English and content-area classes. Suddenly, writing was hard.
However, I was still a writer: a disabled one, whose new struggles with writing were not atypical; as, vast numbers of learning disabled students enter post-high school academia, with weak writing skills and with a lack of confidence in their abilities to produce effective communication.
Learning disabled students struggle in their usage of effective study skills, when attempting to adapt to new routines and responsibilities that are required for them to experience success in higher education and they often do not finish their degrees.
Disabled students, like all other students, who do not complete college, experience difficulties in becoming gainfully employed. As is detailed in the longitudinal study of learning disabled students, 42% of LD students are unemployed.
LD students entering college face uncertainty, false-starts and frustration; personally, as a student who attended four separate schools before attaining a bachelor’s degree, I can verify the amount of sacrifice and faith a student is required to make in persevering, as an undergraduate student.
Even though individual learning disabled students each have specific strengths and weakness, I know that effective writing instructions can have a profound impact on learning disabled students lives; this is due to the fact that writing, as a discipline, both enables students to achieve and to explore their own thoughts and values.
Detailed, here, is an alternative learning writing lab which combines best practices for learning disabled writing instruction with poetry writing instruction to expose students to poetic function and communication of language, as a means to develop understanding of the writing process and develop students’ abilities to use their imagination to understand new knowledge and experience. Students will explore poetry writing, in a small group setting, with a skilled instructor, utilizing best practices for LD writing instruction.
Methods that are carried out are to focus on the provision of explicit, individualized instruction and, as well, posit concepts, aimed to impart writing strategies’ development.
Simple poetry writing techniques will be used to de-mystify the creative writing process and provide students recursive opportunities to move through the stages of generating, organizing and revising their work, in a nurturing atmosphere.
In the proposed environment, writers experience a set of connected, scaffolded writing learning opportunities which are engaging and that encourage writers’ willingness to experiment in wordplay, in and out of the LD Writing Lab.
Learning disabled students will practice critical writing processes and engage in metacognitive discussions to determine the best writing strategies that can be utilized and how these can be applied to different writing tasks.
Instructing students to have them acquire abilities to successfully accomplish poetic tasks makes it possible for them to become better communicators, while alleviating pressure they might have experienced, were they called upon to compose long texts or to synthesize new information, simultaneously.
These characteristics of academic writing are two pitfalls that make writing, for learning disabled students, seem overly onerous, causing leaners to disengage and fail to comprehensively understand the writing process.
Conceptually, the Learning Disabled Writing Lab is not intended as a substitution for the entry-level composition class; rather, it is intended to be taught, one semester prior to their entrance into English 101.
Common Difficulties Experienced by Learning Disabled Students
When cognitively disabled students enter post-secondary education, they experience difficulty, due to a variety of the affects that are imposed upon them by their unique disabilities. In fact, written language problems are believed to exceed LD students’ other academic difficulties (Li & Hamil, 2003) and are a major concern, not only of the students, but of their instructors as well. LD students often have long experienced failure and humiliation because of their writing and have trouble controlling negative emotions that arise when they have need to write.
Despite the existence of a wide range of specific learning disabilities that impose varying communicative and cognitive affects, similarities exist in methods by which disability affects students’ writing experiences, at each stage of the writing process. In the pre-writing stage, cognitively-affected students struggle in generating and developing ideas. (Gould, 1991) Profoundly, learning disabled writers experience difficulty when attempting to access prior knowledge, as a means to communicate effectively on a topic.
During be idea-generation stage, all student writers must employ complex sets of thought processes to synthesize new information they have gleaned, from reading or from lectures, with their prior knowledge, while maintaining consideration of their assignments’ prescribed parameters.
When learning disabled students attempt to accomplish these simultaneous processes, however, they are thwarted by weak reading comprehension skills, poor listening; thereby, it is not surprising that learning disabled individuals struggle with planning and managing complex tasks during the drafting stages of the writing process.
As well, this explains the lack of depth of learning disabled writers’ responses to time-contingent writing tasks, carried out in the classroom. Learning disabled students also struggle with spelling, capitalization and punctuation; some learners experience difficulties that are associated with the mechanical aspects of writing.
Too, these individuals are plagued by semantics-, syntax- and grammar-related issues and can struggle to determine which of these aspects of their writing would be best to focus upon, in fulfilling their writings’ required length and detail.
During the revision stage, learning disabled students prioritize mechanical changes and fail to focus, in depth, on content and coherence (Gould, 1991).
Many times, LD students assume that the reader of their text will comprehend what they have intended to infer in their writing, failing to reckon the possibility that what they have produced lacks clarity (Gould, 1991). Essentially, writers who have cognitive disabilities struggle to identify their writings’ strengths and weaknesses (Gould, 1991). Due to this fact, these students often receive negative responses to their writing and become accustomed to receiving substandard or mediocre grades on written assignments.
BEST PRACTICES FOR LD STUDENTS’ WRITING INSTRUCTION
Proven successful strategies that facilitate learning disabled students’ acquisition of writing skills include the provision of intensive, explicit instruction and the facilitation of strategies’ acquisition and learning.
Explicit instruction focuses on teaching students, to have them acquire a formal, concise definition of the learning process. Then, having received step-by-step instruction, learners attain skills and strategies, at their own rate of acquisition.
Instructors provide feedback and time for rehearsal and practice; specifically, explicit instruction methods are comprised of:
(a) provision of concise instructions, pertinent to skills and writing strategies
(b) modeling thought processes that are used by successful writers
(c) working with students, as a means to determine the most effective strategies for writing tasks
(d) provision of scaffolded, recursive instruction, including frequent feedback
(e) and provision of discussion opportunities and time to plan for application of new skills to other writing tasks (National Institute for Literacy, 2009).
Strategy instruction focuses upon higher-order thought processes that gird and support planning, drafting and evaluating processes of students’ written performances. The strategies are communicated, as a sequence of directions which learners follow when they are intent upon acquiring the ability to work and act independently.
One particular strategic method is the Self-Regulated Strategy Development method that uses acronyms to facilitate students’ abilities to memorize its comp-onents.
In a meta-analysis of data that were gained from research on methods for teaching adolescent writers effective writing skills, Graham and Perrin determined that instruction that utilizes Self-Regulated Strategies Development (SRSD) facilitated significantly enhanced positive results for students’ writing abilities. (Graham & Perrin, 2007)
Another successful instruction method exists in the form of the Strategic Tutoring Model, whereby a learning disabled student is assigned a tutor who uses explicit instruction as a means to co-create learning strategies with the LD student; this method is specifically devised to compensate for difficulties that students experience in performing academic tasks. In one study that was conducted at the post-secondary level, recipients of tutoring displayed significantly-enhanced reading capabilities and heightened understanding and comprehension of the overall writing process. (Butler, 1995)
In Strategic Tutoring, the educator leads a discussion with the student, on the topics of purpose, skills and goals that are pertinent to each writing task. Then, the tutor and student assess and determine best strategies to be used in completing a writing task, while the tutor scaffolds the student’s comprehension of the strategy, through simultaneous modeling of the strategy’s usage. This is accomplished while the educator questions what the student is thinking when the writing acts are carried out.
Think-alouds help students develop personal monitoring skills. For supporting learning disabled students’ memorization of the steps of a strategy, acronyms, such as SRSD, are utilized for supporting and enhancing students’ successful acquisitions.
As the instructor or tutor and student, together, proceed through the strategy’s components, the educator provides prompts, memory assistance, feedback and cues, when necessary, until the tutee acquires the ability to complete each step of a particular strategy, unassisted.
The most effective tutoring services are provided to students, in one-on-one or in small group situations, utilizing explicit instruction that facilitate highest gains in literacy skills. (Allsop, Maskoff & Bolt, 2005; Butler, 2003; Hock, 1998)
A specific model for tutoring that utilizes explicit instruction is referred to as the Strategic Tutoring Model (Hock, Deshler & Shumaker, 2000).
The Strategic Tutoring Model is comprised of four steps for instruction; these are:
01 assessing a student’s currently-utilized approach to writing,
02 collaborating with the student to develop a learning strategy and reviewing thec omponents of the strategy, together
03 modeling the strategy for the student,
04 and with the student, conferring as to ways the strategy can be applied.
In a survey to analyze strategic tutoring models, a sampling of 28 low-achieving pupils, including three learning disabled students, worked with strategic tutors’ assistance for three hours per week, during a full semester; students received explicit tutoring services to assist them with themed writing assignments.
Students were enabled to acquire writing strategies and begin to transfer the skills they acquired to other aspects of their academic work (Hock, 1998).
THE ALTERNATIVE LEARNING POETRY WRITING LABORATORY
A Personal Perspective
As a writing educator, my approach to the writing act emerges from a slightly unique vantage; I am both a writing tutor of students and struggle with writing, myself.
Upon entering undergraduate school, three years after having undergone life-saving brain surgery, I transitioned to higher education in the way many learn-ing disabled students do: bewildered and utterly unsure that I would be able to succeed, scholastically.
As part of my personal transition, I was forced to reconfigure many of my cognitive strategies by learning a variety of compensatory methods that helped me to experience success as a college student; however, in contrast to what many other learning disabled students experience, I entered higher education willing to embrace the writing process, even though it was sometimes painstakingly difficult.
I was fortunate to have graduated from a high school that had a strong creative writing program that emphasized poetry; our teacher encouraged students to embrace writing, from the vantage point of a poet; and, by virtue of this, I ingested, processed and externalized responses to lessons that promoted experimentation with language and writing concepts, taught me how to discuss my writing, and provided me with a positive view of myself as a writer.
Making the transition from high school, junior college/community college, to university-level academia can easily frustrate and discourage students who have learning disabilities; as, during their first semesters, disabled students often struggle with new methods, routines and strategies for learning, coincidentally as they are required to maintain the rigorous usage of newly-acquired cognitive compensation methods. LD students, especially, are required to struggle for several semesters before having the chance to access courses in curricula that are specifically important to their aspirations or that are just creative and fun. There is another approach.
EMBRACING THE POETIC FUNCTION OF LANGUAGE
James Britton et al performed a study “The Development of Writing Abilities”, (11-18) in which language was classified as expressive, transactional and poetic.
Transactional language was defined as that which is focused on the production of communication for a purpose: to inform or influence. The researchers defined Poetic Language as that which allows writers to examine knowledge, through a personal lens, that utilizes imagination to understand and apply knowledge. (Young, 2000).
In “Considering Values: The Poetic Function of Language”, Art Jang asserts that political forum necessitates students’ becoming a spectator in the writing process and to shape their writing, founded on their personal conceptions of their own values and understanding, as it relates to new knowledge or experience as opposed to basing this on their attempts to accomplish a task. Poetic form and language offers students a viable amount of learning that is separate from any individual task.
Due to learning disabled students need to focus more on struggling with tasks, during their educations, introducing poetic concepts that value the experience of the individual more so than a valuable the individual’s output con-trasts with the customary method more writing education.
This contrast could provide learning disabled students a much more positive experience in becoming equipped with communicative writing skills.
Essentially, poetic form requires students’ engagement; however, it also unveils students the ability to control and queues in their expression, without the need to feel pressure to achieve that is inherent in transactional writing methods and curricula. Students’ responses to poetic writing, in Young’s assignments, are devised for prone applications to business-, science- and engineering-related emphases.
From writers who were engaged in a writing across the curriculum program responses, like: “I feel in control”, “it was really fun to express my feelings and ideas without worrying about a grade or grammar” and “it’s interesting to see how my mind develops an idea to a point I haven’t planned.” (Young, 2000) even though these student writers were not identified as having a learning disability, the new results that returned are the objectives for a poetry-centered learning disabled writing class and/or learning-disabled writing tutoring facility.
THE ALTERNATIVE WRITING LABORATORY
In the ensuing pages, is a proposal to learning disabled individuals to improve their writing skill, through an alternative learning laboratory that utilizes poetry writing in a small group setting to teach and rehearse the writing process and build generating, organizing, draft-ing and revisions skills, through explicit, intensive, strategy-based instruction proven effective for teaching learning disabled students.
Another goal of the writing lab is to provide students with access to alternative writing experiences re-introduce them to writing, as a process that can be fun, manageable and rewarding.
Simple, sequential poetry writing techniques will be used to encourage learning disabled students to embrace experi-mentation with language and grow to enjoy writing, without causing them to become overwhelmed or incapacitated by customary pitfalls to which they fall victim.
For these students, when transitioning to college-level academic writing tasks that require them to access knowledge, while effectively managing time, as they organize their thoughts and assure that their finished products fit customary, academic expectations, they experience great difficulties, causing them to lose confidence in their communication skills.
This laboratory challenges students to reflect on the writing process, and allows them to do this, without becoming mired, and facilitates their ability to amass confidence, as they quickly grow and learn to create beautiful language.
My proposed writing lab will be carried out in a small group setting, to facilitate individualized instruction and assessment. The proctor or instructor will model and scaffold, at each step of the writing process, employing recursive communication of instruction, until each student writer has learned all of the processes’ components and is enabled to write, independently. The instructor and student will discuss ways specific poetry writing subprocesses can be applied to non-poetic writing skills, as well.
Essentially, learning disabled students will develop new perspectives on what writing is, with the goal that they will become more willing to engage in writing and acquire greater proficiency in analyzing their own learning processes.
Explanation of Word Paletting
The alternative writing lab is designed around one simple, yet flexible, poetry writing technique: Word Paletting, that begins with the selection of an anchor term and, from that point, lessons are structured and devised to teach key concepts and writing processes of verse.
The method focuses on wordplay, versatility of language, creativity and discovery and, due to its step-by-step process, with inherent versatility, Word Paletting is quite manageable for use by Learning Disabled students, if recursive, guided assistance is provided to students who struggle.
The technique supports several specific learning opportunities, such as those that allow for the strategy to be taught, followed by students’ ability to practice pre-writing, imagery-generation, in which they can practice word choice differentiation and serialization of poetic writing. Word Paletting encourages students to create a body of work and, then, acquire the capability to think meta-cognitively about what they have written, building additional skills in revising and discussing their work.
The Word Paletting Process
The process’ first step has the student writer select his or her anchor term; this is a word or phrase from which each student brainstorms a palette of connected words, each of which, in conjunction with the anchor term, comprises a compound word or phrase that it is recognized as commonplace in conversational speech.
Then, the writer brainstorms a list of words that each connects to the anchor term in fairly-commonplace speech. The palette terms can be adjectives, verbs, adverbs, puns, homonyms, homophones or semantically-related to the anchor term. However, the anchor term would best not to be an overtly commonplace word, such as an article, when students are first learning to utilize word paletting, due to the potential for the effects of the day process to be inadvertently diluted.
In the next step, students are prompted to provide an introduction that segues in to incorporate the first paletted terms and should be prompted to worry less about meaning-making and focus more on generating a flow of ideas, utilizing their creativity and imagination. Learners should be seeking out potential connections that exist between the paletted term that is being focused upon and utilized, currently, and the potential connections that exist between it and the subsequent paletted term they will be including, next, in the wording of their poem. (I have realized, quite recently, that the paletted terms, addition to representing quoted information, represent identified intellectual property that a writer searches for, acquires, includes in his or her body of writing and must cite, too.)
The next step, “rock-tumbling”, requires students to assess and adjust the wording within the poem, to improve the flow of their creation, through the elimination of unnecessary wording. After “rock-tumbling”, “bridge-building”, the act of adding wording or layering implied meaning is utilized, in which the addition of wording or the layering of implied meaning and connections within the structure of the poem is carried out.
Then, in the “Wrap-up” stage, writers adjust line-length, infuse slant rhyme and add homophones, homonyms and alliteration, as a means to enhance the poem’s cadence, while preserving the meaning of the written work. Students, here, will modify the poem’s visual representation, by experimenting with typographic elements, such as purposed line breaks, altered typography, form and creative hyphenation.
The primary focus of Word Paletting is placed on language creation and making connections, through the stages of the writing process; meaning is usually discovered in a Word Paletted poem, through the act of composing it or in evaluating it, after its completion.
After acquiring proficiency in this writing strategy’s usage and having experienced discovery, while writing, subsequent lessons can be structured, utilizing specific attention, that can be placed on direction. Understanding that writing can be a process through which thoughts are discovered and by which connections are made between found material is a valuable lesson for learning disabled students and, potentially, can be transferred to other written tasks.
SKILLS EXPLICITLY COVERED
This poetic process prioritizes the generation of ideas and, in fact, is built around the concept of a palette, comprised of words, that provides a Learning Disabled student a site on which to amass and store ideas, such to enable the writer to refer back to it, recursively. Students compile the words that will be utilized and brainstorm usable language for their poems.
The instructor can communicate the process by which the selection of the anchor term is executed, as a means to a construct a compilation of multiple writing goals.
For writers who are inexperienced that are learning the word paletting strategy for the first time, the tutor can prompt students to choose an anchor term that is of students’ personal interest to them, as a means to engage them more. Subsequently, after students are proficient in the process’ usage, the instructor can assign tasks that are thematic, that are driven by audience or that are driven by purpose.
Due to idea generation’s difficulty it imposes upon Learning Disabled students, writers are guided as they acquire the successful use of several brainstorming strategies, including: ideating off connecting words that are found and utilized in common conversation, finding abstract phrases that contain the anchor term, looking for and determining unusual juxtapos-itions that can be constructed with the anchor term, considering the anchor term’s homophones and homonyms and capitalizing upon any other knowledge a specific student knows about the anchor term and/or what personal connotation the student has of the anchor term.
To enhance students’ understanding, the instructor models the process of selecting the anchor term, first, and demonstrates the act of generating the paletted list. The instructor demon-strates this pre-writing process, collectively, with the students, by choosing an anchor term and proceeding to construct a list of correlative, paletted terms.
By this, the group, together, will create a collective palette and, accordingly, the small group setting makes it possible for the instructor to pace instruction to meet the needs of individual students, as each is provided one-on-one explanations and assistance, until each is able to master the act of generating ideas, in palette form, using the different strategies.
Learning disabled students also should be supported with printed handouts of the Word Paletting process’ steps, a list of idea generation strategies, a copy of the instructor’s class-generated word palettes, as well as the tutor’s e-mail address and facebook and twitter account information.
The contact information would suffice to provide learning disabled students the ability to progress, as readily as possible, even if their memory-contingent aspects of their disabilities are able to have thwarted the ability for them to utilize Word Paletting, unassisted.
Students would be able to contact their peers who are engaged in the Alternative Writing Lab and they would be able to contact their tutor, as well. (UD for learning and best practices)
Word Choice and Usage
Essentially, Word Paletting avails multiple opportunities for writers to meditate upon word choice and usage and, as a writing process, it promotes students’ abilities to amass and generate significant amounts of wording, images and phrases, on which to draw, when crafting their first poem.
By virtue of their cognitive disabilities, learning disabled students experience difficulty as they attempt to access prior knowledge, or when successfully writing coherently. By its nature, Word Paletting enables Learning Disabled writers to have a self-generated tool that is used to create new commmunication.
During rock tumbling, writers focus on the smoothing out the cadence of their writing and improving its sound and comprehensibility, simultaneously. Experimenting with alternative diction is vital, here.
When students segue into the revision stages, the tutor needs to provide examples and model specific strategies for accomplishing the generation and evaluation of word choice and usage.
This could include determining synonymous words, to those that are included in a poem, that are of different lengths, syllabically, as a means to ameliorate, simultaneously, the meaning and sound of the poem.
If, at first, students experience difficulty, while attempting this, they can be prompted to utilize a thesaurus or a computer’s the thesaurus application, as this will allow students’ abilities to locate usable synonyms, metaphors and puns.
These discussions will occur, throughout the writing lab proceedings; however, individual educators can utilize Word Paletting to construct a diverse number of assignments to meet this goal.
An assignment that would be effective in facilitating students’ acquisition of specific skills is that of having them write a poem that takes the form of an argument. In doing this, students select a word to represent a basic argument and use it as their anchor term. They would brainstorm their palettes, from here.
Then, students would write two poems off this palette, utilizing a specific argument and one pallet of terms.
The first poem would be written to one audience and the second, to a very different audience. When determining which of the two audiences is more appropriate, the instructor could assist, as necessary, or the student’s proposed audience could be arrived at through group discussion and consensus.
An established canon of considerations, pertinent to the concept of audience awareness needs to be introduced, in discussion, and provided in printed form, as a means to assist learning disabled writers to become enabled to self-monitor their performance of the writing act.
After students have mastered the independent usage of the Word Paletting process, they can be presented Word Paletting tasks to be completed, individually, that are structured around their personal strengths and weaknesses, as writers.
One skill that is requisite for students to acquire is the ability to establish and maintain audience awareness; students and the instructor can discuss aspects of audience, such as: what a hypothetically-perceived audience of the poem knows, what the author’s intention is, how the rhetorical/dialogic conventions’ affect comprehensibility, whether or not the poem’s vocabulary is appropriate for it its audience, as well as, concerns of tone, voice and point of view.
Connotation and denotation
In the following sections, lessons cover various elements of writing poetry and it is while imparting them that the educator has the greatest opportunity to spur students to embrace writing.
Whether it is playing with words and meaning or it is exploring sound and rhythm, connotation and denotation comprise the joy and delight for many writers.
The facility of wordplay can afford a profound difference to learning disabled students, due to the fact that a writer cannot fail when he or she is at play. Much less, tension and fear are nonexistent under these circumstances.
Creative writing, specifically poetry, offers writers different methods for communicating concepts. The mixed exploration of denotative and connotative language presents students oppor-tunities to use language in new ways.
Discussion and practice of effective use of metaphors, implied and inferred meanings and puns provides disabled students practical strategies for streng-thening their uses of language as a communicative vehicle.
Word Paletting undergirds and supports experimentation, as it provides writers, easily, the ability to access raw language, from which to write. Students, then, can work independently or in groups, discovering different possibilities for denotative or connotative applications of their word pallets. Students, by looking at language, as poets, learn to own their words and vocabularies, to engage with them, transform them and alter their personal concepts of their communicative funds of knowledge.
By sharing the long history of poets who have used found imagery in their poems, with students, including the concept of ekphrasis, learners will comprehend that the exercises they been presented have a commonality in their strategies that can be adapted, customized and repurposed. Another exercise that is utilized by poets is the act of generating writing from “found language”.
This is language that is found in other types of writing, found while they are out on the street or can be found in written dialogues, in magazines, among many other sources.
A tutor can focus upon found language and ask students to record and bring this language with them to the LD Writing Lab.
Examples of this found language could be communication that they have seen written on signs, maybe as graffiti on a building, appearing on-line or printed, in a graphic novel they are reading.
Students, potentially, could be more engaged in the writing process, when they are provided more control over what they are writing and what they are writing about.
For many learning disabled students, this would represent the first time they have been asked to look at words in this way and, accordingly, the tutor or instructor would need to model and establish a defined sequence of steps and criteria to guide students’ selection processes of which word to implement.
Students could require assistance, as they attempt to incorporate wording from off their palettes, into their poems, as well.
Fluidity, Flow and Rhythm
Differentiating and experimenting with fluidity, flow and rhythm represent components of writing which affect the drafting and revision stages of the writing process. Effective, established poets routinely consider these aspects of writing poetry and attempt to maintain awareness of them, while considering other important elements, such as word choice and meaning.
These components of the writing process impact a poem’s sound, when it is spoken; during instruction that is skills-contingent, students need to be introduced to the act of orating their own poems and need to be prompted to establish and maintain awareness of audience, as well.
Fluidity and flow impact the ease a poem presents to an orator and is contingent upon the sound of the poem’s wording, rhythm and pacing. The instructor in the LD WAC introduces each concept, in conjunction with illustrative sample poems that are are distributed to each student and read aloud.
Strategies for comprehension and eventual mastery of fluidity and flow will be disseminated, including the usage of assonance (repetition of a specific vowel sound), consonance (repetition of a specific consonant sound) and alliteration (the repetition of the initial consonant sound of a word).
Here, rhythm can be divided into specific components, to utilize syllabification, stress and phrasing, such to differentiate a poem’s or line’s pace and rhythm; finally, the role of rhyme in changing the sound of the poem can be addressed.
The instructor models a particular strategy, using a communally-shared word palette. Then, the class engages in collective practice and, finally, students are assigned the task of writing a poem that requires the usage of each strategy.
Revision techniques need to be taught, using individual class lessons and must capitalize upon students’ meetings they have with the instructor.
Together, student and professor survey each poem, using a checklist of prone revision strategies to assist students as they monitor their progress and the tutor scaffolds these goings-on, asking the learning disabled student a set of leading questions about the process that was used to construct the poem and about the specific parts of the writing that could conceivably be revised.
For example, the tutor could ask the student questions, pertaining to the writing process that was used in creating a particular poem or the student could be asked to consider specific aspects of a poem to be revised.
01. A student can be asked questions, concerning how the order for the inclusion of the palette terms was determined.
02. The student could be questioned, by the educator, as to the student’s reorganization process, how he or she went about controlling the flow and rhythm of his or her poem and the tutor could ask the student to read his or her poem out loud, to enable the student to hear the echoic nature of the work, while focusing on word choice.
Student and tutor would work together until such time the student is comfortable with the revision process.
Compensatory strategies that could be imparted to learning disabled students could include provision of the knowledge of how audio recordings or digital video could be of profound benefit to them. These recordings could be disseminated to learning disabled students, by way of e-mail or posted to a class-specific website, such as Black-board.
Because of students’, utilizing the lab, relative novice statuses in accessing class materials and information through these means, professors would need to model the usage of the site, explicitly, discussing potential methods for students’ usage of the recordings.
For example, students would be able to use the recordings to stipend their notetaking processes, as a means to assist them in reviewing what has been communicated during a lecture or could be provided as a resource for LD students to become more independently enabled to accomplish subtasks and subpro-cesses, such as becoming enabled, unsupervised, to log on to a particular computer.
To further assist students who have learning disabilities, instructors would be called upon to segment the recordings of specific lectures into smaller components that would be organized, according to topic.
Due to the organization of a professor’s specific lecture, the segmentation of the recordings would be able to assist learning disabled students, quite effectively, as the recordings could be identified by the time-stamp of the particular lecture, in accordance to the professor’s outline of his or her lesson.
This would allow all students to find the specific information they need to focus upon with greater ease and expedience.
Learning disabled students sometimes need extended time to process, remember, synthesize and apply what they have learned. Thereby, it is important that instructors work with each student and provide them with extended time, as is necessary, such to allow LD students to progress at a manageable pace.
Truly, negotiating extra time is frequently necessary for learning disabled students; however, this could be regarded as the opportunity for a professor to impart better strategies to all students.
Other types of compensation techniques that learning disabled writing students could use to assist them include the provision of graphic organizers, the ability to utilize voice recognition software, access to spell checking applications and dictionary and thesaurus applications and the usage of mnemonic devices to compensate for memory issues.
The intended mission for this laboratory is to fuel motivation and action, in an environment in which the LD student can metamorphasize into a poet and student who has proficient writing and thinking skills who, as well, happens to have a learning disability.
While the alternate writing lab that is outlined here is constructed around instructional practices that have proven to be most effective for use by learning disabled students, individual compensatory strategies may be necessary to support every student in helping him or her overcome the obstacles that are presented by a specific disability.
Accordingly, a skilled learning disabilities specialist would be most beneficial as, the disabilities that students face are varied, both, in effect and severity.
Contingent upon when a student is diagnosed, he or she could have a highly developed set of compensatory strategies, already that he or she uses; or, a learning disabled student could have no previously-established set of compensation skills, at all.
Likely, students who become engaged in the Learning Disabled Writing Lab will already be assigned a school-administered LD specialist, who might work with to find the best strategies for compensating for a student’s disability.
However, it is most important that the instructor who administers the Word Paletting curriculum, to students, in the lab is familiar with several potential means and methods for instruction of the curriculum, as well as how the curriculum can be utilized to facilitate students’ acquisition of skills that are existent in the curricula of the LD Writing Lab and school.
As a means to monitor students’ abilities to engage in meaningful and profound discussions around the writing process and about their own written capabilities, educators from the learning disabled al-ternate writing laboratory and the teachers of a specifically tailored entry-level composition class could monitor and assess learning disabled students, sever-al times, during both of the semester that students would be experiencing the LD Writing Lab’s curriculum and in the following semester, when the students would be engaged in a learning-disabled-specific freshman composition class.
Students would be monitored, recursively, throughout both semesters. The monitoring process would utilize a rubric that would be common between, devel-oped and agreed upon by LDWL personnel and administrators of the school’s freshman composition program.
This rubric would be devised, such to determine and assess students’ comprehension and communication skills, concerning the curriculum, including: competency in identification and explanation of processes students intend to use in completing a specific writing task, competency in discussing and applying writing strategies, goal setting capabilities for the act of writing and ability to effectively monitor the accom-plishment of established writing goals and proficiency’s acquisition, in responding to suggestions in question form or in acquisition of effective revision skills.
The written capabilities of students in the Alternative Writing Lab and in the control group must be considered, together, as a means to determine if students utilizing the Lab, the following semester, when they enter into English 101, are equipped with a higher level of written proficiency and writing-contingent cognitive awareness than students who do not receive explicit instruction.
By virtue of the usage of self-regulated strategies having been determined to have a positive effect on learning disabled students, comprehending best practices for communication of these strategies’ usage and providing a heightened level of expectation is an important goal of the Alternative LD Writing Lab. Assessing rates of the lab’s success encompasses monitoring student awareness of the technique and gauging how often students utilize the strategies.
A third goal exists that extends from the goings-on of the alternative writing lab, in that an LD-specific freshman composition class could be an environment in which students become invested and encouraged to seek out their instructors and work with them, to identify strategies that would be able to be used to accomplish future writing tasks.
Acquiring a distinct awareness of students’ levels of awareness, potentially, could be achieved through the usage of the survey that was developed to have students divulge their personal view-points on the act of writing. In order to collect data to determine students’ usage, both classes could be utilized; through emphasizing process, rather than students’ end-products, educators, possibly, would need to mandate that students accom-plish each step of the writing process and require all drafts to be remitted.
Due to instructors’ requirement to meet with students, frequently, to work together on each assignment, the frequency of use of the lab and successful applica-tion of strategies would need to be tracked. This would be possible for both curricula/classes.
Contingent upon the results of students’ first tests, it could be that the Alternate Writing Lab model would want to be availed to support LD students’ realiz-ation of other, specific writing goals.
If learning disabled students are able, not only, to build skills and, also, to embrace poetry and creative writing, an advanced version of the Learning Disa-bilities Assistive Writing Lab good be made available, to teach and scaffold students to acquire creative writing strategies as a means to supplement a traditional creative writing class.
As, often, professors of creative writing are not coincidentally adept at instruc-ting learning disabled individuals as they are at teaching creative writing concepts.
Too, a plausible extension of the Alternative Writing Lab concept would be to make other, similar labs available; for example, in content-area writing, in literary analysis, in scientific writing or in business writing, that connect with learning disabled and any other type of students’ specific aims and interests.
Suggestions for Future Research
As a means to assist teachers when they attempt to scaffold learning disabled students, having them become enabled to surmount the effects of disability, several opportunities exist for research to be conducted and to be utilized to expand peoples’ comprehensive knowledge set, concerning instructional strategies and compensatory techniques.
Concerning compensatory strategies, that which has been reported appears to be anecdotal, potentially overly-generalized for addressing learning disabled writers’ needs and plausibly of little profound impact in assisting LD students’ growth.
Much more evidence-based studies on the specific accommodations for learning disabled writing students and instructional strategies that are most effectively used would be able to provide LD writing students’ teachers a better understanding of which sets of circumstances would warrant the provision of particular accommodations and would provide these teachers better understandings of when the usage of particular methods for instruction would be most prone, based on a student’s specific type of disability, according to the length of time between the diagnosis of a disability and the provision of instruction provision, contingent upon the sort of previously-learned strategies a student has acquired, in alignment with the degree of severity of the individual student’s disability and compatibly-matched to an individual’s level of writing competency.
Long-range studies could be utilized to generate a mass of data that could be used to track particular students’ progress, from time of diagnosis, to acquisition of coping techniques, to mastery of compensatory learning strategies. Educators, by doing this, with data to suggest best instructional practices, evidenced by the benchmarks inherent in students’ progress, could become more skilled at setting students’ writing goals and expectations.
Overall, the best instruction would be able to be arrived at and delivered to specific students that would be better-suited for accommodating individuals’ writing-acquisition needs.
Additional research is mandatory to be conducted on the subject of usage of content-area instruction, as a means to verify writing instruction’s relevance to students’ goals, interests and aspirations. This is due to the fact that learning disabled students’ interests, at the college level, often, have exceeded the degree to which they have acquired loftier goals than their writing skills will allow them to progress to.
Interviewing students and basing instruction on their real goals can be used to foster the will to improve and could potentially be able to be addressed in the LD Writing Lab.
And, it is imperative that LD students be prodded to conduct personally-motivated inquiries and explorations, without potentially being thwarted by a slower rate of acquisition of “academic” abilities, like writing.
Too, more research needs to be conduc-ted to determine other alternative methods for scaffolding writing instruction, into university-level environments, as this could provide learning disabled students necessary skills that are necessary for them to succeed, such to remain in school, complete their degree program and transfer the knowledge that they acquire, in school, to workplace-contingent communication and thought pro-cesses.
Plausibly, a targeted-writing lab that is similar to the aforementioned Learning Disabled Writing Lab, with the addition of strategic tutors to work with students on mastering specific writing tasks in the content-areas and to assist those with less-developed writing skills could be necessary.
By providing alternative assessments as a mean to help students progress in their content-subjects, until such time their writing capabilities were able to be sufficiently enhanced, students whose content-area aptitude is high, yet whose communication skills are hampered due to the existence of a learning disability, could be more effectively assisted, educated and scaffolded.
Presently, it is an era of excitement to be, simultaneously, a learning disabled student and a writing instructor who works to assist learning disabled students. Emergent technologies continue to advance and offer enhanced supports which increasingly make learning disabled students able to eliminate the negative effects that they are learning disabilities impose upon their learning and communication processes.
New research that has been incited by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act has provided teachers increased information on better methods by which students with disabilities learn.
Education reform has led to earlier diagnoses and provision of procedural support that addresses the needs of learning disabled students; however, there exists an immense amount of new data that provides greater opportunity and there is still a greater need for foc-used attention, for understanding and for action.
Highly-engaged, knowledgeable teachers who help students acquire, amass and customize strategies, who impart and stress the import of discipline to students that build students’ confidence levels, are ultimately necessary.
The Alternative Writing Lab that is suggested, here, was developed, utilizing my passion for poetry and my desire to provide providing learning disabled students intense instruction, composed of proactive experiences for learning and skills’ acquisition.
It is my hope that other teachers, professors and educational support personnel will build up on this concept, considering it, creatively, when they go about assisting students of all back-grounds in becoming enabled to broaden students’ cognitive, expressive and written abilities.