Written Expression

Writing is not a simple task. It involves a complex process of using and coordinating various cognitive processes. Thus, a lot of students, especially those with disabilities, find the task challenging. Writing proficiency is vital for success both inside and outside the classroom.

It is crucial to identify classroom practices and writing instructions that have been scientifically proven effective in writing intervention studies. A student must either be taught the skills of written expression to their maximum ability, or supports should be in place to accommodate the lack of skills

This article will:

  • Define written expression.
  • Explain the importance of written expression.
  • Give simple but relevant facts about written expression and IEPs.
  • Provide a summary of the effective (and ineffective!) practices to provide writing instructions to students.

What is Written Expression | Definition

Written expression addresses different purposes. In school, for example, a student is expected to use writing as an aid for learning new information (such as summarizing and note-taking), communicating their understanding and knowledge (such as open-ended essay answers, and giving short answers to test questions), and expressing themselves (through poetry and journaling).

When writing, a student performs various mental operations. These include:

  • Understanding the topic
  • Recalling knowledge about the topic to address the writing task.
  • Using knowledge of the writing process to convert ideas and thoughts into written words.

A lot of factors, including the student’s self-advocacy and self-monitoring skills of their own writing abilities, determine how well they can balance the many cognitive demands and processes necessary in writing.

Also, other skills related to writing, like spelling and handwriting skills, affect the student’s ability to effectively express their ideas and thoughts in written form.

If a child has reading disabilities, it is often quite likely that they will struggle with writing too.

Why is Written Expression Important?

Written communication plays a crucial role in a student’s success in school. Teachers measure a student’s understanding, knowledge, and progress mainly through written products. Writing is a powerful learning tool.

When students write, they critically think and reflect on new information. This allows them to develop a deeper, new understanding of the topic. Writing also offers a way for students to express themselves.

Outside school, writing is also used for communication in everyday life such as making a grocery list and sending a text message or email to friends or family.

In the workforce, effective written communication is also important to succeed. According to employers, written expression skills have become an advantage for some positions. Writing skills are assessed when considering applicants for hiring or for promotions.

Evaluating Written Expression

If your child struggles to write, request comprehensive evaluations. I have gone over how to ask for evaluations and how to understand your IEP evaluations in other posts. But since this is such an important skill, it’s important to catch it and address it early.

Teaching Written Expression

  • Develop the background knowledge. To develop the necessary vocabulary, knowledge, and concepts for learning the strategies and understanding subsequent lessons, teachers typically read texts. They also start to discuss the writing strategies and procedures for self-regulation that students need to learn.
  • Discuss the strategy. Teachers assess the student’s present writing and self-regulating skills. They ask the students to set the goals for their writing tasks in the future. Together (the teacher and students) discuss the importance of learning the strategy. Aside from the benefits, they also discuss when it is used, and how to generalize it to new situations and settings. The teachers will ask the students for a commitment.
  • Model using the strategy. The teacher must model using the writing strategy as well as self-regulation procedures through the think-aloud approach. When the students start to appreciate the skills and imbibe the strategy, the teacher then moves up to collaborative modeling. This involves getting more input from the students to assist them in writing. The teacher continues to discuss ways to generalize the strategy as well as the self-regulation skills under new settings.
  • Memorize the strategy. It is then reinforced throughout the process. The teacher asks the students to memorize the strategies using mnemonics. This way, students can automatically recall the steps. The teacher gradually fades the reminders (for instance, checklists on the students’ desks and posters), as the students learn to memorize the strategies and mnemonics.
  • Support the strategy learned. The teacher reinforces the students’ use of the strategy and compliance with the regulation procedures. In this phase, there may be students that require more teacher modeling and prompting. Others, on the other hand, might be ready to independently apply the strategy.
  • Encourage independent performance. The students use self-regulation skills and writing strategies on their own. The teacher continues to strengthen the plans to maintain and generalize the new skills learned to other situations and settings.

Teaching Written Expression: What Works and What Doesn’t

Outdated PracticeExplanation
Offer direct grammar instruction.Clear instructions in parts of speech and sentence structure have been proven to negatively impact a student’s writing. Based on research, grammar instructions inserted in writing activities can be a viable alternative to old grammar instruction.
As they write, let the students work out the writing process on their own.Teachers think that students will figure out the writing process components if they have sufficient time to write. While some students may do it on their own, studies reveal that students with disabilities would often need direct writing instructions on the writing process elements to gain writing proficiency.
Ask the students to observe a linear process.While students must learn the writing process steps, teachers must not require strict compliance to these steps. The teachers must instead reiterate that an effective writer revisits or repeats steps as necessary. This means being able to critique your own work and improve it. Many students with learning disabilities struggle with sequencing.
Define and craft the writing process without encouraging students to independently use writing skills.Research proves that this isn’t enough in describing and modeling the writing process. Students must have guided practice before they can use writing genres and writing skills independently.
Teach students the writing process without giving direct writing skills instruction.Most students with disabilities may find direct writing process instructions insufficient. They usually need explicit writing skills instructions including spelling, handwriting, and typing, to be better writers. With better transcription skills, they will have more room in their working memory for the meaning, purpose, and content of their written text.
 Try InsteadReasoning
Teach the students the writing process steps.Teach the students to adhere to the process: 1) planning, 2) drafting, 3) revising, 4) editing, and 5) publishing, when writing for realistic purposes and audiences. Craft the processes to be recursive. It must also allow to be revisited and repeated throughout the process.
Allow students to select or set their writing product goals.Offer students their written product goals like adding 3 more sentences, revising to add 5 more adjectives, or including all parts of the story. When the students learn to efficiently meet goals set by the instructor, give them several goal choices to meet. They should eventually learn to set their own writing goals.
Encourage students to use word processing software for their writing assignments.Offer instructions in keyboarding and computer-aided editing for written assignments. Since a lot of students with disabilities have difficulty in handwriting, using a computer to write eliminates these barriers.
Ask students to dictate texts to a scribe or a tape recorder.Dictation, like word processing software, gets rid of writing barriers such as handwriting or spelling difficulties. The teacher can jot down the response of the students as they speak out loud. The students then read what the teacher wrote down, editing and revising as necessary. The students can alternately dictate their response into a recorder, then play it back to listen and jot down what they hear.
Offer feedback during the writing processGive frequent, specific feedback as students write on their texts’ quality, strengths, and missing elements. Their peers can also offer feedback, provided they’re given training on giving writing feedback. They can also be paired to help them provide useful advice and insight.
Encourage students to write for different purposes (different genres, for instance).Give clear instructions in the elements of various writing genres such as persuasive, informational, and narrative. Model and discuss each genre’s elements, giving procedural supports and cues until the students can independently recall the text structure and genre elements.
Teach writing strategies.Discuss strategies for planning, writing, editing, and revising. The teacher must model the strategies and give time to the students to practice. The goal is to use the strategies independently. To achieve maximum effectiveness, clearly teach the students to regulate and monitor their progress in learning and adopting the writing strategies.

Written Expression and SLDs

So many sub-skills or pre-skills go into effective written expression. It’s a very complex skill to address, but a necessary life skill. I have not even touched on fine motor/OT portion of writing, or using Assistive Technology.

As always, present your child with opportunities to self-advocate so that they can be a partner in improvement.

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