There are many strategies to support struggling writers. With an inclusion classroom, I quickly became familiar with many of them: Graphic organizers, scribing ideas, enlarged lines, recording students as they voice their ideas and allowing them to transcribe later, pencil grips, sentence starters/prompts...etc. In my first year of teaching, I used every strategy I could come up with to try and support my students. Although I saw improvements after implementing these strategies, something was still missing. I couldn't put my finger on it, but it was beyond supporting executive functioning, expressive language and fine motor skills. I used author studies, examined rich texts to identify elements of great writing, and immersed my students in robust vocabulary. Still, something didn’t feel right. What was it that was getting in their way?
After winter break of that year, I asked my students to open their journals and write about their vacation. Many of my students eagerly picked up their pencils and started drawing scenes from their week off. I watched as students wrote about their weekend in New York City, a family cruise, a trip to Disney, or visiting with grandma and grandpa. I came across some blank journals as well. When I checked in with those students, most said that they hadn’t done anything over their vacation, or they couldn’t remember what they had done. I found this hard to believe, but tried a few prompting questions that might spark a memory. Some of these students recalled an event or two, but with little detail. Two others finally said that spent their vacation in their home while their parents worked. One of those students highlighted an experience with a “large beetle” in the kitchen, but they didn’t want to write about it because "it was gross!" (AGREED!)
This is when the light bulb appeared above my head. MY STUDENTS CANNOT REMEMBER, OR SIMPLY DO NOT HAVE EXPERIENCES TO DRAW FROM TO BE ABLE TO WRITE!
I had my ah-ha moment, but now what? How could I provide my students with experiences to help them become better writers? I couldn’t very well take them on field trips every time I wanted to teach writing! To better know my options, I sought out some professional development opportunities that summer. In my search, I found a great program called Writer’s Express. It was exactly what I was looking for and most importantly, it was doable!
Writer’s Express encouraged me to create short activities based on a skill I was looking to teach. For example, if I wanted students to learn how to incorporate details that utilize the senses, I should give them an experience that would encourage those kinds of details (e.g. eating popcorn, standing in the rain, lying in the grass, using finger paint…etc.) I was a sponge, absorbing all of the ideas and getting excited for the possibilities!
Well, I don’t think I need to tell you that the results were amazing! (Otherwise, why would I be sharing it with you!) I have continued to use experienced-based writing, and am constantly impressed by the quality of writing my first graders demonstrate. I have found so many benefits to this format, but those that top my list are:
Good luck with your experienced-based writing and thanks for stopping by!