Sunday, May 5, 2019

Teaching Kids with IEPs to Be Powerful, Joyful Writers

Last summer I attended The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project August Writing Institute and had the good fortune of participating in Jenn Kean-Thompson's section entitled, "Teaching Kids with IEPs to Be Powerful Joyful Writers".

I teach in an integrated co-teaching setting so I am always eager to learn more about creating a classroom where ALL students see themselves as members of our writing community.

This post will be part of a five part series, which will follow the steps in the writing process. Our first day was dedicated to immersion/rehearsal.

As I reflect on my notes, here are some of my big takeaways from Day 1, which was dedicated to immersion/rehearsal:

Questions to Consider
There are a few questions that are helpful to hold in our mind when we work with students with IEPs:

1. How are we providing access and JOY throughout the day?

2. Like teaching, it's a BALANCING act: When am I making the priority progress toward grade level standards? When am I making the priority progress toward IEP goals?

Getting to Know You

First and foremost, it is important to remember the important lesson we learn from "The King and I" and get to know the writers in our classroom. When we look at a student's IEP, it is one-dimensional. For example, did you know that 80% of people with disabilities experience anxieties? When we know this, it provides us with a new perspective, and allows us to see our students in a new light. We can plan with this new knowledge in mind. Conducting a writing survey, and making them time to really study student responses is a great way to gain deeper insight into the interests, talents, worries needs, and goals of the writers in our classroom.

Harness the Power of the Components of Balanced Literacy
Writing Workshop is one element of our balanced literacy day, but there are a lot of other opportunities across the day to provide access for our students. It helps to reflect on each component  of balanced literacy or the different structures of our writing workshop and ask:

When can I provide access to grade level curriculum? When can I provide access to personalized instruction (IEP goals)?

When kids feel like they have access, they are more joyful. When looking at the above components and structures, consider the implications for assessment, planning and instruction. As teachers we are all too aware that time is finite so it helps to think about where we are spending most of our time planning. For example, I am not going to spend the MOST amount of time planning for the mini-lesson if it is going to be difficult for a majority of my students to access the mini-lesson, which is tied to grade level expectations. Instead my time would be better spent planning for what I do during the independent work time, small group work and conferring, which are the places I can provide students with access to personalized instruction.

Shared Experience: The Power of Gradual Release and Shared Writing

Primary teachers know that co-authoring a text with a group of writers can be a powerful scaffold toward independent practice. In the upper grades, it is not unusual to begin units begin with some sort of shared experience or immersion lesson. In the TCRWP community, we sometimes refer to this work as "boot camp," which attempts to shore up foundational skills particular to a genre, provides a context for oral rehearsal, and gives students a sense of what it feels like to go through the whole process, but in one sitting.

While powerful for all students, shared experience/shared writing is particularly powerful for writers with IEPs. As Stephen Covey says in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, it helps them to "begin with the end in mind". During the shared writing experience, it is important to set students up for success by providing them with charts to reference during the experience. Students will be able to draw on the language prompts in the chart to support structure and development across the unit.

Expectation + Celebration/Affirmation + Choice = Engagement
Finally, Jenn reminded us of the power of expectation/celebration/affirmation and choice. For example, in the MWTP (Mid Workshop Teaching Point) we might encourage students to reflect on the following question to discuss with their writing partner: What have you accomplished so far? To provide additional support, if needed, we might share some different options with students that provide a spectrum of accomplishment but are also are a "veiled" sort of reinforcement and instruction: "In my essay I stated my claim, I wrote my first support, and gave evidence, I introduced evidence using transition words"

In our teaching share, we might provide students with choices about what to celebrate. For example, in opinion/argument writing, students might celebrate volume, stated claims, clear reasons or evidence. We might posts a chart with if you are celebrating ___________________, then you might share or highlight . . .

One particular point Jenn made that resonated with me at the end of Day 1 is, "often kids are not independent because they don't understand WHY they would do it (engagement) or don't understand HOW (skill, strategy, behavior, habit) to replicate it." I try to keep this in the forefront of my mind in assessment, planning and instruction of not just students with IEPs, but with all students.

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Teaching Kids with IEPs to Be Powerful, Joyful Writers

Last summer I attended The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project August Writing Institute and had the good fortune of participating i...