Handwriting is one of the most essential skills for learners all over the world. It is something that can be a challenging skill for learners with special needs to master. As educators, we have the responsibility to help children learn this skill, and this can be achieved by implementing a learning program. A well-devised learning program for people with special needs consists of: a teaching plan, a practice plan, and a measurement plan.
According to Elizabeth Haughton, a highly recognized educational consultant with over 25 years of experience, a teaching plan has to take into consideration the following:
- Posture, the position of the paper, and pencil holding
- Marks, numbers, and letter formations
- The spacing of words and the ability for a learner to copy from a board or other paper
- Modeling OFTEN
- Showing support through modeling, gestural, verbal and physical prompts
The speed and neatness of writing are the criteria that define acceptable levels of writing by learners. If possible, the learner should be encouraged to self-evaluate their writing. It is suggested that they are asked to think about what they wrote well and have them consider what they may need to work on more. Teachers should be modeling acceptable formations of specific letters or words. Lastly, the task should be enjoyable and never tedious.
In order for a child with special needs to be successful in writing, they need repetition and implantation of a practice plan. A practice plan to achieve outstanding results should take these components into consideration:
- The accuracy and frequency of what they’re writing are equally important
- Practice for the learner can be timed or untimed
- The usage of multi-channels like think-write (learner thinks about something then writes about it), see-write-copy (sees something, writes something then copies it), and hear-write (hears something out loud and then writes it)
- Setting effective goals and clear expectations for the learner
- Honoring the learner by reinforcing them with what they like
- Always try to create fun for the learner when they are practicing
There are a variety of activities teachers can implement such as: filling in coloring pages with different marks (lines, dots, circles, etc.), drawing pictures, using templates that they can make designs in or color in, using practice sheets that require a variety of different writing to be completed, and using drawing sheets that explain how to draw something step by step. Teachers can use doodle books which can be fun and relaxing for the learner and help develop fine motor movements. Doing a combination of these things can help the learner practice while growing their endurance and strength in their hand. If the child has many difficulties writing, teachers can use a blank piece of paper then gradually move to big boxes to small boxes to lines for the learner to write in.
The key to making the complex task of writing more manageable is breaking it down to smaller goals. Teachers should not give children too much at once to practice. Haughton states that we need to follow the child and not a curriculum guide because curriculum guides or writing books are not meant to match children with special needs. Skipping pages and supplementing the writing book (similar to task analysis or shaping) can be useful. Furthermore, the way to know if the small writing goals are achievable is by gauging the learner’s attitude, the teacher’s attitude, and the data taken from what the learner does.
If making marks is difficult for the learner, doing more fine motor practicing by: tracing, dot to dot maze books, coloring, using multiple utensils like paint, markers, crayons, and pens, building with legos or blocks, using a workbench with tools, and cooking by stirring, pouring, rolling and scooping. The last idea she proposes to help develop fine motor skills is to engage the learner in a Big 6 + 6 exercise, which is a series of manual movements the child can practice. The teacher should gather a variety of manipulatives like play-doh, squishy balls, blocks, spray bottles etc., and have the learners do the following like this example:
Big 6 Reach, point, place, touch, grasp, release
+6 Pull, push, shake, squeeze, twist, tap
These are all ways the learner can practice writing or get ready for that task if they need to first practice fine motor movements.
The final thing Haughton describes that teachers need for an effective learning plan is a measurement plan. The measurement plan takes the following components to invoke precision teaching:
It is imperative that when teachers measure, they make sure the learner knows how to perform the learning outcome asked of them. Also having the learner, if possible, count what is correct and incorrect from their writing, and consider using a time sample if appropriate. Teachers need to record and chart progress on a graph either on paper or on a computer. A child reaches writing fluency when they can write with accuracy and speed. Measuring the learner’s work will provide the necessary information for how the child is progressing with their writing.
Mastering how to write is important for every person because it is a skill they will use their entire lives. Therefore, having a learning plan in place with a well-devised teaching plan, practice plan, and measurement plan will lead the learner to writing fluency. These are all these suggestions that should be considered when teaching writing skills to students who have special needs.
References: Haughton, E. (2020, April). Retrieved from institute.centrealreach.com