Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Chapter 4: Support Your Students

Jackson begins Chapter 4 explaining “The Curse of Knowledge”: Once we learn or know something, it is difficult to understand what it is like to NOT know it.  Teachers tend to think, “Since I learned/understood it this way, you students will be able to learn/understand it this same way, too.”  Therefore, teachers tend to teach the way they were taught, forgetting that kids in their classrooms might learn differently.  Confusion ensues, followed by frustration, student failures, and an overall meltdown of “the way things ought to be.”
They way to fix this, Jackson says, is thinking proactively.  Waiting until kids fail and then figuring out how to remediate is the sign of a passive disregard for student differences.  The old adage, “Failing to plan is planning to fail,” rings true. 
Instead, remediation plans – let’s call them “interventions” – should be an integral part of the lesson planning process.  As teachers plan lesson activities, ask yourselves:
·         What concepts often cause kids to become confused, frustrated, etc.? 
·         What mistakes are common along this Road to Understanding I’ve so carefully mapped out?
Then, once those trouble-spots are identified, ask yourselves:
·         When kids do get confused or make mistakes, what can I help them do differently that will get them back on-track?  
·         What supports, tips & tricks, etc., can I teach them to help them get over smaller rough spots?
·         What other ways to approach this skill/topic might help kids who are having a REALLY tough time?
The following elements make up an effective intervention system, according to the author:
1.       An intervention plan is developed before students begin to fail. It is posted on a Web site, sent home in a flyer early in the year, discussed in class before the lesson/unit begins, etc.
2.       An objective, measurable “red flag” mechanism activates the intervention plan.  For example:
a.        Student scores less than 76% = Red Flag
b.       Student does not turn in (n) assignments during a term = Red Flag
c.        Student “does not meet” a standard or expectation = Red Flag, etc.
3.       A concrete procedure exists and kicks in automatically once the red flag is raised.
a.        Think “IF – THEN” statements
b.       Here is where you’d customize interventions for individual learners
c.        Interventions ARE NOT busy work or punishments.  EVER!
4.       Students share accountability with the teacher for making the plan work.
a.        Interventions ARE NOT VOLUNTARY for students or teachers
b.       Don’t wait for kids to ask for help.  Make sure kids know exactly what to do when the plan is triggered
So, we must anticipate and pinpoint confusion, and develop a plan to help kids before anyone realizes that the kids need help.  In the process, we make sure kids (and their parents) are aware of these steps & procedures, and that everyone understands that this is a normal & acceptable part of learning and growing.  As kids show progress, we gradually remove the supports (“crutches,” “training wheels,” whatever you want to call them) as kids experience increased success.  For those who don’t need the supports, provide appropriate challenges so they don’t become complacent – develop enrichment plans just like you’ve developed intervention plans along the way.

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