4 Neurodiversity Ideas for a More Inclusive Writing Classroom
I’ve spent a lot of time in and out of writing workshops, from undergraduate courses to professional classes, and have found that there’s a stereotypical structure:
Read & Analyze published work or the work of peers
Discuss the work
Write in response to a prompt
This model is sufficient for helping neurotypical learners grow as writers, but how can teachers open the space for neurodiverse learners? In starting to answer that question, here are four strategies I use at Rebecca School to help my students grow as poets.
Gross Motor Play
Gross motor play involves large muscle groups like arms, legs, and the back. To get these muscles moving I set up the room like a small sensory gym. For example, I might make it so that the only way to enter the workshop space is through a tunnel.
Crawling provides students with input to their whole bodies, their legs and arms are working in unison, before I ask them to sit down for a session. Gross motor play is also a great way to make abstract elements of writing more tangible. In the case of the tunnel, we were reading Shel Silverstein’s “Boa Constrictor,” so crawling through that space mimicked the speaker’s experience and helped students visualize the imagery in the text.
Fine Motor Play
Around Halloween I set up operation-style games to match our spooky poetry. These games make students concentrate and maneuver through gluey skeleton guts with their fingers while tracking an object, taken from images in the poetry, with their eyes.
This eye-hand coordination game is a fun way to work on fine motor skills or the coordination of small muscles groups like the fingers and eyes. Reading and Writing both require strong fine motor control so these games help warm-up those muscles before we enter into our poems or answer prompts.
I love to get messy and, fortunately, so do my students. While this doesn’t necessarily fill a sensory need in the way gross and fine motor play do it’s nice to give the students a space where they’re allowed to be a little wild.
When reading “It’s Dark in Here” by Shel Silverstein I have students cut open and dump glow sticks into mason jars, then we turn off the lights and read with our DIY lanterns. It’s a really great sensory experience (the contrast of light and dark) and ripping into a glow stick to spill out oozy bright colors is exciting, especially when a teacher is doing it too!
Found Poems and Collaboration
Found poetry is one of my favorite tools. I print out and cut up the words in the poems we’re reading that day and offer this pile of language to students. They then choose the words they want and glue together a poem from the source material in answer to a creative prompt.
Found poetry is exceptional for collaborative projects as well. When we read “Where the Sidewalk Ends” I’ll set up a table so students can build a sidewalk, using the cover image as the beginning, of one long poem.
Students take turns choosing pieces of writing out of a bag, then discuss with each other how the poem should be set up and whose line should go where. In doing so, they’re exploring ideas like syntax, grammar, enjambment and meter by physically breaking and reassembling pieces of a poem.
These four ideas are starting points that educators, writers, and therapists are welcome to take into their spaces and remake as they need. If you’re curious about more strategies or how to implement some of the ones listed above then come check at “Wordplay” at Hollihock on Friday August 25th from 4:00-4:50 pm!