Guest post by Amy Simon
It is always concerning to a parent when they discover that their child is falling behind in the classroom. When this happens, it is best to systematically consider possible causes. One common cause of a relatively sudden decline in academic performance is vision or hearing loss. It may not occur to either teachers or parents that a child cannot now see the board, where they were once able to. The change might have been so gradual that the student does not realize it either. Even if they do, they may be reluctant to mention it to their parents, primarily because they don’t want glasses! So, if your child suddenly experiences difficulty, a vision and hearing assessment might be in order.
If a child’s hearing and vision is adequate, it may be time to visit the pediatrician. These medical professionals can assist with identifying attention problems and can provide referrals for others who might be able to evaluate your child for a learning issue. Ultimately, a pediatrician can rule out any organic condition that might be causing your child to have difficulty learning.
If everything checks out well from your child’s medical evaluation, it is wise to consider enlisting some one-on-one help, combined with an effective teaching system. Luckily, there are some effective strategies or teaching practices that can be implemented by teachers, tutors, and parents that can help learners who struggle in academic areas. These strategies involve setting up an appropriate learning environment, providing adequate support, and designing and implementing effective instruction.
Setting Up a Learning Environment
When considering the best ways to set up an appropriate learning environment, we should likely keep in mind the things our mother used to tell us. Find a well-lit, well-ventilated location. Work or study at a table, where there is ample space. Do not attempt to tackle a reading assignment while lying on the bed or on the couch. Most importantly, find a location that is distraction-free. Attempting to learn the causes of the Civil War is difficult to do while watching a reality show on TV!
Providing Adequate Support
When students are struggling with a particular academic task, the worst thing is for them to feel isolated. Many are reluctant to ask for help from the teacher. After all, when the teacher asks, “Are there any questions?”, is anyone actually going to ask one, in front of everyone? There are many ways to provide additional support to a learner. For example, the teacher might do a “progress check” from time to time during an assignment, to ensure that the learner understands the assignment. The teacher might provide a “study buddy” or “peer tutor”; often, children would much rather work with another student in their class rather than with the teacher or instructional aide. Parents may offer additional support to their child by monitoring homework sessions and helping students prepare for tests. They may seek the services of a private tutor for a couple of sessions each week.
When designing effective instruction, be mindful that very few students learn easily from information that is presented in a lecture format. Focus on teaching to a variety of modalities. For visual learners (which most children are), use pictures, videos, graphic organizers, charts, graphs, tables, and time lines. For auditory learners, use songs, music, lectures, discussions, and debates. Nearly every child can benefit from kinesthetic, hands-on activities. Isn’t it much more meaningful to learn about anatomy through frog dissection, rather than reading a chapter and answering questions about anatomy?
Implementing Effective Instructions
Besides designing well-conceived instruction, some practices will make instruction even more effective. First, provide frequent breaks for students. There is no point in asking a student with attention difficulties to sit for a long period of time and to focus on a single task. At home, parents should help students break their study time into segments in order for students to be able to engage efficiently in a task. Teachers, parents, and tutors should assist students with focusing on essential information, not trivia. For example, when studying about the Abraham Lincoln, the most important information is related to his presidency and his influence on the outcome of the Civil War, not the name of the theater in which he was assassinated. In addition, one way to ensure that students will retain information is to review often. Rather than beginning to prepare for a test two days prior to it, students should be encouraged to do distributed practice – intermittent sessions of study for more than a week leading up to the test. This prevents “cramming”, and allows students ample time to learn the information well enough to recall it.
Students who have difficulty often do not simply “pick up” on strategies or techniques that help them learn. They need to have these directly taught to them by teachers, tutors, and parents. These tips are easy to implement and teach to students. The best part is that not only students who have difficulty will benefit from these tips – all students will.
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