WMU News

Language arts for those with differing abilities

Jan. 26, 2004

KALAMAZOO--Two Western Michigan University faculty members have published a book offering a new approach to improving the language and writing skills of students with and without disabilities.

Dr. Nickola Wolf Nelson, professor of speech pathology and audiology, and Adelia Van Meter, faculty specialist in speech pathology and audiology, worked with former WMU special education faculty member Dr. Christine Bahr to produce "The Writing Lab Approach to Language Instruction and Intervention," a book based on 10 years of work with elementary and middle school children.

The writing lab approach is a way for speech language pathologists and special educators to work in classrooms with general education teachers to encourage student progress in language and communication abilities. The book focuses on three key components: writing process instruction, computer supports and inclusive practices. It also gives readers a primer on how children develop proficiency with spoken and written language; offers a complete guide to setting up a writing laboratory; discusses children's writing software features and programs; gives instructions for using therapeutic supports to help students build language and self-regulation abilities; and provides an assessment tool the authors developed to analyze student writing samples and measure progress.

Dr. Steve Graham, professor of education at the University of Maryland and an expert in the area of literacy and learning disabilities, calls the book "a strong cure for why Johnny can't write, deftly blending the process writing approach with computer technology and support, explicit writing instruction, assessment and teacher collaboration."

Nelson says the approach demonstrates all children can improve language and writing skills.

"The writing lab approach is based on research and extensive experience that shows that all children can improve their written language abilities when given proper supports," Nelson says. "Besides, working with students to help them learn to better express their own ideas is wonderfully rewarding and fun!"

Van Meter adds the method dovetails with regular classroom activities.

"The writing lab approach engages students in language learning within the context of classroom curriculum activities," she says. "By helping students to focus on writing as a means to express and share their ideas, the approach provides opportunities for all students to expand their language complexity and clarity. It also supports a learning culture of shared respect for diverse communication skills and styles."

Nelson also notes that the book might persuade and help educators to make major changes in their teaching practices.

"With No Child Left Behind legislation and other social pressures to help all students learn to read, write and communicate effectively," she says, "the time has come to redefine how special services are provided to students with literacy-learning difficulties. Programs that focus on baby steps for children with disabilities, while their general education peers are being pushed toward giant strides, are no longer acceptable."

Published by Brookes Publishing, "The Writing Lab Approach to Language Instruction and Intervention" is 528 pages and sells for $44.95. It is available in bookstores, through the Brookes Publishing Web site at <www.brookespublishing.com> or at <www.amazon.com>.

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, 269 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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