A student stares at a blank page, several thoughts running through her head. “Where do I start?” “I hate writing.” “This is so difficult.” “What should I write about?” “My writing is terrible.”  “Why even try?”  For a student with learning differences, the task of writing a single sentence can be a challenge.

“Writing: Structure and Style” is an effective writing program developed by Andrew Pudewa from the Institute for Excellence in Writing. Most writing assignments are open-ended in that they require the student to produce ideas about a general topic, for example, “What did you do this weekend?” This writing technique creates difficulty for students with learning disabilities because they often struggle with generating and organizing their ideas, while concerned with hand-writing, spelling, grammar, and punctuation. The “Writing: Structure and Style” program is unique in that instead of requiring students to produce and organize their thoughts beforehand, the program provides students with a source text, which produces and organizes the ideas for the student. The student then creates an outline which helps them formulate and structure their ideas within the paragraph. This aids in reading comprehension and enables them to summarize their written work. 

The course includes nine sections: Note Making and Outlines, Writing from Notes, Retelling Narrative Stories, Summarizing a Reference, Writing from Pictures, Summarizing Multiple References, Inventive Writing, Formal Essay Models, and Formal Critique. The nine units deal with different sources (e.g: reports, stories, biographies) and the outlines created by students vary slightly from unit to unit. The story-writing unit introduces additional creativity by allowing students to change the details of the story, including the characters, setting, the problem and resolution. As students progress through the units, the program guides them in how to generate their own ideas without a source text.

Along with the nine units, students learn stylistic techniques to include in each paragraph of their writing. The first set of stylistic techniques include using various parts of speech, such as a strong verb (e.g “stroll” instead of “walk”), -ly adverbs, different clauses, and quality adjectives (e.g “excellent” instead of “good”). Depending on the level of the students, they can start with one or two techniques until they can be used easily and effectively. Once mastered, a new technique is added. The next set of stylistic techniques are sentence openers. Students commonly start every sentence with a subject + verb. The program challenges students to use various types of openers, including -ly adverbs, prepositions, and different clauses. The final types of stylistic techniques move to more complex concepts of decorations, such as using alliteration, metaphors, triple extensions (for example, repeating -ly adverbs) and more advanced literary devices.

Pudewa reminds teachers that students require the skills to structure their writing so that students know what to say and how to formulate those ideas into paragraphs. The program does not emphasize perfect spelling and grammar. Those abilities develop with practice. Over-correcting may discourage students and lead to feelings of failure. Instead of correcting work, Pudewa challenges teachers to focus on editing, with the aim that the student complete a finished work that is clear and coherent.

“Writing Structure and Style” is an excellent program, with its use of source texts, clear format, and a creative method of incorporating stylistic techniques. Students have a clear picture of what to write and how to write it.  They can learn at their own pace and practice adding the various stylistic techniques based on their level until those techniques becomes easy and natural to include.

by Leigha Brigham

Leigha is a tutor and trainer with The Open Door, and will also be teaching this writing program in our first Open Door Summer Writing Workshop.

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