Writing Adventures (WA) is a process approach program designed to address the conventional, linguistic, and cognitive aspects of writing. Emphasis is put on syntactical knowledge or the function of a word or word cluster within a sentence. The facility and understanding of syntactic structure fosters both oral and written language comprehension and expression. The premise is that if children understand each part of a sentence and its function, they will improve their ability to formulate linguistically sound sentences.
Background/Review of Literature
So much of the recent research on learning disabilities is focused on developing reading skills. However, difficulty with writing coexists with reading deficits in a comprehensive written language disability. While researchers, therapists, and other specialist have made excellent strides in developing reading skills, writing tends to be a more persistent problem. According to Virginia Berninger of the University of Washington, "...some children have simply not had a program of coordinated, explicit instruction in all the component skills needed to develop a functional writing system."
Research on teaching children with learning disabilities emphasizes the need for a process approach. In a process approach, emphasizes is put on the thinking processes the writer engages in during writing. Janet Lerner in her book, Learning Disabilities: Theories, Diagnosis and Teaching Strategies, states "Teachers are encouraged to understand the complexity of the writing task and to help students in the many of the needed thinking, selecting, and organizing tasks."
Jean Gudaitis Tarricone, in The Landmark Method for Teaching Writing, enumerates the common deficits in learning disabled students: organizational; comprehension; processing; language; memory; motor; and higher order thinking. A functional writing system must address these areas of weakness and do so in a manner that fosters automaticity with the writing process.
Writing Adventures (WA) is designed in such a way that it addresses all the weaknesses of learning disabled students and emphasizes the process of writing. As educational therapist working solely with the learning disabled, the authors of Writing Adventures have fine tuned an approach that has been effective with their students and is consistent with current research.
How does Writing Adventures address the seven common deficits listed above?
Organizational Deficits: WA provides students with the necessary tools to effectively organize their thoughts starting with the most basic sentence.
Processing Deficits: WA helps students to decide what and how to write. Every grammatical component of a sentence, paragraph, or essay is taught systematically and sequentially. Prompts or queries help students generate text.
Language Deficits: WA teaches how to construct sentences, paragraphs, narratives, and essays starting at the most basic level.
Comprehension Deficits: WA materials use bolded words to direct students to the main theme of the lesson. All instructions are simple and concise so as to not overwhelm the student. Each new lesson builds upon prior lessons.
Memory Deficits: WA provides ample opportunity for practice and review. Mastery tests are provided for teachers to assess students before advancing to the next level. Students follow a four step learning processIdentify, Construct, Write, and Apply.
Motor Deficits: WA materials provide large space for writing. Each lesson is visually consistent with previous lessons and is very easy to follow.
Higher-Order Thinking Deficits: WA materials always follow the same approach when introducing new material. All steps in the writing process are clearly defined. Graphic organizers are key to paragraph, narrative, and essay construction. Students learn to read essay questions and to look for key words.
The program starts at the most basic subject-verb sentence or "kernel sentence" and systematically builds a childs ability to write lengthier and more complex sentences. WA also emphasizes the structure and organization of paragraphs, narratives, and four types of expository essays compare/contrast, persuasive, informational, and operational. Again the program begins at the most basic level and systematically builds in linguistic complexity.
Mastery and fluency in written expression are the primary goals of the WA program. Lessons are delivered in small, highly structured units, build upon previously learned material, and provide plenty of opportunity for practice. Each lesson follows a four step learning process:
1. Identify - Student must identify the grammatical components of sentences or paragraphs.
2. Construct - Student constructs sentences given sentence parts.
3. Write - Student is asked to write sentences using newly learned material. Stimulus is provided.
4. Apply - Student applies newly learned material to journal writing. Stimulus is provided.
This method of delivery is designed to increase metacognition or the childs ability to write with independence and confidence.
Best of all, and that which makes WA unique and friendly, is the use of reinforcement games and activities. Every level of the program provides a less structured time when children play games that reinforce learned concepts. Such games include Punctuation Playland in which players choose a card, read a sentence, and fix the punctuation. The game is structured in three levels so children can practice higher levels of punctuation. For more advanced students there is Advanced Sentence Combining in which players are presented with two or three short sentences which have to be combined using prepositional phrases or "subject-describer phrases".
The hallmarks of WA are Create-A-Story: The Creative Writing Game which teaches narrative writing and Stepping Stones: The Expository Writing Game which teaches the four essay types mentioned previously.
The games allow for a less structured time, yet they continue to teach and reinforce written expression skills. More importantly, the games provide opportunity for success. The more children feel success with written expression the less frustration and dread they will feel. It is a way to release the writers block that plagues so many children.
The WA program can be used by teachers and specialists, including speech and language pathologists. Lessons can be delivered to an entire class, a small group, or one-to-one. WA not only builds written expression skills, but also encourages the development of oral language expression and oral and written comprehension.