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.


3 thoughts on “Using Technology to Support Students with Learning Differences in Writer’s Workshop

  1. Thanks for sharing these ideas, Vanessa. The low-tech ones are so easy to implement and can make such a difference for young writers, and tech specialists are some of the most underused resources in districts. Great reminder to invite them in and let them bring their expertise!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m going to tinker around with co-writer, snap and read, and the universal word bank this summer. I think my daughter might be able to benefit from those.

    Great suggestions! THANK YOU for contributing to our series on supporting learning support students.

    Liked by 1 person

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