Thursday, March 3, 2016

{GUEST POST} Effective Writing for Students with Disabilities: There is a Solution

I am honored to have Dr. Karen Dudek-Brannan, Ed.D. CCC-SLP, posting on the blog today!  She has been a practicing speech language pathologist over 10 years, and has worked in the schools and medical settings with adults and children, has supervised clinical students, and has taught college courses in Special Education and Communication Sciences and Disorders. Dr. Karen currently works in the school systems and runs a website with innovative resources for treating language disorders with an emphasis on metacognition.  This post will focus on effective writing strategies for upper elementary students with speech and language disabilities.

We need to write for communication, academic purposes, and professional advancement, yet many adolescents and young adults fail to develop sufficient writing skills when they are in school (Graham & Perin, 2007).

This is often the case for students with disabilities that impact language. Students with language delays tend to have poor metalinguistic and metacognitive awareness. They have a poor understanding of how their brains work, which makes planning, writing, and revising difficult (Graham, Schwartz, & MacArthur, 1995).  Students with language and learning problems struggle to plan and generate ideas during the planning/brainstorming phase of writing (Chalk, Hagan-Burke, & Burke, 2005).  Many educators end up asking students probing questions to provide support, but doing this may make students become prompt-dependent.

To help students become independent, we need to show them how to self-regulate and self-question.  Self-regulation strategies may involve mnemonics or memory tools to help students remember the steps of the writing process.  Tools which guide students through protocol steps or self-questioning techniques can improve word-retrieval and executive functioning, which positively impacts idea generation.  Use of these tools can improve organization, fluency, transitions, as well as conventions of writing for students with and without disabilities (Graham, & Perin, 2007; Little, Lane, Harris, Graham, Story, Sandmel, 2010). When used effectively, self-monitoring and self-questioning tools can provide the structure necessary to help students complete steps of the writing process independently.

One specific tool for self-questioning is the Expanding Expression Tool (EET; Smith, 2011).
The EET incorporates a mnemonic device to help students to recall semantic information about nouns.  The mnemonic for the EET is twofold; as students can use a chant or a visual aide to recall questions they should ask themselves when generating ideas to write.  The visual aid is a strand of color-coded beads. 

Each EET bead stands for a specific question.  Here is a graphic to help illustrate how the beads correspond with the questions and EET cues, as well as an example of how you would use the EET to describe the word “apple.”

The second aspect of the EET mnemonic is the chant. Students can say a chant aloud or internally to help remember the questions with or without the EET strand present.  To say the chant, the students simply say or sing the beads in order: “Green group, blue do, what does it look like, what is it made of, pink parts, white where, what else do I know?” (Smith, 2011).
In order to effectively utilize a metacognitive strategy such as this, we need to show students how to use it. This often involves explaining the purpose of the strategy, modelling, and providing opportunities for both guided and independent practice (Chalk et al., 2005; Ukrainetz, 2007).
I’ve developed protocol you can use to teach students self-questioning strategies that incorporates all necessary components (e.g., rationale, modeling, guided practice, independent practice) to assist in the planning phase of the writing process (Dudek, 2014).  This protocol would be appropriate for students ranging from early elementary through high school; however you will be able to modify the level of difficulty by the content you describe.
Here is a graphic illustrating what to do in each step. This can be completed in one session, or over several consecutive sessions.

Now that you have seen the steps in the process, here is another example of the type of information that would correspond with each question on the EET strand. This sample shows how a student’s notes may look after the brainstorming process.  As you can see, there are two pieces of information per EET question; however one could use this process to provide more detail if needed. This content would be appropriate for students in middle school writing an expository piece about the Midwestern region of the United States.

The purpose of metacognitive strategies during the writing process is to improve the quality of writing and autonomy. By teaching students to use strategies, we can help our students become more aware of how they learn and process, so they can become independent writers.

For more information on the EET you can visit
For additional resources on metacognition and language visit

Chalk, J.C., Hagan-Burke, S., & Burke, M.D. (2005). The effects of self-regulated strategy development on the writing process of high school students with learning disabilities. Learning Disability Quarterly, 28, 75-87. doi: 10.2307/4126974
Dudek, K. (2014). The effect of metalinguistic strategy instruction on the oral and written expression of school-aged children.  (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. (Accession Order No. 3623397).
Graham, S. & Perin, D. (2007). A meta-analysis of writing instruction for adolescent students. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99, 445-476. doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.99.3.445
Graham, S. Schwartz, S., & MacArthur, C. (1995). Effects of goal setting and procedural facilitation on the revising behavior and writing performance of students with writing and learning problems. Journal of Educational Psychology, 87, 230-240.
Little, M.A., Lane, K. L., Harris, K. R., Graham, S., Story, M., & Sandmel, K. (2010). Self-regulated strategies development for persuasive writing in tandem with schoolwide positive behavioral support: Effects for second-grade students with behavioral and writing difficulties. Behavioral Disorders, 35, 157-179.
MidWest. (2016, February 20). Retrieved from
Smith, S. L. (2011). Expanding expression: A multisensory approach for improved oral and written language (2nd Ed.).  Bay City, MI: Expanding Expression.

Ukrainetz, T. A. (2007). Contextualized Language Intervention: Scaffolding PreK-12 Literacy Achievement. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed. 

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