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Reading and Language Arts Tools for Child Victims

by Colleen Lelli
 | Jun 23, 2015

For years, children who witnessed domestic violence were not viewed as victims themselves though domestic violence advocates, researchers, and counselors recognized what the children witnessed was absolutely terrible.

Recently, researchers uncovered the detrimental effects domestic violence can unleash and that these children are not just witnesses but also victims. With that in mind, as educators we need to be prepared to teach children who are victims of domestic violence or children suffering from any trauma. Like a carpenter who has many tools, teachers also need many tools, or strategies, to best teach children traumatized from domestic violence.

Many areas of a child’s well-being are affected as a result of trauma, and functioning in school will be a huge hurdle, but there are helpful reading and language strategies to employ for children traumatized in any situation, particularly children who are victims of domestic violence.

Children of trauma may struggle with any activity related to sequencing. Sequencing stories, patterns in mathematics, the writing process, and oral communication can all be hampered for a child victim of a traumatic event. Timelines can be an excellent tool to help a child struggling with sequencing during the reading process. Using graphic organizers to organize writing for the writing process is another effective way to support sequencing skills. Comic strips also can be used to help with sequencing; by cutting the frames apart, students can then arrange them in the correct order.

Expressive language skills may be a cause for setback in children traumatized by domestic violence as well. Children affected by domestic violence are often not in homes where expressive language was valued or used in a healthy manner; therefore, proper modeling of positive expressive language may have not be a priority. Because verbal expression could be challenging, the writing process, subsequently, could be difficult, as this is an extension of children’s inability to express themselves.

Again, graphic organizers could be used to most effectively support students in their writing skills in the classroom. Proper modeling for using graphic organizers will guarantee that children are using these tools successfully. Providing or supporting students to design their own dictionary of words to use in their writing and speaking vocabulary will also provide support as they develop their expressive language skills.

Receptive language is another area of distress and struggle for children of trauma. Because of their heightened anxiety and looming fear of, even in a safe environment, students will struggle to process and respond to classroom language and reading tasks. Other reading tasks that could be difficult include visualizing, making connections with the text, for example, determining inferences and deciphering the author’s meaning. Visual task cards can help students suffering from receptive language difficulties while allowing comprehension of written directions. Each card can be turned over as the direction or task is completed. Designating a student the job of “summarizer” is another tool that can be used to strengthen receptive language skills. The job of a summarizer is to explain or repeat directions the teacher provides throughout the day.

Teachers need to be able to identify a child suffering from trauma and, with the collaboration of school counselors and other education professionals, use strategies to support a positive learning experience for children who are victims of domestic violence or trauma. Many tools are needed to support these children and help them find success emotionally, psychologically, and cognitively in school, and these are just a few that can be added to the toolbox, ready to employ at any time. With proper intervention, child victims of domestic violence or children affected by trauma can succeed in school.

Colleen Lelli headshotColleen Lelli is an assistant professor of education and the Pre-K–4 Special Education Program Coordinator at Cabrini College in Pennsylvania. Lelli earned a bachelor's degree from Cabrini College, a master’s degree from Arcadia University, and a doctorate degree from Widener University.

Lelli will present a session entitled “Using Children’s Literature to Help Traumatized Children Heal” on Saturday, July 18, at the ILA 2015 Conference in St. Louis, MO, July 18–20. This session will explore ways children's literature can be used to foster learning for children who have been traumatized and are struggling to learn. Visit the ILA 2015 Conference website for more information or to register.


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