Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Supporting Academic Struggling Students Does Not Equal Watering Down the Course Content

Common Core is here and, with it, more academically challenging learning for all students.   English language learners may find the new demands of core content reading a bit overwhelming.  Further, those found in mainstream classes might feel very overwhelmed as they try to process new vocabulary, very difficult text, highly sophisticated written language in the reading assignments, and more complex writing assignments than in their former English language development classes.

So what are teachers to do to lower anxiety levels for those students while delivering more demanding lessons without diluting the message?  Here are some suggestions.  More likely than not, most will be quite familiar to teachers with few exceptions. 

It is necessary for teachers to carefully review material to be taught before the class meeting.  This way, teachers will have adequate time to predict areas of the material that ELLs may have problems with and plan accordingly to address those weak areas.  With such planning, the ELL will be able to not only get the "big picture," but also grasp many of the details.  How might a teacher build in such support?  Visuals, short videos, jigsaw activities, graphic organizers, lots of cooperative learning activities with mixed ability groups, etc.

As teachers deliver the lesson with the tools in the paragraph above, they must also be on the look out for those clues which tell a teacher who understands and who doesn't.  As with any effective facilitator, teachers must circulate room and interact with students as needed.  This can be most effectively done by sitting within small groups (less intimidating for many) and asking those probing questions to determine how well a concept is understood or not.  Yes or no questions should only be used as a lead-in to deeper questions containing words such as EXPLAIN, CLARIFY, DESCRIBE, HOW, etc.  In small groups, ELLs can easily gather assistance from peers in his/her group to help him/her answer such questions.

Using such techniques will avoid the destructive cycle for ELLs.  That is the cycle where the student has given up and basically accepts failure.  Instead a positive approach builds student self-confidence and with that comes a decent grade:)



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