Learning Difficulties: Making an Impact with Write that Essay

Learning Difficulties: Making an Impact with Write that Essay

When David arrived at High School he was functionally illiterate and could independently read about four words.  He has Dyspraxia, Asperger’s, Dyslexia and a raft of other learning issues.

Jessica Lane, English teacher at Long Bay College on Auckland’s North Shore, tells the story of how her student David (name changed), gained the confidence to talk his Reader Writer through a response to text essay that he had successfully memorized, despite having serious difficulties with literacy.  She tells us how working with the Write that Essay programme helped with this incredible achievement. 

The role that Write that Essay played

‘I used the Write that Essay online programme with my remedial class.  They’d always have it open on their laptops.  What I liked about the scaffolded Essay Builder tool was that it only focused on one sentence at a time.  We‘d all log on to WTE, go to Essay Builder, and we’d start with a sentence.  We did this process every single lesson and it became second nature to the students.

‘They’d all do the statement sentence for example.  David could do that because he’d have a Teacher Aide and, sentence-by-sentence, he would build an essay.’  David steadily gained confidence because the combination of Teacher Aide support and Write that Essay gave him a much greater chance at success.  The programme worked well with all the students in the class.  As Jessica says, ‘My students loved the word count function at the bottom of the page.  One of my other boys said: “I just wrote 750 words.  I didn’t know I even knew 750 words."

Transference

The end of year examination was the litmus test of this classroom work.  ‘In the end of year essay exam, the students weren’t allowed to use the online programme as the aim was to assess their independent skill levels.    But David surprised me.  He memorised the entire essay structure word for word—techniques, details—and because he’d had that virtual component he could remember what we were doing sentence-by-sentence. When the marks came out, David got a merit! 

‘His teacher aid, came running up to my classroom immediately afterward and said, “Look at this!  I didn’t help him.  Once he got talking I couldn’t stop him!”  She couldn’t believe that David had the introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion: all in the correct order.  I thought that was pretty incredible to give someone that success in literacy when they were illiterate.

Says Jessica, ‘As teachers, we can do things like this on the board—but having it digitally just took their mind off pen and paper which is something that can be so debilitating for a student with learning difficulties.  Write that Essay took the pressure off.  And for David and others in his situation, it was just what was needed.’ 

Case Study

Teacher   Jessica Lane
Objective   Helping students with learning difficulties
Key Impact   From functionally illiterate to literate