I stood in my classroom this morning, and as I looked around, I could have heard a pin drop. All my students were busy writing their stories and we were temporarily redundant. It’s those rare moments where everyone is 100% engaged and 100% on task that remind me how far they have all come.
But it wasn’t always like that. At the start of this year none of my KS3 group were confident writers, in fact one of them hadn’t put pen to paper for over four years. Now, although we have the odd grumble about extended written tasks, every one of them is comfortable writing a side of A4 without any real difficulty. Marking their work, gives me a pleasure like no other. They are now proficient writers; they can all write in full sentences, they can all develop their own ideas and they can all transfer those ideas to paper.
We often just expect students to put pen to paper and write, but the reality is it doesn’t happen just like that. We have to create ideas. We have to explore them together, play with them, laugh at them. We have to make our students want to write. We have to make them feel like they have something to say. We have to tell stories.
Many students with ASD have gaps in their education, sometimes because they’ve spent time out of school, sometimes because they’ve missed lessons due to interventions and sometimes because they’ve sat in lessons but been focussing on the way wind is moving in the trees or the sound of the teachers voice without hearing the words coming out. So we need to be inventive. We need to create experiences that help our students fill in those gaps.
I am thankful that my team are fantastic and versatile actors – in fact if I’m not careful I may lose them to the West End! This term, they’ve been Princesses, they’ve been dragon slayers, they’ve been Greek Gods, they’ve been mythical creatures; they’ve even been the voice of smelly socks. All of course, completely without warning, at the drop of a hat, to provide an array of ideas and create interest.
So ideas sorted, we need to create a structure, a safety net to work from. We use writing frames a lot. In the beginning we cut out one segment of the frame at a time, so that the students didn’t see a whole piece of writing in front of them but instead saw a manageable 10cm by 3cm box with a question or sentence starter (Have a look at how we wrote about Sherbet Lemons). Each box was completed separately, until when finished we presented the students with their ‘whole’ piece of work complete with their gold galleon to spend in our Diagon Alley reward shop. Over time we’ve built that up and now our students are all confident enough to be presented with a full writing frame, and depending on the task and the time of day some are capable of completing them independently.
Extended creative writing tasks are tricky, but students with ASD can accomplish them and accomplish them well. It’s up to us to provide them with an environment which inspires them to write and a structure which enables them to feel safe doing so. Why not try being a Princess tomorrow? Or a dragon? Or even an apple? Step outside the box, have some fun. If you have fun, I bet your students will too!