Jeff is a bright 10th grader who has generally been a strong student, though he has had some difficulties since middle school. In particular, for the past couple of years he has been receiving poor grades on writing assignments, especially on essays and research papers.
Jeff does well on most tests and evaluations and is well thought of by most of his teachers. However, his papers, reports, and essay tests usually return with the same messages: “disorganized”, “needs more clarification”, “incomplete”. The continued negative feedback on writing assignments frustrates Jeff and he has begun to feel humiliated about it. “I don’t get it,” he says, “I rewrote that essay twice and it still comes back with marks all over it!”
Jeff’s family lives on a horse ranch. The family provides stable boarding for horses and his mother gives riding lessons. Jeff is an accomplished rider himself, having grown up closely with the horses. He enjoys riding over the hills behind his home, where remains of houses from an old homestead stand. Sometimes Jeff sits on the hill and makes sketches of the houses and landscape.
- Generally strong performance background
- Does well on most tests and evaluations
- Well thought of by most teachers
- Accomplished rider
- Enjoys horseback riding
- Makes sketches of the homestead and the landscape
- Negative feedback on writing assignments (disorganized, etc.)
- Feels frustrated and humiliated about writing
- Doesn’t understand why feedback from writing assignments do not match his efforts
Managing Jeff’s difficulties in writing may begin with a discussion in which Jeff is made aware of his strengths and his specific areas in need of improvement. Give Jeff an opportunity to discuss the frustration he feels with writing and the negative feedback he receives. Help him see the specific problems that are impeding his ability to write the kind of papers he and others would like, and the path that can be taken to improve these problems. Provide Jeff with a sense of belief in his abilities, and optimism for improving his skills and his grades in writing.
Specific strategies in a management plan might include a balance of accommodations and interventions, as well as an integration of Jeff’s strengths and affinities.
Leveraging Strengths and Affinities:
- Jeff is both skilled and interested in horseback riding. Allow Jeff to use that topic of interest as a starting point for building his skills in written expression.
- Explore Jeff’s interest in sketching. Is this something he enjoys because of the architecture, the landscape; does he enjoy sketching at other times? When his interests in this activity are further explored, it may become a useful tool for managing his growing frustrations about writing. For example, he may enjoy illustrating a story written by another student, or he may want to explore the architectural history of the homestead as a project.
- Because Jeff is generally well thought of by his teachers, there is a good chance that one of these teachers will be willing to work as a writing ‘coach’ or mentor with Jeff. This coaching may involve providing some scaffolding for Jeff, teaching him specific strategies for organization and editing and gradually allowing him to become more independent in the use of such strategies.
Accommodations and Interventions:
- Promote the staging of writing tasks, including the use of writing conferences with Jeff. Have Jeff read aloud his drafts to you or to a partner to “hear” the flow and organizational quality. Provide guidelines to Jeff for breaking down the writing process into a series of manageable steps and templates of report or essay developers to help guide him through the appropriate steps. Have him focus on the separate stages of the writing process that are weakest for him. Stage the evaluation requirements of written work, as well, rather than evaluating the document as a whole.
- Allow Jeff more time for written responses on essay tests, or reports, when staging is encouraged. When applicable, use a multiple-choice, matching, or short answer format rather than essay.
- Allow Jeff to do writing that is not graded to encourage risk-free skill development and self-evaluation.
- Have Jeff practice identifying the parts of an essay or report in terms of the beginning, middle or ending. Have him complete an essay or report when given a specified beginning or ending.
- Introduce Jeff to different types of essay questions, and to key words that identify what is being asked for, e.g., compare, contrast, trace the development, describe, discuss, define and give examples. Give Jeff examples of prototypical answers, and have him practice writing each kind.
- Teach Jeff how to create his own concept maps as one way to organize a topic before writing an essay on that topic, for example organizing a broad topic, e.g., horses, into sub-topics, e.g., grooming, riding, etc.
- Provide Jeff with a computer program that guides outlining and graphic organizing. Computer programs with templates that allow Jeff to move back and forth between an outline form and a concept map will build his organizational skills.
- Teach Jeff effective topic elaboration as well as summarization skills. Have him identify situations in which more elaboration or less detail (summarization) would be more effective.
- Make examples of quality written work available for Jeff. Draw Jeff’s attention to the relationship between specific qualities of the work and the grades received (e.g., “Please notice that the students who received an ‘A’ did… students who received a ‘B’ did…”, etc.).
- Give Jeff a specific strategy to follow to guide his writing, such as ‘POWER’ (Plan: audience, purpose, background- Organize: categorize and order ideas- Write- Extend- Revise and Rewrite).
- Offer structure and guidance to help Jeff learn to successfully monitor his written work. Provide a list of questions to start the self-monitoring process, such as “Am I clear on the point of the essay question? Have I connected each point to what I’ve already written?”, etc. Require a 24-48 hour delay between the completion of written products and proofreading/editing. A chart may be helpful to get Jeff started (see below). With experience, he can move from teacher guidance toward independent self-monitoring.
|Monitoring the Writing Process|
|Pre-writing Planning||Not Enough||Just Right||Too Long|
|Sources or Resources Used||Need More||Just Enough||Too Many|
|Number of Ideas Generated||Need More||Just Enough||Too Many|