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by Robyn R. Jackson and Claire Lambert
Table of Contents
If we want our students to succeed, we cannot afford to leave to chance what happens when they do not learn.
All teachers have had that moment in the classroom where we've just finished explaining what we thought was a simple concept and then see our students staring blankly back, completely lost. We all know the sinking feeling that comes with realizing that, in spite of our best efforts, our students still don't understand our lesson. And we have all experienced the frustration that comes when students continue to struggle and constantly lag behind. There is curriculum to cover and a test to give, and students just aren't keeping up.
Often we don't intervene until after students have shown us that they don't understand. Then we look for some sort of remediation so they can "relearn" what they failed to absorb the first time, or we slow down and work at a pace we think they can handle. For both teachers and students, it's a reactive cycle of catching on and catching up that can be as exhausting as it is disheartening.
But what if we could catch students the moment that they began to struggle and help them quickly get back on track? What if we could build-in support systems that would prevent more of them from struggling at all? What if there was something we could do to make student success a lot more likely?
The problem is, once a person knows something, it is really difficult to understand what it is like not to know it. Often teachers' understanding of a concept or process makes it next to impossible for us to imagine what it is like for students who do not have that same understanding. Think back to learning to drive. The first time you backed out of the driveway, you had to coach yourself to check your mirrors, look over your shoulder, ease off the brake, and decide which way to turn the steering wheel in order to make the car go where you wanted it to. Now you can probably do the same task while talking to a passenger and drinking a cup of coffee.
As teachers, we face the "curse of knowledge" all the time in our classrooms. What seems easy and obvious to us can be inscrutable for our students. But we can learn how to use the curse of knowledge to our advantage. If we are aware of it, we can work to anticipate where our students may become confused and figure out how to deliver truly effective instruction.
Proactive support guides students throughout the learning process, keeping them moving toward mastery and getting them quickly back on track when they struggle. Instead of merely giving students the opportunity to learn, proactive support puts structures in place to make mastery the inevitable result for most students most of the time. Much like the more formal structure of Response to Intervention (RTI), proactive support provides a series of progressive, systematic, just-in-time responses to students before, during, and after the lesson to ensure that students consistently get the help they need until they are successful. Figure 1 illustrates the process.
Providing students with support before the lesson prepares them for learning. If we set students up to learn, if we help them acquire the skills they will need to learn effectively the first time, far fewer of them will encounter difficulty. Even when students are well prepared, inevitably there will be points along the way where they may become confused; the trick is to anticipate where these difficulties may lie and then be ready with effective intervention. A few students, despite your best efforts and support, will still struggle. Setting up opportunities prior to the summative assessment for students to re-engage with the material and to learn the things they missed provides yet another chance to ensure that all of your students master the material.
Giving students both preventive and targeted, just-in-time support also helps you. Teaching can be frustrating, particularly when some or all of the students in your class seem to lag behind, give up too easily, or resist the work habits that could make them much more successful. Although the methods in this guide won't eliminate all frustration from your professional life, they will build your capacity to deliver instruction in a way that encourages student progress.
Making time to reflect on your practice and incorporate the methods and strategies in this book can yield rich rewards in your classroom day to day. As students come to understand how the safety nets and interventions built into your instruction operate, they will be better able to stay on course or quickly redirect themselves when they begin to struggle. Having a clear and objective plan for intervention allows teachers to make academic support appear… supportive. All too often students add to their struggle by resisting help because it feels like punishment. As students' knowledge and confidence increase, the classroom becomes a much more productive and positive place to be.
Effective Support IS. . .
Effective Support Is NOT. . .
Managed by a teacher as advocate
Imposed by a teacher as adversary
Take a moment to reflect and write down a few notes. Who are your struggling students this year? How or why do they seem to struggle? What have you tried so far? Which support strategies seem to work best?
Copyright © 2010 by Mindsteps Inc.. All rights reserved.
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