Veronica is a 12-year-old seventh grader. She is enrolled in a small suburban school district that draws from nearby rural communities as well as a small but growing bedroom community for a large urban area. Veronica was an above average student throughout her elementary school years (kindergarten-fifth grade). A review of her 3rd-5th grade report cards revealed that she never received lower than a C in any of the content areas (i.e., Social Studies, Science, English/Reading, Mathematics). She consistently received her highest grades in Science and Mathematics and her lowest grades in English and Reading. The grade trends of 3rd-5th grade have continued into the middle school years.
Veronica is passionate about the ocean and ocean mammals. Her goal in life is to become either a dolphin trainer or a marine biologist. Her sixth and seventh grade Science teachers reported that she always wanted to read books (fiction and non-fiction) about the ocean almost to the exclusion of other possibilities. She has never read a book from the Harry Potter series. Veronica also told her seventh-grade English teacher her goal for the year is to read Moby Dick. Veronica’s Social Studies teacher stated that most of Veronica’s reports in her class have focused on issues related to oceans.
Although Veronica’s teachers have made positive comments about her insatiable appetite for literature about the ocean, they also voice concerns about her inability to produce on paper what she processes when she listens or reads. Veronica’s writing (and at times her speech in class) is concrete, colorless, and effortful. She begins writing assignments almost before her teachers have given her the instructions. Impulsively underway with her writing, she tends to use the same vocabulary over and over again in short direct sentences (i.e., noun-verb). Typically, even long-term writing assignments fill only 1/2 to 1 page.
All of her teachers know Veronica has more knowledge stored away in her memory than she has ever revealed. Her English teacher noted that although writing is effortful for her, Veronica seems to use a normal tri-pod grip with adequate pressure on the pencil. She never complains of her arm becoming tired or hurting when she writes. Veronica’s parents noted that her production on the keyboard is laborious when she tries to “. . . think about what she wants to type as she types.” However, Veronica can re-type a piece of writing that has been given to her almost as fast as her 14 year-old sister who has taken a keyboarding class.
Concerns about Veronica’s ability to communicate her ideas through writing stand in stark contrast to her strong social output with her many friends and acquaintances. Veronica uses her peer group’s language without hesitation and in such a way as to always be understood no matter the audience. Her social language abilities seem to be used effortlessly, and when she commits a social faux pas she quickly rebounds so no lasting damage is done. Her ability reflects well-developed self-monitoring functions, rapid retrieval of recuperative strategies, and sophisticated social cognitive functions.
- Mathematics and Science
- Good listening and reading skills
- Reading fiction and non-fiction books about the ocean and ocean mammals
- Social cognition-many friends and acquaintances
- Expressive language in social settings
- Fine motor production-re-typing already produced pieces
- Adequate graphomotor function-Normal tri-pod grip with appropriate pressure
- The ocean
- Ocean mammals
Areas in Need of Improvement:
- Written language-using a more diverse pool of technical vocabulary when writing
- Automatizing key words and phrases to facilitate written production
- Metalinguistic awareness
- Using a problem-solving approach to writing
Potential Management Plan:
Veronica would benefit from a discussion in which she thinks and talks about her own strengths and weaknesses. Comparing her difficulties in writing with her strengths in social abilities, for example, may help her see how she can learn to apply the same planning and self-monitoring to writing that she uses in social situations. Provide Veronica with a sense of optimism and belief in her abilities.
Specific strategies in a management plan might include a balance of accommodations and interventions, as well as an integration of Veronica’s strengths and affinities.
Leveraging Strengths and Affinities:
- Allow Veronica to use her interests as a starting point for building her skills in written expression.
- Team Veronica with a classmate who has strong writing skills for collaborative projects. For example, the pair may write a report on oceanography or another scientific topic in which Veronica has some expertise. Veronica can provide the information while her partner transcribes the report.
- Veronica’s strong social abilities may be put to use in improving her writing by having her collaborate with others to create a play or a dramatic story that is then presented to the class.
Accommodations and Interventions:
- Provide Veronica with models of completed written assignments in order to give her a sense of how a final product should look. For example, make reports and papers from last year available and draw her attention to specific qualities of the work.
- Encourage Veronica to have a tape recorder handy into which she can record her thoughts and ideas for later writing.
- Have Veronica use a word processing program on computer to develop templates, or plans for completing writing tasks. She can use the template again and again for future writing assignments.
- Stage writing tasks (break them into smaller steps) to enable Veronica to complete manageable steps, assigning each step (or group of steps) to a particular time period. Teach Veronica how to stage tasks herself, for example providing her with a blank time line, flow chart, or task web that she fills in with steps of the writing task.
- Provide a checklist of steps that she can use, i.e.,
- topic selection, brainstorming and data collection
- planning (identify audience, organize ideas, develop concept map)
- generate first draft
- evaluate and revise
- final proof
- Encourage Veronica to think about how much time a writing assignment will take in order to do well and how she should budget her time accordingly.
- Have Veronica mark her progress towards reaching a certain goal for improving her written output, such as writing a 2-page paper. Graphic recording (plotting their own progress on a graph) may be particularly reinforcing to some students.
- Provide questions to trigger Veronica’s metacognition regarding her own output. Example questions could include: Do I know anything about this topic that will help me write about it? Do I know a strategy that will help me with this task?
- Provide acronyms to help Veronica remember necessary steps during tasks that require active working memory. For example, in writing she may use the proofreading strategy COPS (Capitalization-Organization-Punctuation-Spelling).
- Substitute project-type activities, such as models, scrapbooks, demonstrations, book illustrations, photography, pantomime, and mobiles for written reports when appropriate.
- Explore the usefulness of computer software programs, such as INSPIRATION, for helping Veronica learn concept mapping, outlining, and organizing her writing.
- Include instructional activities that promote vocabulary development in order to enhance Veronica’s word usage and expressive abilities. For example,
- Give her opportunities to apply new vocabulary she has learned to her writing and class discussions.
- Have her replace high frequency words in her writing with more colorful or descriptive words.