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Writing Instruction For At-Risk Students

 

Q. You don't often hear about big gains in writing achievement in low-income schools. It must be one of the most difficult tasks in education, to bring young students who are basically illiterate up to the standards of writing proficiency. What strategies work?

 

Here are some common-sense ideas from a longtime Texas teacher, Donna Garner. She has a special interest in helping at-risk students become good writers.

She has taught secondary-level students. But these tips are solid for any age, and for the whole range of abilities, too, not just kids who are struggling academically.

You might share them with your child's teachers or school board members, work toward the adoption of these policies in districts where they don't exist, and keep them in mind when encouraging or tutoring your own child:

 

-- Homework in English is graded for completion instead of accuracy. If a student follows the directions and completes the assignment on time, he receives a 100 even if every answer is wrong. Therefore, when a student makes a zero on a homework grade, it indicates that he is not putting forth the proper effort.

-- English grammar is a competency-based subject; language subskills must be taught gradually and systematically, in stair-step fashion, and at-risk students must commit to excellent attendance habits or they'll fall behind quickly.  When a student does not keep up day-by-day with his work, he cannot move to the next higher level because he does not have the foundation upon which to build the more sophisticated work. It is vitally important that students master each day's work so that they can move ahead successfully.  

-- Mrs. Garner suggests extra teacher time for at-risk students who seek it. She offers tutorials on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays for 45 minutes after school. Normally she can stay later if a student needs extra help.

Here are some of her other modifications:

 

Individualized grammar packets -- lowered reading level, sequential presentation

 

Peer tutoring


Individualized spelling list -- retesting of spelling words after writing corrections


Individualized reading list with reading level noted -- self-selection


Grade incentives given for book reports


Study skills techniques


Short-term goal setting


Oral book reports


Short answer tests


Graphic organizers for writing process


Computer writing lab


Writing partner


Flashcards and other manipulatives


Search and find library unit -- tactile/kinesthetic


Use of memory devices


Use of  memorization, teacher origination, and student origination levels


Teacher-modeled responses


Guided practice on tests

 

Newspaper articles provided in order to make topics relevant


Writer's conference with individual students when essays returned


Essays marked for content and grammar


Use of computer lab to input and bold corrections after essays marked


Notebooks used as organizational tool


Visual aids (overhead projector, VCR, blackboard, posters)


Tape recorder


Constant oral drill and repetition


Directions reviewed frequently


Grammar concepts introduced, reviewed, drilled, applied, and tested


Assignments broken into short segments


Preferential seating


Attention-getting cues constantly given


Class rules clearly defined


Minimum amount of note-taking


Directions not given until room is free of distractions


Hands-on library unit

 

By Susan Darst Williams www.ShowandTellforParents.com Writing 21 2009

 

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