They can’t get started. They don’t write very much, and when they do, their ideas are disorganized. They ramble off topic and don’t answer the question.
Some have tons of ideas, but they don’t know how to get them out of their heads.
Students who struggle with language, literacy, and learning need more explicit instruction in writing. With a reliable way to approach writing and insight into how language works, they do better.
To write, students must manage many things simultaneously: handwriting, spelling, punctuation, word choice, grammar, purpose, organization, clarity, and rhythm, to name just a few.
Mix in feelings of anxiety, overwhelm, or disinterest — chronic problems for so many students with learning challenges — and there are simply too many balls to juggle all at once.
Students convince themselves that they can’t do it. Once that negative self-story sets in, it’s unlikely to change.
In our effort to understand how to help students who struggle with writing, we asked them what they were saying to themselves as they sat with their writing assignments.
Their answers were heart breaking. They were drowning in negative thoughts about themselves. Their struggle with organizing language was palpable, and they envisioned a lifetime of failure.
We realized that the most important thing we needed to change was the conversation students were having inside their own heads. They also needed better tools for harnessing all the ideas that were stuck there.
To do that, we needed to change the conversation teachers were having with them about writing and give them more effective tools for teaching.
Drawing on the best research, we merged self-talk, dialogic instruction, and a set of visual tools that illustrate how language works.
EmPOWER is an explicit way to teach the writing process in six, finely articulated steps:
At its core, the EmPOWER method consists of 9 questions, 10 visual tools, and 5 strategies that support academic writing. It can be used in grades 2 through 12 to guide expository and narrative writing.
Using EmPOWER, teachers pose the same 10 questions each and every time students sit to write, opening a dialogue to explore options together. Each question triggers the use of a strategy or visual tool that students use to organize their ideas. Ultimately, students decide what they want to say and how to assemble their ideas and express them clearly.
As students move through the writing process with EmPOWER, they make all the decisions, and they are in full control. Rather than guess or ramble, their conscious choices give birth to ideas expressed well on paper.
WHAT students write in school is dictated by school-wide curriculum and the content goals of individual teachers.
EmPOWER leaves the WHAT up to teachers and focuses on HOW. It gives them a way to navigate the writing process from start to finish and express thoughts and ideas in a way that makes sense.
Because every written text begs for a smart process, EmPOWER supports any writing assignment in any grade and any content area.
When used by a whole school community, EmPOWER aligns general and special education seamlessly across all tiers of instruction as well as all grades and content areas.
Everyone speaks the same language, so students have the consistency they need to excel.
School-based action research at The Summit School shows students using EmPOWER make statistically significant gains in how much and how well they write within just one year.
These gains hold into the following school year, impervious to the “summer slide.”
Increased confidence shifts the stories they tell themselves about what they can do and what’s possible for them in the future.
“EmPOWER gave me the language I desperately needed to teach my students. I developed an eye for many of the behind-the-scenes difficulties kids were having, difficulties that had to do not with grammar and spelling, but with managing the planning, organizing, and holding processes necessary to create a text.”
Greg S. Middle school English teacher
“In the past, teaching students how to write was exhausting because I could never really get students to think for themselves. With EmPOWER, they’ve become independent thinkers. Now, when they have a question, all I do is redirect them. They know how to work out their writing problem on their own.”
Rocio E., Speech-Language Pathologist
“My students’ confidence has soared with EmPOWER. They now have a ‘can do’ attitude about writing. Now I spend a lot less time clarifying, and students spend more time working independently.”
Elisa P., Grades 3-7 Special education teacher