A Letter from Donna Austin
Co-Author of the Writing Adventures System
Writing Adventures (WA) has taken four years to reach its present level of development. The program continues to be nurtured, and new elements will be added in the next year or so. WA would not be possible without my day to day experiences with LD students. Most of my students have language-based learning disabilities such as dyslexia or language comprehension difficulties. However, Ive had the privilege to work with a unique set of children with Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities (NLD). These children have some of the same weaknesses that other LD students have, but they are unique in that they have difficulties we, as teachers, have seldom taken in to account. My experience with NLD has greatly shaped the WA program. Id like to share with you how WA addresses the unique needs of the NLD population.
Ideation/Passive Learning Style NLD students, while generally possessing strong verbal skills, have difficulty generating ideas. They tend to be passive and respond only to what is before them. One reason for the poor ideation is weakness in generating and maintaining a visual image. Mental imagery is how most of us think, plan, and ideate, but this is not so with NLD students. Therefore, it is best to provide NLD students with physical visual stimuli or auditory prompts to generate ideas. WA uses simple physical pictures to help students generate parts of speech such as nouns, verbs and adjectives. Its important to help the NLD student notice the gestalt of the picture as well as the details. Be sure they notice the background and foreground. Be sure they recognize what is the most important and what is the least important. Use the Noun, Verb and Adjective charts to help students generate word banks that will be used to construct sentences.
This passive learning style tends to lend itself to brevity. While brevity has its place, NLD students need help fully explaining their ideas. The Sentence Builder worksheet is an excellent tool because it allows the student to self-monitor the content of his sentences and notice what information could be added to make it more powerful and meaningful. Also, the Paragraph Expander Outline is a useful tool. It allows students to add sentences that elaborate ideas and provide examples. It is simply and consistently organized to make the process easy. Finally, the detailed essay outlines which are specific to each essay type yet similar in appearance and organization, provide students with explicit steps and prompts to elaborate ideas.
Difficulty with Executive Function, Organization & Pattern Recognition When writing paragraphs and essays, help NLD students brainstorm ideas using a web or Venn diagram. Be consistent in your use and provide students with the 5 ws who, what, where, when, why and how. Dont assume they think in this way, because they dont. You must always provide explicit prompts. Allow the student to dictate his/her thoughts to you or use a software program such as Inspiration. However, use words, not pictures, and do not clutter the web. All of my NLD students, after modeling and several repetitions, are able to write in their own ideas on a web so long as I provide the 5-ws.
When transferring ideas from the brainstorm to the outline dont assume anything. This is a task that requires a lot of organization and sequencing. First, have the student order their ideas on the web by numbering them in order. Then, put the same numbers on the outline so the student knows exactly where to place the information. Writing only key words may be difficult for the NLD student. Therefore, we have provided plenty of room and large spacing for writing complete sentences. Most of my students like to write complete sentences on their outline and use this as the rough draft. Great idea! It saves a step in the process.
Students must use the graphic organizers again and again. Explicitly explain the pattern of a paragraph or essay. Dont assume they see it. Once you explain it and they get it, practice, practice, practice.
Finally, the Stepping Stones game is so explicit and step-by-step, its perfect for NLD students. Its like executive function in a game. They never have to worry about what comes next or about missing a step. Its impossible to skip a step in the game. When they are done, they will have a complete essay and it only takes 1-2 hours to complete. If they dont want to move pawns on the board, put the numbered cards in order on a ring and students can use the cards to guide them in the process.
Motoric WA provides large spacing and plenty of room for handwriting. We dont count off for spelling. Close is good enough for us. Theres nothing wrong with allowing a student to dictate now and then to rest his/her hand. Most of all, keyboard, keyboard, keyboard. I have some excellent NLD key boarders on my student load. We are working now to put our graphic organizers on a simple to use software, but it may be a while so use other software such as Inspiration or Spark. They arent quite as user friendly for NLD kids, but hopefully well have something soon.
So in a nutshell, heres how WA provides the necessary components of a structured writing program.
- Structure WA teaches and provides structure from a simple kernel sentences all the way up to essays and narratives.
- Break tasks down WA assumes nothing. Every little part of writing is taught explicitly in a step-by-step, mastery oriented method.
- Explicit step-by-step instructions and clear expectations Again, WA assumes nothing. We must always be clear, never skip a step, and teach until they get it and master it.
- Clear simple outlines All WA materials are visually simplistic, consistent, and very clear.
- Consistency WA constantly reviews skills, uses consistent visual outlines, and absolutely believes in practice, practice, practice.
I hope this helps parents, tutors and teachers of NLD students to see the utility of Writing Adventures. Ive had great success with they methods and materials and I hope you do too. We appreciate and respond to all questions, so please feel free to email us.
Ive attached some student examples for you to look at. This is the work of and NLD fifth grader and ninth grader. It is possible to teach written expression to NLD students and I think youll find this approach easy to use for you and the student.
Donna Austin, M.Ed