Teaching Students with Learning Disabilities to Mindfully Plan When Writing

By Troia, Gary A.; Graham, Steve et al. | Exceptional Children, Winter 1999 | Go to article overview

Teaching Students with Learning Disabilities to Mindfully Plan When Writing


Troia, Gary A., Graham, Steve, Harris, Karen R., Exceptional Children


Planning is an important part of good writing. Flower and Hayes (1980) found that skilled writers typically develop an initial set of goals to guide the writing process, generating and organizing writing content to meet these goals. The importance of planning is especially apparent in the composing behavior of professional writers. When planning the script for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, for example, Harve Bennett decided to pick up the action where the prior movie, The Wrath of Khan, had left off and established two goals he wanted to resolve while writing: (a) finding out what Spock's dying remark, "remember," meant and (b) exploring what would happen if the Klingons learned that the genesis technology could destroy as well as create life (Shatner & Kreski, 1994). He used these goals to generate and organize ideas into an outline that was then used to write the script.

In contrast, children with learning disabilities (LD) employ a different approach to writing, one that minimizes the role of planning (Graham & Harris, 1997; Thomas, Englert, & Gregg, 1987). They tend to convert writing tasks into tasks of telling what one knows (McCutchen, 1988). Information that is somewhat topic relevant is retrieved from memory and written down, with each preceding idea stimulating the generation of the next one. Little attention is directed to establishing rhetorical goals, organizing text, or meeting the needs of the reader. This retrieve-and-write process functions like an automated program, operating largely without metacognitive control.

An important goal in writing instruction for students with LD, therefore, is to help them become more planful and resourceful when composing. One way to achieve this goal is to teach them to use the same types of planning processes employed by more skillful writers (Graham & Harris, 1996). This approach was taken in the current study. Students with LD received instruction designed to help them incorporate three common planning strategies into their current approach to writing. Students learned to set goals, brainstorm ideas, and sequence their ideas while writing stories and completing self-selected homework assignments. The effects of teaching these planning strategies was assessed by examining changes in students' story writing performance and writing behavior. We further assessed generalization to a second writing genre, persuasive essay writing.

Instruction in the three planning strategies followed the Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) model (Harris & Graham, 1996). With SRSD, students learn to use task-specific strategies as well as procedures for regulating the use of these strategies, the task, and personal characteristics that may impede performance. In the present study, self-regulation of strategies, task, and behaviors was facilitated by asking students to monitor and evaluate each of these components and set goals to learn and use the planning strategies. To date, the SRSD model has been used successfully in over 15 studies to develop writing strategies for students with LD (see Harris & Graham). This includes the development of planning and revising strategies (e.g., Graham & Harris, 1989) as well as the use of goal setting and self-monitoring (e.g., Graham, MacArthur, & Schwartz, 1995; Harris, Graham, Reid, McElroy, & Hamby, 1994).

A critical issue in strategy instruction involves maintenance and generalization (Alexander, Graham, & Harris, 1998). As theorists have noted, knowing how to apply specific strategies does not guarantee that they will be used when opportunities arise (Salomon & Globerson, 1987). This is especially true for students with LD, as they are less likely than their regularly achieving peers to apply available strategies to new situations (Ellis, 1986), and strategy transfer has not been a consistent outcome in published intervention research with these students (Wong, 1994). …

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