Suggested writing practices for children with behavioural or emotional disorders

This article looks to share the most effective writing instruction for children who present challenging behaviour. Writing problems are common among students with behavioural disorders and ADHD. Most of these recommendations come directly from research specific to pupils who have emotional or behavioural disorders (Young & Ferguson 2023). Otherwise, the recommendations are based on improving students’ self-efficacy (confidence) and self-regulation (feeling of competence), both of which are typically low amongst pupils identified as presenting challenging behaviour or are struggling inexperienced writers (Young & Ferguson 2021a).

  • Focus on confidence building, a daily sense of success, a daily feeling of competence, getting things done, making progress on a project, knowing what they have to do and how to do it, and giving them a sense of agency, ownership and personal autonomy (Young & Ferguson 2021a, 2023).
  • Mini-lessons, taught through the principles of SRSD instruction (Young et al. 2021; Young & Ferguson 2022a, 2023b).
  • Goal setting (Young & Hayden 2021; Young & Ferguson 2023).
  • Help pupils with their writerly problems by providing pupil-conferencing and allowing them to ask others for assistance. When conferencing, always give a positive personal response to what they are writing about before looking to teach them something (Ferguson & Young 2021).
  • Give pupils access to a variety of mentor texts as they are writing. These provide children with a sense of security (Young & Hayden 2021; Young & Ferguson 2023).
  • Provide children with ample time in which to plan. Over time, teach a variety of planning strategies so that pupils can choose their favoured one (Young & Ferguson 2023c). 
  • Don’t limit students’ participation or decision making during writing lessons. For example, teach pupils how to generate their own writing ideas and allow them to write on a selected favoured topic – which they are motivated by (Young & Ferguson 2022b).
  • Teach responsively. Adapt to what your students need instruction in most. Teachers shouldn’t be planning their writing lessons well in advance. Always keep an eye out for what your class is unconfident about and give them the instruction they need in that lesson or the next day (Young et al. 2021; Young & Ferguson 2022a, 2023b).
  • As long as they are being productive each day, allow students to write at their own pace, using a writing process which suits them (Young & Ferguson 2023).
  • Provide children with personal writing project books that they can use whenever they are tired of working on a class project or else have finished what they wanted to do for that lesson (Young & Ferguson 2021b).
  • Provide time for pupils to share their writing with friends to hear their reactions and responses. 
  • Always ask pupils with challenging behaviour what they think they did well during that writing session.
  • Allow students who are competent typers to write using computer technologies (including the use of electronic spell checkers and smart speakers during proof-reading).
  • Be a role model by writing alongside the students in your class. Write for your own pleasure – and enjoy their company (Young & Ferguson 2023).
  • Allow pupils to use ‘temporary’ spellings while drafting (temporary spellings are then corrected at the proof-reading stage) (Young & Ferguson 2023).

Focus handwriting instruction on students’ ability to write fluently and happily as opposed to insisting on a particular style (LINK).


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