What I Know About Struggling Students (Part one)

                                              By: Penny Hanley Fish

Teacher helping struggling student

I have taught struggling students for many years in both self- contained and general education classes.  Over the years, I have used many techniques to help my students achieve success in school, gain confidence in their abilities and become motivated to learn. There are several important issues that I have learned to consider when working with struggling students (more than can fit in this blog).  Based on my experiences, below are two of the more important ones  and well worth the time and effort!

Struggling students do not learn well in whole group instruction.

Most struggling students have attention, processing, and/or memory problems.  If you observe a classroom with a teacher conducting a whole group lesson, you will find that the “smart students” are paying attention and answering questions.  The struggling students are daydreaming, looking under their desk, tying their shoe, asking to go to the bathroom, becoming discipline problems, etc.  Naturally, there has to be some whole group instruction, but it should be as limited as possible. I have always used whole group instruction to give an overview of the lesson, present the independent work and centers, and review classroom rules.  I then break into centers rotations with three to five students in each group.  I usually rotate centers every 20 minutes with younger students.   One center is the teacher table.  I use that time to teach the skill/lesson to three to five students at a time.  You would be surprised at how quickly students can master a skill when you have a captive audience. Sometimes the “smarter students” will understand the skill in 10 minutes, during which time I give them an independent activity to finish at my table and I move to another location to work with a student who needs additional help.  I use one center for independent seat work so students can practice the skill just learned (or review previously learned skills)  and at least one other center that incorporates social studies or science in order to connect literacy standards for content area instruction.  The key to successful centers is to make them interesting and relevant while consistently enforcing the rules.

Struggling students often have no intrinsic desire to learn.

Whether it’s due to lack of parental support, past failures, frustration, or just being unmotivated, we need to supply the desire for some students.  Find something they do well and use it to help them find a reason to learn.  I had a first grade student who was as yet unidentified SLD in reading.  He was frustrated, angry and disruptive.  I discovered he was really good at two things, drawing and helping other kids work the computer.  I made him the official computer helper (within reason).  All the other kids considered him the “expert” and it gave him a huge boost of confidence.  I also found opportunities to include drawing within my curriculum instruction.  His was always the best one, and other kids would ask him for help.  Every day when I worked with him, I used those talents as examples of why reading was important.  Look for every opportunity to make the struggling student feel successful and that will develop a desire to learn.

About the author: Penny Fish is a kindergarten and first grade ESE inclusion teacher at Triangle Elementary School in Mt. Dora, Florida.  She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood and Elementary Education as well as a Master’s Degree in Special Education and a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership.     


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