Sunday, February 19, 2017

Alternative Pencil

Writing can often be over looked in classrooms of students with significant disabilities. It's no fault to you or your staff, there are just so many things to focus on; behaviors, speech, following directions, toileting, eating etc. If you had to give up something, I am sure writing would be the #1 thing as it may not seem like a very functional thing for our students, especially those who struggle to hold standard pencils. That is... until you introduce an alternative pencil.

I started using alternative pencils when I went to a conference last year on emergent literacy, read more about that here. It honestly changed the way I taught. Usually you go to conferences, they get you super excited about the new teaching method, you come back, implement it into your classroom and a month later you give up on it or find something else. Well folks, I have to say, I have never gone back to the way I didn't teach 😁  taught writing!

Alternative pencils allow our non-verbal students a way to express themselves through text. It is engaging for both the students and teacher. I love seeing my students sort through the letters to spell out their message.

Here is what my alternative pencils look like.

How do they work? You can project the pencil or just print and hold it.
1) Make sure you have something to write responses on (whiteboard, typing, paper)
2) Then determine how your student is going to respond (yes/no). Are they going to shake their head,     use a switch etc
3) Start by asking your student "do you have something to say/are you ready to write etc."
4) Put your finger on A, say "is it ABCDE" and point to each letter.
5) Student responds
6) If they say yes then go through each letter slowly until they tell you their letter. If they say no go to     the next column and repeat. If they say yes acknowledge it and record their answer.
7) Repeat but this time say "do you have another letter"....then go through the process again.

Here is a video to better explain this process. I did not make or own this video.

Now you might be saying "this is great, but my students don't know how to write. They don't know their letters, they can't spell". While this may be true, do we truly know how much they do and don't know if they haven't ever had a way to express themselves? It's something to think about right?

A huge part of this process, especially for students who are new to this, is interpreting what they are trying to say. Here is an example of something a student wrote in my class.

When seeing the letter QFT what comes to mind? quick, quarter, quiet, fight, Friday, fries, go, goal etc. Think about your students interests or common things they like to watch, say etc. When I was doing this with my student I said to him...did you mean quick field goal (they played soccer in P.E.), he didn't have much of a response. Then I got really excited and said did you mean......Cute Girls??? He instantly lit up, started smiling, clapping and shaking his head yes!!! Clearly this is what he was thinking about (maybe not but he was excited about it!!). So this is what I did. Write down what they were actually trying to say then use the alternative pencil to model how you would have spelled the word(s).

I will be the first one to admit, this is hard. The kids will struggle. It's all new. But think about when you give any child a pencil for the first time, what's the first thing they do? Scribble....So take the plunge, download this alternative pencil and get your kids scribbling!!!!

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