Handbook of Writing Research

By Charles A. MacArthur; Steve Graham et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 22
Writing Instruction
for Students with Learning Disabilities

Gary A. Troia

According to data from the 2002 National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 28% of fourth-graders, 31% of eighthgraders, and 24% of 12th-graders performed at or above a proficient (i.e., competent) level of writing achievement for their respective grade levels (Persky, Daane, & Jin, 2003). There are at least three reasons why so many children and youth appear to find writing challenging. First, composing text is most certainly a complex and difficult undertaking that requires the deployment and coordination of multiple affective, cognitive, linguistic, and physical operations to accomplish goals associated with genre-specific conventions, audience needs, and communicative purposes. Gene Fowler, celebrated author, editor, and journalist, epitomized the inherent difficulty of composing with his comment, "Writing is easy; all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead" (The Quotations Page, n.d.).

Second, the profile of the typical classroom in the United States has undergone dramatic changes in the recent past. Many more students today come from impoverished homes, speak English as a second language, and have identified or suspected disabilities (Persky et al., 2003). This increasing diversity of the school-age population has occurred within the context of the standardsbased education movement and its accompanying high-stakes accountability testing. As a consequence, more demands for higher levels of writing performance and for demonstration of content mastery through writing are being made of students and their teachers; simultaneously, teachers are facing a higher proportion of students who struggle not only with composing but also with basic writing skills. Unfortunately, many teachers feel illequipped for handling these competing pressures, in part because they lack the requisite pedagogical knowledge, instructional capabilities, and valued resources for teaching writing, and in part because writing curricula, which exert a strong influence on teachers' writing instruction, tend to be underdeveloped and misaligned with other curricula (Troia & Maddox, 2004).

Third, the quality of instruction that students receive is a major determinant of their writing achievement (Graham & Harris, 2002a). In some classrooms, writing instruction focuses almost exclusively on text transcription skills, such as handwriting and spelling, with few opportunities for meaningful, authentic text composing (e.g., Palinscar & Klenk, 1992). In others, there are frequent and varied opportunities for completing personally relevant and engaging writing tasks using the writing process, but little time is devoted to teaching important

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