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Strengthening the Second "R"
Research Connections
Winter 2002

Strengthening the Second "R"
Helping Students with Disabilities Prepare Well-Written Compositions

Each day in classrooms across the country, students are expected to prepare narrative, persuasive, and informative writings. They are asked to demonstrate their learning in different subjects through writing. Moreover, high stakes assessments of achievement often measure students' competency in and through writing.

With the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (1997), student participation and progress in the general curriculum, as well as on State and district-wide assessments, was further emphasized. If students with disabilities are to achieve to their potential, they must know how to write.

Unfortunately, writing poses significant challenges for many students with disabilities. When compared to the writings of their nondisabled peers, the writings of students with disabilities typically contains more mechanical errors and is less polished, expansive, coherent, and effective.

However, there is hope. "Research shows that students with disabilities can be taught to write and to write better," Scott Baker, researcher at the Eugene Institute at the University of Oregon tells us. Together with his colleague, Russell Gersten, Baker prepared— OSEP support— meta-analysis of research on teaching expressive writing to students with learning disabilities. Virtually all the interventions analyzed were multifaceted and involved students writing everyday as part of the curriculum. They identified several themes critical to effective writing instruction:

  • Adherence to a basic framework of planning, writing, and revision.
  • Explicit instruction of critical steps in the writing process, as well as the features and conventions of the writing genre or text structure.
  • Provision of feedback guided by the information explicitly taught.
"We also found that while special educators often like to say that special techniques are good for all children, the research actually shows that effective writing interventions do, in fact, benefit all children, including those who are high-achieving writers," Baker adds.

Some of the researchers highlighted in the meta-analysis have been studying how to improve student writing since the early 1980s. Several research— approaches— strategy instruction, assistive technology, and the use of collaborative spaces-are presented in this Research Connections.

Next: Instructional Approaches

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