Two weeks ago we broke down the parts of a five paragraph essay and how to modify the expectations of doing early essays in their secondary academic career. This week, we are working on “How do you get a student to write anything [let alone a paragraph or essay]?” There are many ways, and we know working through ideas that can be bouncing around in a student’s head about the topic is not exactly intuitive for most guiding another person.
Before we get started: source material is the research or in the case of a literary response, the book or reading specifically chosen for the essay.
The talking through
There are two paths to take with talking a student through the sentences to write down the paraeducator can scribe physically pen to paper or type in a computer to get the essay in.
Writing the words as the student says them is probably quickest, especially for the rough draft. If there are graphic organizers, use them from the student to help direct their sentences. But be direct. “Well what do you want for your topic sentence” is not nearly as useful as, “The topic sentence for [this topic from your thesis] covers these quotes of your evidence. Why was [this topic] important for you to talk about?” In the second method, you are helping a student find words to put down and drawing attention to the material they need to reconnect with.
If it is not an essay for a test, ask clarifying questions. Offer options especially for transition sentences. Writing tip: look up transition words. There are many lists for the transition words.
The stumbling that happens, especially for young writers, is that an essay is not a conversation or a blog post. An essay follows some academic conventions:
- No pronouns used unless it is within a quote from the source material. A pronoun is a word that includes the following: I, she, he, it, they, we, our, zer, zey, and so forth. Phrases to avoid include, “I felt that …”, “In my opinion…”, “She was so heart broken when he…”, “They found the rock samples…”
- No contractions. “Can’t”, “Won’t”, “Didn’t”, and“I’m” unless it is a part of the source material.
Keeping that in mind, most folks do not naturally speak in conversational academic language, but because you are scribing, write specifically as the student speaks unless they correct you. It is important to keep the student’s voice in their essay. Outside of an essay for a test, you can prompt for a complete sentence after the ideas have traveled out of the student. Be aware there are some nuances, while outside of the rule of academic writing that are a part of learning a method to write an essay. That part will be corrected through editing and revision. Too many students get hung up on the fact that five paragraphs seems like a lot, the important part is getting the words out and down.
If the student directly type in, expect a slower progress than sometimes just speaking.
There is Technology…
We are often asked about text to speech. While the technology has progressed quite a bit and is available in more platforms than ever, text to speech requires a few more skills that some students may not have including enunciation. Text to speech also requires to ‘get to know’ the user.If Text to speech is a system that is to be utilized by the student in place of physically typing separate the skill of learning to write from the first text to speech attempt. Make it a point that the ideas need to be the foundation to writing. Then have the student go through and read the work into the device. Over time, ideally, text to speech will get easier for the student to use, especially reviewing the rough draft for use of academic language. It is also important to know that text to speech formatting will require a lot of work in the end to get any document into a teacher’s preferred format.
The goal is to get the words down. Academic communication is really wrapped up in the pattern of statement, evidence, and analysis. This can be daunting for a student who may have recently mastered writing a sentence or struggles with reading. Essays are not about the wall, they are about the path getting to the wall and describing the climb over that wall no matter which version of a modified essay your student attempts.
Do you have any comments about this week’s blog? Do you have a question for us? Would you like to be a guest blogger? Would you like to have an opportunity to pilot some materials at your campus? Find ParaEducate online here, here, here, here,and on ourwebsite. Paraeducate is a company interested in providing materials,information, and strategies for people working in special education inclusion settings for grades K-12. ParaEducate, the blog, is published weekly during the academic school year on Thursdays, unless a holiday. ParaEducate shares their findings at conferences, through their books, and their academic adaptations.