My students who are 5th LD will be taking the state writing assessment test in Feb. Help! I need strategies to teach them the process of writing a narrative essay. The students are on a 2nd grade reading level.
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Writing is thinking, and giving your students lots of opportunties to write free of the fear of rejection, free of the fear of being laughed at, free of the fear of being judged or receiving a bad grade will open up their ability to think. Freewriting-a process in which they write for a specified period of time whatever comes into their head about the promt or a topic of their own choice is a chore at first, but students will find it eventually liberates their ability to think. The only criteria for freewriting is that they don't stop for any reason until time is up. Use this strategy frequently so they get used to it. Nancie Atwell suggests the development of writing territories--lists of topics or ideas no matter how silly they seem about which the students might like to write. Then when they are asked to write, they know they have topics. Develop their writing by giving choices and multiple opportunities to develop confidence through practice. Positive feedback is a must, and for assessments address one or two specific things on each assignment (after some confidence has been developed.) for example one writing project could focus on strong specific word choice and punctuation. Mini lessons could also be tied in prior to the writing assignment.
In working with special education students it has been my experience that lots of practice before the test with lots of feedback in a non-threatening manner. Give them lots of examples to look at and pattern after while practicing and also work on key vocabulary words that may appear on your state test.
I am assuming they have IEPs. What are their accommodations? A lot of kids have a hard time with the actual physical act of writing, but can type, dictate, or record ideas pretty well. I am not sure what your state allows, but first check what type of special accomodations are available to your students.
Can you have them practice and then discuss their narratives in a writers' circle? Using a document camera, you could project samples (either from this class or from previous years) and talk about strengths in each piece, followed by things that could be changed to make the writing stronger. Like Nancy Atwell, I would also want to write with the students and show them samples of my own work.
I would work with them on learning transition words ("next," "after that," etc.), end punctuation of sentences, and capitalization of the first word of a sentence. In other words, getting an essay to LOOK like an essay. If you can help them master indenting paragraphs and getting them to write 2 or 3 paragraphs, that will help as well. State writing assessments are often scored holistically (I'm not sure what state you are working in), and scorers are trained to award students the highest score they can justify.
I have the state writing test in my grade too, but it is 7th. What I would do is when you get back in Jan, I would first teach them how to use strategies for planning their narrative, to tell what happened first, then next, then next, then last. I limit my seventh graders to four points. Sometimes we do a booket where we fold a piece of paper twice to creare four pages and then sketch what happened in each scene. You can also have them go back and ass little post it notes to add in the chaacter's feelings/thoughts (I call it the "invisible story" or the "secret story"--what we cannot see in the scene). Then have them use the booklets or timelines to create a rough draft. Then move to revision.
If they are on the second grade reading level, try to go form what they know to what they can do. Ask them questions about reading and writing, and ask them topics that they already know. Then give them topics they don't know and show them how to use the same type of writing skills to go from they do now to what they don't know.
I too teach exceptional children who have to prepare for this writing test. One thing that I use to help them in their writing is first to model writing from brainstorming all the way through the finished product. I first begin with writing a list of things that are important to me, in other words, what I am familiar with. When students are familiar with their topic, they are more inclined to write about what they know. Once I have a list, I go through my list to narrow my choices down to 2-3 good ideas that I know a lot about and have a good recollection about. Since I am a list person, I then make a list under each idea to see which one has more ideas or better ideas in which to write from. Once I have selected my idea I draw a huge square on a piece of paper and divide it into 4 squares. In each of the squares I write the introduction, the middle (problem I encountered) the ending, and finally the conclusion. This method (which is called the Four Square Method) has worked very well with all of my students to keep them focused and well organized. Writing notes in each part of the mini squares allows the students to chunk their work and the task does not seem so overwhelming. Good luck!
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