My final six observations of working with struggling students:
This should go without saying, but I think in the era of academic rigor, we are trying so hard to get students to think for themselves, that we forget we have to teach them too. With struggling students it is very important to model skills and give them amble time to practice those skills. It is more beneficial to work with a struggling student for 10 minutes every day, than for 15 minutes three times a week. Because of memory and attention issues, they will retain information better if given in small but frequent sessions.
Struggling students become overwhelmed easily.
Just as we know to teach struggling students more complex material in smaller more manageable chunks, we need to remember not to overwhelm them in other areas as well. Struggling students may feel overwhelmed when given too much information at once, visual or oral. When explaining or displaying information, stick to the point, don’t ramble or add unnecessary information. Additionally, schedule physical breaks and provide incentives for students. Use preferred activities as a reward for getting work done.
Struggling students need consistent schedules and rules.
Because they are already struggling with learning difficulties, it becomes even more stressful if the game plan changes. Obviously there are some changes that cannot be avoided, but the more consistent you can keep your classroom and your expectations, the better they will do academically and emotionally. When they know they can count on working with you, or doing a preferred activity at a certain time, they are much more likely to become engaged in other areas.
Struggling students, (and others as well), learn best when learning is fun.
You would be amazed at how many learning activities can be done in a fun and interesting way.
I use or make up games, chants, and songs to teach and practice just about everything. The teacher internet sites have tons of suggestions. You can make any lesson into a fun activity.
Struggling students need to know you care about them.
I am always reminded of something one of my administrators said: “Remember to greet your students with a happy smile every morning; it may be the first smile they’ve seen that day.” Their parent may have yelled at them, the bus driver may have been grumpy, the kid next to them on the bus may have said something mean. You may be the one to start their day on a positive note. If you show you care about them, they will develop a better attitude about learning. And remember, many of their behavior issues may be due to the embarrassment they feel at being “behind” the other kids. “It’s better to be the bad kid than the dumb kid” is a frequent feeling. Knowing you care can make a big difference.
Struggling students need explicit directions on how to complete work and take tests.
Because of attention and processing issues, struggling students often have a difficult time with classwork and tests. They may need small group instruction on how to look for and find the correct answer. Often times they are overwhelmed with the amount of text on the paper, so they mark anything just to be finished. Improving their confidence with test taking, will in turn boost their achievement and increase motivation.
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. To read part one of “What I Know About Teaching Struggling Students” visit https://educatorsfl.wordpress.com/2014/10/28/what-i-know-about-struggling-students-part-one/.