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SIWI: A Fresh Approach to Writing Instruction

Updated: Oct 12, 2022

Like many bilingual students, children whose first language is ASL often have difficulty learning to read and write in English. For many deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHH) children, English is not always accessible in the home. Disappointingly, teachers aren’t always educated on the best methods of teaching DHH students. This can cause them to fall behind in their education.

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SIWI is a teaching method that provides parents and educators with a toolbox full of research-backed instruments for bridging the gap between English and ASL. SIWI strives to ensure DHH students are no longer left behind.

What exactly is SIWI?

SIWI stands for “Strategic and Interactive Writing Instruction.” It is an approach to writing that considers the bilingual nature of DHH students. This method fosters the development of language and communication skills in both languages simultaneously. This is extremely beneficial because as bilinguals, DHH students can draw upon the wealth of knowledge they have already acquired in their first language and apply it to their understanding of English.

Many studies have been done regarding the development, implementation, and efficacy of SIWI principles. Researchers have found that students who build ASL and written English skills side-by-side have shown significant gains in both language and writing.

This requires a number of different strategies that help students translate their ideas from ASL to written English.

SIWI is interactive and collaborative.

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Students engage in group activities focusing on sharing and building upon the contributions of their classmates. Together, they use collective problem-solving skills to enhance their understanding.

“I don’t know why I never thought of [collaborative writing] before. I guess I would have thought it was cheating, with everybody working together, but that’s how you learn, ” said Kendra Grosso, an Elementary Teacher at Bridgeport Public Schools in Connecticut who had success implementing SIWI in her classroom.

Students progress through several phases of learning. Each phase slowly releases independent control to the student. In the beginning, the teacher guides the students. As they gain competence, the student moves to group activities, and finally independent writing.

SIWI Is Strategic

Traditional writing strategies are not always helpful to DHH students. SIWI focuses on supplemental tools that speak to the unique qualities of ASL. SIWI breaks down the writing process into multi-tiered prewriting steps that help the students translate and organize their thoughts before jumping to writing sentences. For instance, a teacher using SIWI might ask a student to create a poster that visually represents their idea including photos, drawings, and gloss (printed representations of ASL hand signs).

SIWI Considers The Specific Needs of DHH Students.

All language learners acquire language in two ways: “explicitly,” or being told, and “implicitly,” or figuring it out. DHH students have a disadvantage when it comes to implicit learning both in the classroom and in their everyday lives because vocabulary and grammar structures differ greatly between ASL and English.

SIWI facilities opportunities for implicit learning through the interactive and collaborative activities mentioned previously. Another method of implicit instruction is frequent reading and re-reading of texts that incorporate both written English and visual representations such as signs and pictures.

SIWI uses a concept called “the language zone” to support implicit learning. In the language zone, teachers and students can use tools like videos, pictures, drawings, and gloss to strengthen connections between written words and the concepts behind them. Once a strong foundation has been built, students can progress to more traditional writing practices.

SIWI shows tangible results

“Implementation of SIWI has greatly improved my students’ achievement in language and writing. Students that previously were only able to write in abstract concepts and simple sentences are now able to write in complex sentence structures. SIWI has changed the way I teach writing forever!” said Deanna Glasser, a Teacher at Kentucky School for the Deaf.

SIWI has been shown to work wonders with DHH students, but the principles of SIWI can be applied to enhance writing instruction for students of all backgrounds! If you’re an educator or a parent, find out how you can use these principles at home or in your classroom.


“Strategic Interative Writing Instruction”

Hannah M. Dostal & Kimberly Wolbers, “Developing Language and Writing Skills of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students: A Simultaneous Approach”


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