When I have a student who is not capable of completing an assigned project, I try to break down the objectives in the project, to get a clear picture of the goals and reasons for the student to complete the project. Then I focus on fewer objectives, but develop a piece, or a modified version of the project that the student will be able to successfully complete. Another option, once the project has been broken down into goals or objectives, is to provide additional scaffolds for some of the objectives, so that the others objectives can be reached Either way, the student can accomplish some of the goals of the project, and make progress towards the goals.
I teach English to high school students in the 9th-12th grades who have not found success in traditional classroom settings. I have to be cognizant of the different methods of learning and be able to read unspoken clues when they don’t understand a concept. The methods I use vary depending on the student or level I am teaching. Sometimes, the majority of the students I am teaching are visual, and need to see something on the board that actually shows I am saying, whether it be a map, a picture, or a cartoon. I will use different colored markers to show the specific sections I want them to focus on and will underline, use arrows, circles, or otherwise emphasize the most important words or phrases. For vocabulary, I found that when I use very short definitions to explain a new word, it can connect with their prior knowledge, not only increasing their vocabulary, but also their ability to tap into long term knowledge, which in turn increases their self-esteem. If they simply cannot understand the concept, I will evaluate the lessons they should have received in 8th grade, verbally test them to see if they know those concepts, and if they don’t- I go lower and lower until I can see where their education lapsed or became the secondary issue. Then, I will gradually begin to insert new information to build on that base knowledge, asking them to take notes in their “journals” and then use these notes as a starting point for incorporating new information. Unlike many teachers, I have classes that have between 4-10 students in each class, so I am granted the time and flexibility to really make sure that my students get each concept before moving on to new concepts. This one-on-one dynamic allows me the chance to know my students and since I teach most of them for four years, I can develop my curriculum to meet a huge variety of challenges and learning disabilities. This skill is also what helps me create dynamic curriculum that addresses a variety of learning methods and teaching strategies, especially with the atypical student.
Some of the adjustment I do is on the grading side and some on the student side. My classrooms had a very broad range of student abilities and interest. I tried to make my projects and assignments as flexible and open as I could to accommodate the differences while still having defined goals and criteria. Because the projects were largely completed in class, I was able to move about the room and work with students, providing support and resources to those who needed it. And when that wasn’t enough (with time or prior-knowledge limitations), I would adjust on the grading side. A bright but lazy student would be graded differently than one who was working but struggling. I expected more higher level thinking out of the bright kid. I crafted my rubrics to allow that flexibility in grading (such as “ors” in criteria.) And occasionally, yes, I did change the project requirements, shaving off corners while trying to maintain the core– this happened less as I became more experienced, but sometimes class make up or other issues (snow days any one?) would make me alter assignment requirements.
Students share every aspect of leadership with me in all classes, even to negotiating criteria for their assignments. Once they trust how they can speak up and feel heard on all issues, they avoid lates more as managing assessments become a tool they enjoy. Shared leadership assumes they also become responsible for submitting materials on or before due dates. I offer an article to them, titled “Yikes Run from Lates,” which explains how procrastination creates stress that can literally shrink a brain. To help them, rubrics are given ahead and double as guides to their work. Few late papers are accepted.
When I have a struggling student, I seek help! I visit with guidance counselors, special education teachers, and others in my school who may know the student. Many times these people provide useful information. For instance, I may discover that a student lacks support from home or needs materials to complete an assignment. Often I find that a coach can help motivate a student. Occasionally I work with a mentor for the student, and we develop a “check-in/check-out” plan. Other times I refer the student for tutoring in our after-school program. I wish that I could reach every student in my classes by myself, but the truth is that sometimes a team approach is needed to help everyone succeed!
What about you, dear reader? What do you do?