Dear Dr. Louis,
My son’s middle school is using your program. I have searched your website looking for how your curriculum is used in a middle school special education setting for a student entering 6th grade reading and writing on 1st grade level because of dyslexia . . . . I would appreciate it if you could send me information on how your program works, especially in a middle school special education setting, and the implementation/fidelity recommendations.
Thank you for your email. For this question, I am going to engage my two national trainers, who are also educational therapists, and have them answer your question. While I demonstrate and discuss differentiation for special education students, I’d like to have my credentialed and experienced authorities respond to your astute question. They are Ms. Lauren Roedy-Vaughn and Ms. Carrie Robinson.
#1: Lauren Roedy Vaughn has an undergraduate degree in drama, a master’s degree in special education, and a learning specialist credential with a subject qualification in English. For the past two decades, she has worked in the United States and abroad as an educator and writing specialist. She is a Board Member for the International Dyslexia Association’s Los Angeles branch and a member of the Association of Educational Therapists. Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, along with other civic leaders, presented her with The Walk of Heart’s Teaching Award in 2005. She is the author of the young adult novel, OCD, The Dude, and Me, which made the American Library Association’s list of best books for teens and the Capitol Choice Selections for 2014.
Here is Lauren’s response:
The first philosophical tenet of The Jane Schaffer Writing Program is that “all students can think and all students can write.” All students deserve explicit, structured, and sustained writing instruction as part of their literacy curriculum. In fact, just like with effective reading programs, the “explicit, structured, and sustained” parts are key.
The Jane Schaffer Writing Program explicitly teaches the language of academic writing and the steps involved in the thinking process of building paragraphs and essays. Too often, these steps remain implicit, and students are unclear about how to answer a prompt or write a paragraph or essay. They often don’t even know where to begin. This program is first and foremost a thinking program, and it acknowledges that writing is a process. Thus, there are steps to writing an academic paragraph and essay, and these steps can be taught.
Explicit instruction from a teacher is key to the success of this program. The teacher first teaches the students the terminology for the parts of the paragraph and the color-coding of each part, so that students learn that different parts of a paragraph function in different ways. This is important information for all students to have before they write. Students with dyslexia benefit from the direct teaching of the vocabulary of the program and then the subsequent steps of building a paragraph. While a student may struggle with spelling, the physical act of writing, and/or getting his ideas down on paper, this program supports his formulation of ideas. Thinking must happen before writing can happen.
The program is structured. When the program is implemented with fidelity, teachers work through the steps of the process with the students. First, the teacher provides a paragraph model. After the model is discussed and the parts are understood, then the teacher provides a model of the steps to build that paragraph. The teacher presents each step and discusses the thinking behind each step with the students. Next, the teacher writes a paragraph collaboratively with the students following each step. We follow the “gradual release of responsibility” model, so that students are not writing independently until they are ready.
The graphic organizers that make up our program provide a visual model for the steps and guide students in their thinking and composition. It is part of the structure of the program.
The program is designed to be taught in a sustained way. This is not a “one and done” program. When this program is used throughout a child’s middle school years, he is markedly more prepared for writing in high school. In my opinion, middle school is the perfect time to teach this program.
For students with dyslexia, there are accommodations that can be used with this program. The student can dictate his responses either to a scribe or through the use of speech-to-text software. Students with dyslexia benefit from working with someone, one-to-one, or in small groups to make incremental improvements with their writing; those add up over time. This program provides a template for what to teach. How quickly a teacher and student move through the steps is up to the student’s individual needs. Our mantra here is that we go “as quickly as we can and as slow as we must.”
Writing is an integral part of any literacy program, and this is especially true for students with dyslexia. While your son may need extensive scaffolding and support to build a paragraph or an essay, he deserves the chance to be taught how. At first, the teacher or tutor may have to do a lot of modeling, but that’s okay. He may have to dictate all his ideas for a while.
Finally, working with someone on explicit writing instruction can support his other literacy skills. Additionally, using high-interest material or topics from his own life in his writing may help him engage in the instruction more effectively.
I have a Learning Specialist Credential and a Master’s degree in Special Education. I taught high school English for 20 years to students with language-based learning disabilities, most of whom were students with dyslexia. Some of my high school students read on the second-grade level. I went searching for a writing program for my kids. This was the best one – hands down – that I found. In my classroom, I paired the Jane Schaffer Writing Program instruction with the University of Kansas’s Sentence Writing Program to help my students learn to write functional sentences. I’m actively involved with the International Dyslexia Association and served on their Board in Los Angeles for several years. I care deeply about students who struggle with literacy, and it’s why I use the Jane Schaffer Writing Program. My experience with the program over the last three decades makes me passionate about sharing it with teachers, students, and parents.
I hope this helps you learn more about The Jane Schaffer Writing Program, and I wish you and your son the best of teachers and instruction for his entire academic career.
Lauren Roedy Vaughn
#2: Ms. Carrie Robinson received her Bachelor’s Degree in Speech and Theatre. She is currently an educational therapist who works privately with students who have language-based learning disabilities. Her areas of specialty are reading (decoding and comprehension), writing composition, and study skills. She has experience both as an administrator and as a teacher. At Westmark School in Encino, California, a school for special-needs students, Carrie was the assistant principal for students and teachers, grades 9-12, creating and implementing individualized educational programs for students. As a classroom teacher for ten years, Carrie taught English Language Arts and World History to 9th-grade students as well as study skills remediation to grades 4-12.
Here is Carrie’s response:
The Jane Schaffer Writing Program is ideal for students with learning disabilities because of the combination of intuitive graphic organizers and an explicit process for generating and organizing ideas. As an educational therapist for over 25 years, I was attracted to the JSWP for that very reason. I needed to find a way to help my students – that didn’t include my putting words in their mouths. One frustrating day, I remember sitting with a student who had asked for help with a writing assignment and thinking, “I know what I would write, but I don’t know how to get you to write it.” Thankfully, Jane gave us all a valuable gift, and I have been sharing this gift with my students for many years with great success.
I work with students and teachers on how to break down skills effectively in multiple ways and to address all types of learning styles. Countless times I’ve had teachers exclaim when I’ve shown them a method that might work for my student in their class, “Wow! ALL my students would benefit from this approach.” That’s what Jane provides teachers. Jane was an [On-Level and] AP English teacher and taught very high-level students, but her program explicitly teaches writing (and even some reading techniques) — she makes what is implicit about writing explicit, and that’s what students at all levels need. This program gives students a vocabulary with which to demystify the writing process.
What drew me to Jane Schaffer’s approach was how the program is scaffolded—a critical component for struggling learners. This method trains teachers to help students to break down the components of paragraphs and essays and gives them a footing to accomplish each step of the process. First of all, Jane color-codes the parts of a paragraph, which helps the brain embed the concepts of topic sentence, concrete detail, commentary, and concluding sentence using a visual cue. Each sentence has a job to do and it’s easy to “see” as the colors blue, red, green, and blue appear on the page. Additionally, the program allows teachers to build skills by taking each step of the writing process and teaching it in isolation if needed. That way, teachers can tailor the program to meet the needs of individual students; they can simplify or make the process more advanced as students become more proficient.
Importantly, students with learning differences need a process—a step-by-step approach for completing a complicated task, and Jane gives them that. Every time they undertake a writing assignment, they know to start with decoding the prompt and finding CDs to help answer it. This approach has them begin with their evidence when most of our challenged students want simply to answer a prompt with an opinion and be done with it. The t-chart is magical because it helps students to corral their overflowing thoughts and to organize those thoughts while also helping students, who never know what to say, find they have all kinds of intelligent responses lurking in their brains. The meta-cognitive process of asking oneself questions about the evidence teaches critical thinking and gives them a way of getting their ideas from their brain to the page. “Picking and stitching” helps them to write more grammatically complex and sophisticated sentences. Finally, the shaping sheet helps them to refine, to edit, to improve, and to connect all their sentences into a coherent paragraph without overwhelming them with revision after revision. In fact, most students don’t even realize it, but each step of the process is its own revision. For my students who learn differently, knowing there is a writing process on which to rely takes the apprehension out of composing paragraphs and essays. As the process becomes more familiar, it becomes automatic and eventually allows these kids to become independent writers.
Jane has educators using an “I do, we do, you do” pedagogy that allows for lots of practice and support. Teachers begin by modeling the process. They then write with the student—taking them through each step – and they will continue to write together as long as the student needs it. Eventually, students will complete the process independently. This gradual release of responsibility takes the student writer’s individual needs into account every step of the way.
I’ve used this approach with students in grade school, middle school, high school, and college and have not found a better program out there that teaches LD students how to write. Jane’s genius is that she knew “all students can think, so all students can write.”
No doubt, your son will find “writing with Jane” a very rewarding experience.
Please do not hesitate to contact me with further questions. I am at your service.