Removing Barriers to Teaching Struggling Learners

Conference News Online
March 2012

During these tough economic times, many students are dealing with emotional issues. Given all of the outside influences, it's amazing that students even show up for school, let alone learn when they get there. In my presentation on teaching struggling learners on Thursday, March 22, I will look at the following factors that can interfere with learning and discuss how we can address them in our classrooms and schools:

  • Medical. This is not an issue if parents bring their children to the doctor for regular check-ups. Many times the solution to a struggling reader is realizing that he or she needs glasses. Unfortunately, many parents lack the proper health insurance and cannot always afford the appointment, not to mention the glasses. \
  • Social. Social issues can plague children, especially if they are not fitting in with their peers. Learning how to interact properly with peers does not always come naturally to a student, and often they need the support of a good teacher to learn how to engage properly. School counselors can build a bridge for these students through the use of peer mediation intervention.
  • Emotional. Some of our students suffer with emotional issues. Seeking outside counseling is a great option, and should not have a stigma. Everyone can benefit from talking with a third person to work through issues. Perhaps a child who deals with this at a young age builds resiliency and will become a stronger adult.
  • Behavioral. Behavior issues have many different root causes, ranging from a lack of discipline at home to a medical reason. Through the use of behavior modification, like behavior charts, students can work through their issues and become successful.
  • Learning style. Students may learn best in a different way than the teacher’s instructional approach. Perhaps the teacher has so many students in the class that he or she cannot possibly differentiate instruction. The key to overcoming the learning style obstacle is by building engaging lessons.
  • Learning impairment. Learning impairment is the area where there needs to be high quality academic intervention services (AIS). High quality is not about giving more of the same; it is about finding different ways to engage the learner. Learning impairment and learning style often overlap one another.

Although children may struggle when they are young, it does not mean they are doomed to struggle for the rest of their lives. Parents, teachers, and administrators can have a lasting impact on those students. When our students remember us in the future, will it be because we had a positive impact or a negative one?

Peter DeWitt, principal, Averill Park Central School District, Albany, New York