Using Technology to Support Students with Learning Differences in Writer’s Workshop

How does Technology help?

The variety of skills and the synthesis involved in writing can make it difficult for some of our students to just write.

The overwhelming feeling of initiating a piece of writing reminds me of when I was 15 years old and the first time I took my father’s car for a drive.

I remember sitting at the steering wheel of my Dad’s 1970 SAAB station wagon. I was 15, hands sweating and trying to remember everything involved in driving a car. Where do I put my hands? How soon do I turn? I have to plan my route and Dad is talking in my ear. I remember trying to keep all these things straight in my head and trying to drive, not panic, not shut down, or have a melt down and just start crying.

Writing puts strain on parts of the brain that control fine motor planning, working memory and organization.

Technology can help many students relieve that strain by doing some of the heavy lifting and allowing student’s creativity and story telling abilities to shine. It supports student strengths and minimizes deficits.

Motor Planning

Writing can be a difficult task if the child is not able to physically write what they want to say in a legible way. The spacing could be squished together or too far apart. The letters or words may be written backwards or simply unreadable. This may be due to visual perceptual or fine motor issues.

Here are some low-tech ideas that can help support this problem especially for K-2.

  • Slant boards can help angle the paper and helps with visual tracking and posture when writing. I love this DIY slant board.
  • Raised lined paper– This paper has raised and colored lines so that students are able to stop the movement of their pencil when they hit the line. I was able to find this online or check with the occupational therapist at your school.
  • Writing Wizard for Kids is an excellent writing app for ages 4+ and can be used on apple or android but requires a touch screen. It supports correct letter formations. This website offers a review of the app.

If fine motor is still an issue as students get older, writing becomes such a laborious task that all the joy of writing is lost. In my opinion, let them type!

Working Memory

Working memory is the area in your brain that stores short term memory, holds and manipulates information until it is stored in the long term memory. The variety of skills required for writing can put so much stress on a weak working memory that it can become overwhelmed and just shut down.

Often, students that have difficulty with attention or organization have trouble initiating writing. They have SO many ideas that it’s hard for them to sort and order them. They often end up saying they don’t have any ideas at all when the opposite may be true!

Google Docs

My favorite technology support for older students dealing with some of these issues is Google Docs. It’s easy to access and has a plethora of supports at your finger tips. Also, these strategies are good for all students and so it works perfectly for an inclusive setting such as writer’s workshop.

Some ways to use google docs —

  • Students can keep a folder for the writing supports that they need such as word banks, favorite quotes, lists for transition words or other supports pertaining to specific assignments and specific students.
  • It’s simple to assign class interactive or multi-media videos that can be played and replayed or paused to take notes for research writing or mentor texts for sentence fluency.
  • Immediate feedback and the ability to do more scaffolding for those that need it without being obvious or obnoxious. (Check out DocAppender extension)
  • Three excellent extensions created by Don Johnston are co-writer (a text prediction extension), snap and read (love, love, love), and universal word bank. These extensions do cost money. I am fortunate to work in a district that pays for access to these supports for all students on all devices.
  • Google docs gives the ability to provide regular feedback and offers the ability to use a variety of responses. (slides, video, outlines)
  • It supports revising and editing with grammar and spell check capabilities.
  • More ideas for writing using google docs. Did you know there’s a question feature on google classroom?

More about Snap and Read

  • Snap and Read can read a student’s writing back to them which helps them revise.
  • There are lists of possible outlines which can help them organize their thinking.
  • The bottom two screenshots show a website and then that website with distractions removed.
  • You can double click on a word and it gives the definitions.
  • It is user friendly and students love and actually use it!

One tip for introducing technology.

  • In order to take some pressure off staff, a fun option to introduce a new technology is to have the assistive or other technology specialists in your district come to your writing workshop class and teach the students (and teachers) how to use these tools. The general education teacher in my building initiated this idea and it was a huge success. Students and staff felt comfortable getting on the same page with the technology.

Have fun and play with technology to see what works best for you in your writing workshop!

Excellent webpage from Understood for Learning and Attention Issues on dysgraphia

Ten apps to help develop writing skills

If you like mind mapping, this is a good application that’s free.

Please share your ideas and ways that you use technology to support writers.

Collective Joy

I was listening to an audiobook by Brene’ Brown (Braving the Wilderness) where she speaks about human connections and how a gathering of people feeling joy can emphasis and expand that feeling of joy far more than if it’s just one person feeling it. She gives specific data that states staying connected with people can lengthen your life as much as if you quit smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. Wow.

Her research brought to mind this memory of when I was a young girl in a girl scout troop. I signed up for a week long camp of crafts and campfires at Camp Sacajawea.

My favorite part of camp was always, always, without question the evening sing along’s and campfires. We would talk and laugh, make smore’s and then right before heading to our bunks, we would sing. The singing gave me joy and singing with a diverse group of girls with a common purpose and connection lifted my heart and sometimes gave me goosebumps. I felt close to those girls and leaders and the feeling of unity and joy is hard to put into words. I still get that same feeling when I hear “Make New Friends but Keep the Old, One is Silver and the Other Gold” or “Barges”

“Out of my window looking in the night,
I can see the barges flickering light.
Starboard shining green and port is shining red,
I can see the barges from my bed.”

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Writing and sharing our writing helps build these connections too and increases our collective joy and brings comfort in our collective sorrow.

Turkey crossing

Impatiently, I tap on the steering wheel. “What’s the hold up,” I think. Craning my neck to see what it is and then I see them. A rafter of turkeys (yes rafter is a group of turkeys, not a gaggle or a flock). I’ve seen them in town before, wild turkeys just 7 or 8 of them. They walk around like they own the place. Yet they make me smile. I didn’t get a picture or I’d post it here. Two of them were standing on the curb squawking at the cars while the other turkeys lagged behind. It was comical and surprising at the same time.

All at once I wasn’t impatient anymore. Enjoying this rare scene of turkeys holding up traffic in a small town in Wyoming.

Four Daughters

Four adult daughters, each different, lovely, intelligent, independent and empathetic. Each on their own with their own families. I love watching them continue to grow now as adults instead of small children. Still hurting with them, celebrating with them. watching them make good choices and bad. Just as I did in my thirties.

This spring break I’m visiting my youngest daughter in Louisville. It’s a different kind of visit because there are no grandchildren here yet. We’re having adult time. Going to the bourbon distilleries, movies, adult talk about politics and dreams for the future. I love watching them banter as a couple, giggle, argue and play with their goldendoodle “Archer.” My daughter (her coach used to call her “little red” when she was 10 and playing soccer) took us both for an amazing massage yesterday. Ahhhh

Last night, we had a late night run to Wendy’s and listened to Dane Cook’s comedy routine about when he worked at Burger King, but told the ladies he worked at the BK lounge. Hilarious… They make me feel young again.

Camera Class

ISO, filters, and shutter speed

Aperture, depth of field are foreign to me

Feeling frustrated with all the new vocabulary

Searching for connections and knowing that I need

Time to process, practice and hands on learning to see

How to understand my camera and have it apply to ME

The Sun is Coming Out

This week has been gorgeous! Sunny, warm days (40’s and 50’s) with no wind. We typically get 30 or more mph winds in my town in Wyoming and so it seems quiet and still when compared to the winter storms and freezing temperatures of recent days.

First, it seemed that winter would never end and then suddenly the sun is out.

Yesterday in my small math group reminded me of the sun coming out for one of my students. It’s 4th grade and we’re dealing with some difficult concepts with fractions and finding common denominators, LCM etc. It’s all very overwhelming. These are tasks that I wasn’t introduced to until 6th grade. But I digress, back to yesterday.

“This doesn’t make sense,” he said as we’re finding least common multiples, equivalent fractions and finally adding them and simplify. “Whew”

“Okay,” I say, “Let’s back up the bus.” We get out the fraction bars and we talk about the why….. why are we doing this and what’s the purpose.

“OH,” he says, “I get it.”

I love it when the sun comes out.

Wigs, scarves, hats

Wigs, scarves and hats

Getting so tired of that

What will the children say?

……I’m a little bit afraid

Cute earrings and a smile

Some blush and red lips

Shrugs.. not so bad…

I can do this,

just take a deep breath

And at school the crazy comments I get

” Mrs. Worrell, I like your haircut” brings a smile to my face

I want to laugh and cry in the very same space

Ta Dah!
Thank you twowritingteachers