Weblogging can assist students with disabilities

Each day, members of Individualized Education Program (IEP) teams support students with disabilities who have trouble writing. Many students with mild disabilities know that they want to write but have difficulty with the mechanics of translating those thoughts to paper. They often disregard language skills such as spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Some students’ thoughts move so quickly that their writing seems to jump haphazardly from one topic to the next. Other students spell and construct sentences but have problems generalizing and synthesizing ideas. (CEC Technology in Action Vol 1, Issue 6, May 2005, page 1)

My students are struggling writers, hesitant writers, in short, they abhor writing. They are the students whose score in SAT 9 range from below basic to below basic. They are diagnosed with either Learning Disability and/or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Every teacher in every school in every district leaves their profession because of these kinds of students. I was thinking of joining the band wagon.

But since the start of the school year, I was able to miraculously make my students with disabilities write meaningful poems about themselves, about social problems and current events. They were able to create beautiful illustrations for their wonderful poems too. Thanks to the DC Area Writing Project for giving me strategies in engaging students to write, and to Beth Olshansky for the Art-Literature based curriculum.

Picturing Writing: Fostering Literacy Through Art and Image-Making Within The Writing Process are two dynamic art-and-literature based approaches to writing developed by Beth Olshansky to meet the needs of students with diverse learning styles. Through the use of simple hands-on art experiences, the introduction of quality picture books, and an on-going Artists/Writers Workshop, these innovative approaches give children access to visual and kinesthetic as well as verbal modes of thinking at each and every stage of the writing process. They allow all children to enter the writing process from a position of personal strength and enthusiasm. (www.image-making.org)

In her recommendation for my DisneyHand Teacher Awards nomination, my special ed coordinator writes:

“Ms. Angala encourages students to discover the “real life” implications of the curriculum…Ms. Angala facilitates student directed activities such as creating personal story lines. Throughout the story line, which eventually relates the students’ personal history, the rules of English are emphasized. This particular activity provides instruction and understanding of the content area for all students in a manner that students sanction as fun and interesting.”

My classroom is full of my students’ work on display. They read their poems to the whole class, and they get feedbacks from each other. Those are forms of publishing. But the audience is very limited.

Then I thought of weblogging and how it helped me publish my life story, get consistent feedbacks from readers around the globe, and how it helped me improve my writing skills. Perfect idea for a class digital anthology!

The word blog is short for web log (weblog). “Creates what Pat Delaney calls a blank piece of digital paper for writing upon (and throwing away if need arises). Ownership and audience are the rhetoric buzzwords for this, but what a weblog amounts to is that blank piece of paper that allows the writer the freedom and the privacy to share thoughts safely.” (Terry Elliot, http://www.schoolblogs.com/tellio/2002/07/30)

I use keyboarding and word processing computer technology to help my students with their writing problems.

(Computer) Technology must be used throughout the process, not just for the publishing phase. For example, word processing can support editing and revision if students are taught how to edit as they write. Strategy instruction for the development and planning of writing might include prompting, outlining and semantic webbing (MacArtur et al, 1995)

I am aware of the legal and protection issues involved in publishing my students’ works. So I made sure that I have their parents’ consent for this project. Their parents were thrilled and positively agreed as long as personal identifications are kept private and no identifiable pictures are shown.

I have asked for the evaluation of the website from the concerned authorities and appropriate education technologists nationwide, statewide and district wide and got positive comments from them. As far as I know I am in compliant with this Class Digital Anthology (but then as a new teacher I could have missed something, please let me know).

One colleague from the National Writing Project commented:

“I enjoyed the blog, and your students’ work, enormously, Maria!!! Thank you for sharing such a fascinating project. Please let us know how your students react to the comments, from each other and from the world at large“.

My mouth fell and I felt goose bumps all over.

Last Wednesday I was smilingly watching my students doing a free writing activity, one of them noticed me.

He said, “What is it Ms. Angala?”
I replied,” do you have any idea how many people are reading your poems?”
They were just looking at me, they had no idea!
I said, “In the third floor of this school, that big banner says: ‘TECHNOLOGY brings you to places’ …ladies and gentlemen, the whole world is reading your poems!”

How did my students react to this? They took writing more seriously, knowing that they actually have readers whom they want to please with their writings. Some stars who used to be dull started to shine. I myself didn’t think he was a star, I didn’t realize that his poems were really “that good” until he got more positive comments in his page; that made him feel good about his writings that he couldn’t get his hands off the computer. Some students remarked: “I can’t believe I typed this much! …I can’t believe I can write poems”. Again last Wednesday, I got 3 students asking me if they could be in my class. I let them in since their teacher was absent for that period. Unbelievably, one student who was branded as a problem student was just quiet in one corner writing, and he was able to write 4 poems during that class. My co-teacher said: “Now you know that your students can do miracles”.

By a proactive blogger: Maria Lourdes Cribe-Angala, blogging at www.teachersol.blogspot.com

Leave a Reply