Writing is especially challenging for students with disabilities, as 19 out of every 20 of these students experience difficulty learning to write. In order to maximize writing growth, effective instructional practices need to be applied in the general education classroom where many students with special needs are educated. This should minimize special education referrals and maximize the progress of these students as writers. Evidence-based writing practices for the general education classroom include ensuring that students write frequently for varying purposes; creating a pleasant and motivating writing environment; supporting students as they compose; teaching critical skills, processes, and knowledge; and using 21st-century writing tools. It is also important to be sure that practices specifically effective for enhancing the writing growth of students with special needs are applied in both general and special education settings (where some students with disabilities may receive part or all of their writing instruction). This includes methods for preventing writing disabilities, tailoring instruction to meet individual student needs, addressing roadblocks that can impede writing growth, and using specialized writing technology that allows these students to circumvent one or more of their writing challenges.
April Camping and Steve Graham
Anne Elrod Whitney and Yamil Sarraga-Lopez
The National Writing Project (NWP) is a network of professional development sites focusing on the improvement of writing across schools and communities. Its origins as the Bay Area Writing Project led to a professional development model of teachers teaching teachers, a concept that hinges upon recognition of teachers’ knowledge and their capacity to become leaders within their professional community. In the ensuing years, with early financial support from the US government in the form of an initial grant and an eventual direct federal line item, the NWP expanded from one location to over 200 local sites across the USA’s 50 states and territories as well as international sites. These US and international sites, created in partnership with local universities or colleges, offer localized support to teachers of writing. The project’s model involves an intensive summer institute in which teachers spend their time writing, reading, and sharing their knowledge about writing practices and teaching. While its focus is on the teaching of writing across all levels and disciplines, the project has become a model example of a professional learning and development network. As such, the NWP has created a legacy in teacher learning and development that many within the field of teacher professional development wish to emulate. An examination of this history, highlighting the project’s beginnings within the Bay Area Writing Project and its eventual expansion, speaks to the vision that has driven its success.
In the digital era, written communication for children and youth is changing. As texts and media include complex intersections of print, image, sound, and other modalities, the ways in which writing is conceived is shifting. The evolution and impact of digital technologies follow a long history of invention, innovation, and change in written communication, with critiques of writing and communication technologies present in both historical and contemporary contexts. A new development in contemporary digital culture is the significant and widespread participation of children and youth in digital media and communication due to the ubiquity, affordances, and appeal of mobile digital devices. In the history of writing instruction, pedagogical approaches and perspectives have continued to evolve, with the teaching of writing at times positioned as subordinate to the teaching of reading, a pattern that has repeated into the digital era in which an emphasis on digital writing production and text creation has been similarly less of a focus than receptive consumption of media. Shifts in digital practice and the emergence of new devices for writing present both challenges and opportunities for the teaching of writing and the creation of texts in schools, with issues of digital resource provision and access to technology presenting hurdles for some teachers. Teacher awareness of the digital worlds, practices, and “funds of knowledge” that students are bringing to the writing classroom is vital to reimagining the writing classroom within contemporary digital culture. In the 21st century, writing instruction needs to be inclusive of the operational demands of writing as well as sociocultural and critical requirements, in addition to responding to fluid technoliteracy contexts and consideration of how “writing” itself is changing.