By Foley Burckhardt, M.Ed.
Those precious minutes when the learning specialist or tutor sits face to face with a student who would rather be playing soccer or enjoying a “play date” are taking on new meaning as curriculums become tougher and kids run on tighter and tighter schedules. Just how does the learning specialist make best use of this precious time?
One dilemma as we work with students for a while is our own tendency to fall into a routine of delivering remediation. We forget that just as we get tired of using one particular program so do our students. There are many things we can do, however, to revitalize the process. Here’s a summary of just a few of them:
Review Learning Profiles
Help your students understand their own learning profile. Discuss openly with your student his/her strengths. Don’t limit the list only to strengths in academic areas. One student of mine listed her strengths as gymnastics, making friends, remembering stuff and doing puzzles. Share with the student your own personal strengths and what is challenging for you. Younger students especially believe adults do not have any weaknesses; let them know that you have things that are hard for you and use bypass strategies to make things easier.
Stress Challenges, Not Weaknesses
Discuss openly your student’s perceived challenges (not weaknesses!)
Create a visual description of challenges to refer to frequently as you work together.
Make sure the strengths far outweigh the challenge areas. Limit the challenge areas to two or three academic areas so the student does not feel overwhelmed.
Base your plan with the student on how you will help use their strengths to develop bypass strategies to help with their challenges. Mel Levine’s All Kinds of Minds is a worthwhile read for students who are ready to discuss their learning disabilities.
Explain Diagnostic Findings
If your student has undergone a diagnostic evaluation explain the findings to them and put the difficulties they are having into words. Students devote an enormous amount of time and energy into the testing sessions and are curious to know the outcome of their tests.
Describe the results in a kid-friendly way so that when they leave your office they feel on top of the world and ready to start working to achieve their goals.
Results should offer relief for the child and help him feel that nothing is wrong with him.
Avoiding discussions of testing with your students will only make them more anxious and ashamed about their difficulties.
It is also important for parents to use the same language as the learning specialist when explaining their disability.
Involve Students in Learning Assessment
Have students be a part of ongoing goal assessment.
Create a visual representation when you can, such as a chart or graph that shows improvement.
Phrases like, “You are doing a great job” do not mean as much as a child seeing reading fluency double or sight word car pack grow to 500. Establish Attainable Goals
Help steer your students toward attainable goals.
Help them write down three goals, one personal, one academic and family goal.
Discuss their goals and have them share them with their parents and teachers. Have students reflect on how and if they are meeting their goals. It is also fun for them to look back at old goals and discover how far they have progressed.
Develop a plan with your student on how they plan to meet their goals.
One student of mine wanted to become a better reader. In order to stress her active participation in the process, I asked her how she planned to achieve this goal. She said, “By meeting with my tutor”, “Reading out loud every night”, and “Not guessing so much on words”. Helping students achieve their goals will help motivate them to challenge themselves.
Share results of ongoing assessments with your students.
Reward and praise them for their progress.
Read Real Books
If you are delivering reading instruction make sure your students read real books so they can use the strategies they learn in real reading situations. Strategies taught in isolation do not help the students see the connection between outside remediation and school.
Students with learning disabilities worry about their future.
Let them know what to expect in the next grade.
Stress that they will not be experiencing difficulty forever.
Share your own story and stories about other students so that they understand they are not alone.
Vary Instruction and Be Careful Not to Get in a Rut
When delivering any of the multi-sensory programs such as Wilson or Lindamood Bell it is easy to just follow the steps in the manual and keep the student moving along. This method is not only boring for you, it is terribly boring for the student. After a long day at school students need to be stimulated throughout the lesson to keep them actively involved. A combination of programs as well as adding your own flare is often what keeps the student wanting to participate each week. Also make sure to help students understand HOW to generalize the work you are doing into their classroom each week. Also help your students to know that one particular strategy is not fool proof and works for some things and not for others.
Most important of all, keep reminding the student, their parents, and teachers of all the goals that have already been attained.
Keep the sessions positive so the student takes charge of his/her own learning. Then they will be on the road to independent learners, what we all strive to achieve.
Following these tips, in my view, is the easiest path to meeting the goals of remediation. As remediation specialists, we want to empower our students to ask questions, take risks in using new tools and develop an understanding of what works best for them in terms of learning style. Escaping from the routine, capitalizing of those precious moments in so many different ways, and we can meet our goal a lot quicker and more often.
I want to thank Sam Karmin, first grade student at Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School, for being my personal advisor in writing this article. Sam would also like to share with you that he learned how to ride a bike at three years old.
Foley Burckardt, with degrees from Miami University of Ohio and DePaul University, is the head of learning services at the Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School in Chicago. She is also in private practice, delivering reading, writing and mathematics remediation to students in Chicago and its northern suburbs.