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Monday, September 05, 2016

Helping Our Most Challenged Students

In every school there are students who are challenged. Reasons for the challenges differ from child to child, but when a child is challenged, generally that child is difficult to teach. What can we do to help our challenged students learn with strength and access all that school has to offer?

It's important to assess our most challenged students in ways both formal and informal since the assessments can help us target our time and focus well. For example, a challenged student may be a student who arrives in your class with little to no knowledge of the standards from previous grades or the inability to speak English or a tremendous physical or cognitive challenge that distances him/her from the grade level content/standards. Good assessment data can help us to pinpoint what a child likes, how that child learns best, and what learning targets are most important. Good assessments can also help us set goals with a child and work with the child to reach those goals. Further good assessments help us to celebrate the incremental steps a challenged child may make on his/her way to independence and success in a particular area of learning and school life.

Conversation and Relationship
We all know that good teaching depends on the relationship between the educator and the child. Hence lots of time to converse and get to know all children sets the stage for a successful teaching/learning year. It may be that an educator has to make more time to get to know a child who faces a lot of challenge in school. It may be that you set up a lunch date, walk around the playground, play an after school game, or more to further build that relationship.

Basic Needs
We have to be observant about students' basic needs and advocate for what those children need with regard to appropriate clothing, snacks, rest, and academic support. Sadly too many teachers in America report that students are coming to school without their basic needs met. A colleague from another school told me that a child went home on the first day of school only to hear the mom say, "Why are you home so early, go to bed!" Obviously there was something amiss in the home, and my friend and colleague will have to be very observant to see if what's happening is a reportable issue, an issue that prevents that child from a positive childhood and ability to learn. Early year collections of snow pants and coats can support later issues during Winter. We can help parents understand too the kinds of snacks, clothing, and routines that support school success. While many parents understand this, some don't for a large variety of reasons.

Engagement and Empowerment
We need to empower and engage students. As one colleague says, "We have to make the learning sticky" so that students want to learn and continue the learning on their own time. Working from places of strength rather than deficits is a good place to start with this effort.

Soon I'll be involved in many meetings. As I think about my teaching I'm mostly satisfied with the work I do with happy, well loved, and well cared for students who meet and exceed the grade-level standards. Where I'd really like to grow is with my ability to serve the students who face the greatest challenges. Those are the students generally taught by many educators, therapists, counselors, the nurse, and more. As I think of this challenge, I'm wondering how we'll pool our resources, experiences, and knowledge to offer these students terrific, forward moving paths of comfort, engagement, confidence, and academic success. What more can we do to better meet this aim?

For starters, we can think carefully about our time together. Time is limited so our efforts need to be targeted. We have to use language carefully. We also have to choose the processes and structure for our meetings wisely. The research and efforts related to "Hosting Conversations" ties in very nicely here--we could employ new ways to discuss, strategize, learn, implement, assess, and revise our efforts with regard to our most challenged students. Last year we used a strategic process to better serve students. That worked in part, but we could have even done more as I look back at our successes and unmet goals too.

As I think and write aloud today, I believe our efforts need to include the following:
  • Welcoming all children.
  • Making sure that children have their basic needs met during the school day. If the needs are not met, reaching out to make sure those needs are met.
  • Engaging the students in enjoyable, interesting learning experiences.
  • Assessing to get a full picture of where the students are, and where we want to take them with regard to the developmental trajectory of basic skills, concepts, and knowledge as well as content/knowledge that they are curious about and want to learn.
  • Building routines and targeted teaching that helps students develop in ways that matter.
  • Stopping regularly to assess again, converse, and reset the efforts to teach/learn well with and for students.
  • Using Hattie's learning cycle as depicted on the top right to support learning/teaching goals too.