Monday, February 10, 2014

Teaching Written Expression to Students with Mod-Intensive Special Needs

In an effort to examine the way that I approach the instruction of written expression to my students with moderate-intensive special needs, I have had a chance to speak with others who teach students with special needs.  Several have shared the ways that they go about teaching written expression to our students without the help of a "program" or specific curriculum. 

In the past 6 years, I have tried to stream line the way I teach writing and use a task analysis approach to my instruction.  Using principles of ABA, I often use more of a discrete trial method, continuously practicing and reinforcing a concept at one to one teacher table until it is mastered.

I've heard from other colleagues around the country (via twitter and email) about their similar approaches. Because our students differ, we have varying methods. But, one thing is the same. Written Expression Instruction for our students is complicated.  

Below, I outline the way that I instruct written expression for my K-3 students with moderate to intensive special needs:

Only after learning letters and letter sounds and working on basic handwriting skills with pre-writing strokes, I start with writing capital and lowercase letters that represent a sound.  I say "write the letter that says /b/."  My student should write a "B" or a "b."

Once we have mastered writing (with some sort of accuracy so I can tell what letter I am looking at), I move on to writing three letter words in the cvc (consonant-vowel-consonant) pattern to label a picture.  We see a picture of a hat and we should write h-a-t.  I help sound out the word by tapping out the sounds on my arm (beginning sound at the wrist, medial sound at the elbow, and ending sound at the shoulder).  While learning to do this, we are also practicing receptively choosing beginning, medial, and final sounds in cvc words.

Below is a page we might use to label items with cvc names like pen, hen, can, hot, pot, and ten.  We would typically work on this together once we have already made words with letter cards or on the iPad app called ABC Magnetic Alphabet.

Once we've mastered labeling pictures, we move to making sentences using picture cards and word cards.  I show a picture of a simple object like a dog.  Then I say "What is this?" and the student constructs the sentence "This is a dog."  We work on varying the start of the sentence with "It" or "I see" to make sentences like "I see a dog." or "It is a dog."  During this time, I reinforce capital letters and periods to make complete sentences.  We watch a Brain Pop Jr. video and practice, practice, practice.

Then we move to pictures of people or fictional characters doing something so that we can make sentences with a verb + ing.  Using picture cards and word cards, I ask "What is he doing?" The student will then make a sentence like "He is walking."  I change my question to use "she" and "they" as well.

We work then on writing the sentence we've formed with the word cards.  Then writing the sentence without the word cards.

Once we can write one sentence about a picture, I move to two sentences.  Using the same method as above, I show a picture and say "What is this?"  The student should write "This is a dog."  Then I ask "What color is it?" or "Is it big or little?"  The student can then write a sentence with a defining characteristic like "It is brown."  We then point out that we have two capital letters and two periods and that means we have written two sentences.

Once we can master that, I show the picture and say "Write two sentences."  

In addition, I plan to start adding in more "errorless" writing in which I can give a sentence with a blank space and several correct choices for a response like this (Thanks to Jennifer Waer aka @spoowriter for this awesome example): 

I'm am incredibly interested in discussing this topic with other teachers who work with students with moderate-intensive disabilities and hope that I'll hear from some.  

Thanks to some members of my PLN, @teachwtechbrox, @specialteachk, @tperran, and @spoowriter, for your support and help. :)


Tim Villegas said...

Simply wonderful. We need more written about this topic!!

Kendra said...

I love your ideas. I have mild and moderate students. All need picture support. I just always lack either materials, time to make the tasks/cards, or BOTH. Would love to hear how others get it so together! I thought about writing a DonorsChoose grant for Boardmaker, but I also know Google images provide lots of resources.m

Unknown said...


You should definitely invest in Boardmaker. I know they have sales sometimes which really help.

Although Google Images has changed the game, I really do like to use Boardmaker Plus v.6 the best, hands down.

Good luck! Thanks for your comment!