Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Working with Challenged Students

Every teacher accepts the notion that not all students learn at the same pace, much less grasping information in the same way, as a result of limitations with skill-sets associated with speech, listening, reading, writing, and comprehension. Many of these challenged students have IEPs (Individualized Education Program) in place which are tailored to address the different constraints on student learning. Modifications are made not only for the classroom, but expectations with homework and testing. Working together with support-staff, special ed teachers, parents, and the content teacher, it will often improve upon areas of concern.

This year I seem to have an especially large load of students with IEPs and I've accepted the challenge with open arms, knowing that lesson-planning requires ongoing changes in differentiation. Upon completing a recent unit and assessing student knowledge, I was concerned about the large number of failing grades on their final exam. Our school has a policy that every student is allowed to retake a test within one week as an opportunity to improve upon their grade. I extended an open invitation to those 'challenged' students to retake their test with me as their reader, knowing that it would require a large block of my free time. 

There have been moments in my life when I took my learning for granted. I may have struggled with challenging selections of reading or writing, but it was nothing to the extent that these students likely deal with every day. As I read each multiple-choice question and the possible answers, I was amazed at how difficult it was for students to make definitive decisions on any one answer, but I exerted patience in every way. In some cases it was specific vocabulary which interfered with their thought-process, while others were tripped up by creative answers that were easily dismissed by average students. I provided both time and understanding with their test retake, sensing that the removal of stress would be instrumental in their success. I never rushed them to make a decision and sometimes expanded upon concepts with difficult vocabulary.

While the typical student would complete such a test in less than an hour, each of these students required a minimum of two hours of one-to-one time on my part...with one needing almost three hours to finish. To my amazement, all four students showed noticeable improvements on their retakes. Not just a simple grade mark of improvement, but obvious advancements in reading, writing, and comprehension. Four 'F's were transformed into a solid C, two Bs and a low A. When I corrected their tests and returned them with the higher grades, students were stunned by the was Mr. D. I doubt they realized how much time (or the removal of this constraint) may have impacted their abilities with test-taking.

In reflection of what I sense could be a constructive solution, I struggle to see how I might make changes on future assessments in order to achieve maximum results in test scores. These students require genuine one-on-one attention, but resources are limited both on my part as well as support staff. There are only so many minutes in each day, much less a lifetime. The human mind is indeed complex in the way it grasps information and extracts they conceived or factual in nature. As I journey deeper into the world of teaching in 2015, I continue seeking ways to expand on differentiation in the classroom.