February 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Support for Struggling Learners | Professional Shelf

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Stormont_SimpleStrategies_K5-rThe reluctance of some teachers to fully embrace the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) springs from concerns about students who come to school poorly equipped to succeed academically. Below-grade-level skills, lack of motivation, and various behavioral and social problems are some of the roadblocks. With solid advice and practical examples, two recent titles advocate student-centered approaches that support struggling learners as they gain confidence and increase proficiency.

Concise, readable, and easy-to-use, Melissa Stormont and Cathy Newman Thomas’s Simple Strategies for Teaching Children at Risk, K-5 (Corwin, 2014) focuses on classroom management, instructional techniques, and intervention planning. The authors, both professors and researchers in special education, note that pre-service training for general education teachers often doesn’t include methods for meeting the needs of students with academic and/or social difficulties. Their guide steps in to fill that gap. Citing research-based evidence throughout, they identify characteristics of at-risk children, discuss the importance of early intervention, and emphasize the need for strong adult support.

Guidance in building a positive classroom atmosphere that benefits all learners is provided with practical suggestions and sample scenarios of successful teacher/student interactions and effective instruction. For example, a teacher seamlessly combines classroom community building with practice in higher-level questioning skills as part of a beginning of the year getting-to-know-you activity. One chapter is devoted to the how-tos of gathering empirical data to inform productive intervention, while another offers an overview of using technology to enhance learning. Educators are also encouraged to collaborate with fellow staff members including the reading specialist, speech pathologist, and school counselor, to better identify the needs of struggling learners. Reflection questions on potential biases and barriers prompt teachers to think about ways to improve communication between families and schools to boost parental involvement.

{078A35CE-060C-4BE9-8E1A-839B5C8C5C39}Img100_bWith the adoption of the CCSS, middle and high school teachers are feeling the pressure to ramp up instruction in critical thinking and inquiry. But how can teachers ensure that students who lack proficiency in reading and writing acquire the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in school and beyond? In Common Core CPR: What About the Adolescents Who Struggle…or Just Don’t Care? (Corwin, 2013) educators ReLeah Cossett Lent and Barry Gilmore examine literacy instruction with a common sense approach to implementing the standards through scaffolded instruction that promotes individual progress.

In the early chapters, the authors discuss the CCSS in terms of a student-centered environment and the critical need for learners, especially reluctant and struggling students, to adopt “an operational role in learning.” To this end, they’ve outlined specific learning goals linked to standards for motivation and engagement that they suggest using in concert with the Common Core standards in language arts. The stories of real students and  teachers demonstrate these standards in action through detailed descriptions of classroom activities that model how to scaffold complex text, encourage analytical thinking, produce evidence-based writing, create a culture of reading, incorporate various media, and teach grammar and vocabulary. Useful sidebars include “Voices from the Classroom,” e.g. reflections from the field; how-tos with suggestions for replicating lessons; and annotated lists of fiction and nonfiction titles related to the lessons. Much of the work crosses curriculum areas requiring teachers to collaborate and calls for administrative support, sufficient planning time, knowledge of materials, and a good bit of creativity. The publisher provides a companion website with reproducibles from the book and a “Professional Learning Guide” packed with additional materials for staff development.

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