What is independent writing?  Writing is constructing messages through traditional orthography to communicate for a purpose.  So, for our discussion, we are not talking about tracing with a pencil and paper.  We are considering how we teach students to communicate messages, share information, thoughts, feelings and ideas through traditional writing.  Writing is addressed in a wide variety of ways in the special education classroom, many of which are steeped in tradition, but not exactly steeped in current research based efficacy.  Koppenhaver & Erickson (2020) write,

  • "tracing,
  • copying letters and words,
  • choosing words or pictures to complete fill-in-the-blank sentences,
  • reordering letters to spell words or words to make sentences,
  • composing texts by selecting and arranging choices from word banks or picture symbols arrays,
  • and memorizing lists of words for spelling tests."

None of these practices teaches typically developing students or students with disabilities how to use traditional orthography to communicate their own thoughts independently to different audiences for a variety of purposes." Koppenhaver &. Erickson, 2020, pg. 141.  

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So, what can we do to encourage students to write more??

Teach through Editing

  • Time to write every day using the alphabet​
  • Respond to first drafts with interest and feedback about the content, not the spelling or writing itself (Goal is to encourage writing  for the purpose of expressing themselves, without fear of making mistakes)
  • Support topic selection through individual development of photo collections and categories they are personally interested in (take photos around the environment, search though magazines, photo collections online (Flickr); drawing, Gimme 5 Activity, Can't Stop Writing activity, Class Experience Lists
  • Models and Writing Demonstrations: Now You See It, Now You Don't, Tell Me More Dialogic Writing, Mentor Texts to teach structure
  • Value and Encourage Writing by responding in meaningful ways to the content of the writing (do your best because this can be tricky with beginning writers!) talking about the content, topic choice or a specific element of the writing.  THEN encourage them to "tell me more!" to encourage more writing.
  • Create Accepting and Responsive Writing Environments:  teach classmates and class visitors specific feedback they are encourage (expected?) to offer (the best thing is..., one question I have is..., one way you can make this even better is....)

for detailed intervention strategies, please see Erickson & Koppenhaver, pgs, 144-150

3 Activities to Get You Started:  

10-Minute Mini Lesson

Independent Writing Time and Teacher Conferencing​

Author’s Chair


References Consulted

Comprehensive Literacy for All: Teaching Students with Significant Disabilities to Read and Write, by Karen A. Erickson and David Koppenhaver, Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co, 2020, pp. 141-162.


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