Who is the at-risk student?
Generally speaking, the at-risk student is the one who is
likely to drop out - from the school, the organization, the institution, the system.
We can make some predictions about a student's capacity or
willingness to stay in the system based on a few obvious factors, among them...
- the student's accumulated skill and knowledge
- the student's ability to adapt to the learning
- the student's prejudices (about him/herself, authority,
school, the subject, etc...)
- the student's mental and physical health
- the student's neurological framework
- the student's learning capacity
- the student's personal, social, economic, or any other
environmental situation affecting his/her life
- the student's opposing cultural views and values
In other words, one can safely say, for example, that an
adult who cannot read lacks the accumulated skill to be able to pass Freshman
English, and is thus at-risk of dropping or failing. A student who has a history
of failure or of being abused by authority is at risk of failing again because
of his prejudice against authority and the effectiveness of classrooms. A young
student who lives in an abusive and unsupportive home environment, is at risk of
falling behind and dropping out "down the line" because s/he lack the
modeling, focus, and guidance needed to function in educational systems.
The are many reasons why students are labeled "at
risk." Many students will never succeed in some educational systems, and as
educators, we must learn to accept that we cannot fix everything in the
classroom that is wrong outside of it! We may not be able to change things at
home, or at work, or on the soccer field, but we can help create positive
experiences for students in the classroom.
Another workshop has already dealt extensively with
cultural issues that affect the success of at-risk students who come from
"high-context" cultures. Those materials can be accessed through "Learning
among Traditional Native Americans
and Groups of Similar Culture."
This workshop will discuss strategies that are likely to
address the needs of another large group of at-risk students, those who are
learning disabled. I strongly believe that instructors who understand the
learning-disabled student and apply the strategies suggested for use with this
population will find that most at-risk students will also benefit immensely
form those approaches. In fact, all students will.
The Learning Disabled Student
According to researchers in this area, learning disabled
students are likely to be very bright, in fact, brighter than the average
student! Yet, we are discovering that a large number of failures in our K-14 and
ABE programs can be attributed to learning disabilities.
According to The
National Joint Committee for Learning Disabilities (1981), a learning
a generic term that refers to a heterogeneous group of disorders manifested by
significant difficulties in the acquisition and use of listening, speaking,
reading, writing, reasoning or mathematical abilities.
These disorders are intrinsic to the individual and presumed to be due
to central nervous system dysfunction.
Even though a learning disability may occur concomitantly with other
handicapping conditions (e.g., sensory impairment, mental retardation, social
and emotional disturbance) or environmental influences (e.g., cultural
differences, insufficient, inappropriate instruction, psychogenic factors), it
is not the direct result of those conditions or influences."
to be neurological (the central nervous system) in origin,
organic, not a psychological, cause
the person’s life, and is ,therefore, never “cured”;
be addressed through coping
strategies to help the individual function through life
Characteristics of LD students
In Young Students
(Neela Seldin, 1998, The Lab School of Washington - http://www.ldonline.org/ld_indepth/early_identification/characteristics_students.html
- Immature emotionally and socially.
- "Spacey": Look of disorientation.
- Can't make choices.
- Can't stay with an activity.
- Distractible. Impulsive.
- Knows rules but does not apply.
- Labile emotions; excessive silliness;
catastrophic reactions; angry; shy or withdrawn.
- Shifts blame?
- Academic skills very slow in developing.
- Strong discrepancies in skills and knowledge.
- Socially off-base. Unaccepted by group.
- Poor memory.
- Easily frustrated. Won't take risks.
- Doesn't take pride in work or accept
- Excessively rigid: cannot abide change.
- Artistic. Sensitive. Mechanically inclined.
- Non-verbal reasoning is highly developed.
In Adolescence (Taken originally from http://tilp.educ.queensu.ca/'s
site on LD. This site has now changed to include a vast number of options for
educators. Worth clicking through.)
Poor and laborious handwriting and/or bizarre spelling mistakes
- Disorganized, loses things, books in a
mess, notes out of order
- Poor social skills, few friends, or socializes with a younger group
- Lacks insights into own future, his/her strengths and weaknesses
- Tendency to be very literal, rigid,
humorless, and/or gullible
- Vulnerable to peer pressure, often the "scapegoat" in situations
COMMON SIGNS AND CHARACTERISTICS
No individual will manifest all of the difficulties listed
It is important to note that these characteristics are
often balanced by the presence of significant strengths and creativity.
In Adulthood (Compliled from a variety of
sources, including the experience of local adult educators who work with the
- Excellent verbal ability, but cannot express thoughts on paper
- Mechanical aptitude, but difficulty with reading, writing or spelling
- Lacks social skills and has difficulty maintaining relationships or making
- Learns well when shown, but cannot follow written and/or verbal
- Feels constantly anxious, tense, depressed and has a very poor
- Cannot organize belongings, time, activities or responsibilities
- Inability to complete a job
- Cannot follow written direction and/or
remember several verbal directions.
- Difficulty finding or keeping a job.
- Difficulty budgeting and managing money.
- Time management difficulties.
- Short attention span, restlessness or
- Difficulty in remembering and following the
sequence of instructions.
- Difficulty in understanding appropriate
- Poor coordination and spatial
- Difficulty with problem solving strategies.
If a person is disorganized and
messy, what might those characteristics indicate? What would be a good thing
for that person to learn and how would you teach it?
How does having the above traits
predict a person's inability to cope with traditional educational
Do all of the characteristics
listed have something in common? If so, what?
Do you have any of the above
characteristics? If so, has anyone ever helped you overcome them? How?
of Instruction for LD Students and Other At-Risk Students
Following is a list of principle to keep
in mind as you work with students, particularly adults, with
disabilities. While this list is not all-inclusive, it has the added
benefit of improving instruction for learners with other types of
learning problems as well:
|Be highly structured and predictable.
||Always: explain the purpose of the lesson; break down tasks into small, sequential
parts; present directions one step at a time, using both oral and written
directions. (This does not mean fragmenting the subject but teaching the subject in
|Include opportunities to use several senses and learning strategies.
||Always: provide auditory, visual, and concrete cues; use physical demonstration of
abstract concepts, such as left/right; use color for visual impact; encourage the student
to repeat verbal information; act out action verbs.
|Provide constant structure and multi-sensory review.
||Always: preview and review major points, both orally and visually; ask the student to
state in his/her own words what has been presented; make frequent eye contact to maintain
attention and encourage participation.
|Recognize and build on learners' strengths and prior knowledge.
||Always: relate new materials to daily life; combine life skills such as reading
medicine labels and filling out forms with phonics, word recognition, and reading
comprehension; provide success-oriented activities.
|Simplify language but not content; emphasize content words and make concepts accessible
through the use of pictures, charts, maps, time lines, and diagrams.
||Always: use visual aids such as overhead projectors, films, videos, slides,
chalkboards, flip charts, computer graphics, or illustrations; use games, songs, rhymes to
help students listen to sounds.
|Reinforce main ideas and concepts through rephrasing rather than through verbatim
||Always: provide intensive instruction until the materials is mastered; allow ample time
for learning a task (a student with a learning disability will take longer to master new
material; provide instruction to help transfer of learning from one task and setting to
another; set up small discussion groups to allow time for each student to talk and use the
language they have already developed.
NOTE: In developing lesson plans for
your students, consider how easily you can integrate some, if not all, of the
above suggestions into your teaching environment.
Using Successful Coping
Strategies with LD students
FROM ... (http://www.ldac-taac.ca/ldindepth/adultwithld.htm)
Learning Disabilities Association of
Canada, 323 Chapel Street, Suite 200, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada,K1N 7Z2 (613)
238-5721 Fax: (613) 235-5391)
- Identifying and recognizing strengths and weaknesses.
- Setting realistic goals based on abilities.
- Using technology to compensate for weaknesses (word
processor, spell checker, calculator, books on tape, etc.).
- Accepting the disability and knowing that it's quite
- Being flexible - finding other ways of getting
- Joining activity-centered groups to make friends.
- Breaking down large tasks into small ones.
- Identifying deadlines for small manageable tasks.
- Making to-do lists with deadlines.
- Prioritizing rather than procrastinating.
Additional Teaching Tips for
Make the text into a friend.
Teachers so often think of textbooks
as these nice little guides to help students organize thoughts around very
predictable topics. Ha! To those who fail in our traditional systems, textbooks
are nightmares to be endured. Yuck! When you consider that most at-risk students
lack organizational/grouping skills, you might catch a glimpse of what textbooks
mean to them: something to be tolerated and carried around so "you look
like a student and fool everyone." As a matter of fact, many handouts and
assignments, not forgetting tests, have that same alien flavor.
So teach your students to love the
textbook or other written materials you employ. Help them understand its layout, why chapters are organized the way
they are, how to use the index and table of contents, how to focus on objectives
and subtitles, how to use the appendices and end of chapter exercises, etc...
Teach them how to find the main ideas in each segment (first sentence, if the
book is well written). Give them group open-book quizzes and time them on
how quickly they can find items. Teach them to value a good book and how to use it for
learning. Go slowly, but get them involved.
Ask yourself some questions and
teach students the answers:
- What pattern do presentations follow
(Cause/Effect, Classification, Definition, etc...)?
- How can the student identify the major
sections of the book? Of each chapter?
- How can the student predict questions that are
likely to be on a test?
- How would you test a student whose predominant
style is kinesthetic (hand-on)?
- Why are students having difficulty with this
- What students are having difficulty with this
text and how can I help them cope?
Teach language patterns
Teach students how identify main ideas, details, and
relationships in writing.
Teach students how to predict paragraph sequences.
- Use devices and exercises for teaching the above.
Play games that support different group-member
skills, including kinesthetic abilities .
- color areas
- finish or start paragraph sections
- write or present summaries
Have students develop quizzes in groups.
Have different students/groups teach important
concepts (You prep them.)
||Application 1 - Choose
one assignment from the list below and email me the results. Be sure to
address one or more of the characteristics discussed above.
(In the picture to the left, who is the
1. Create and describe a simple learning activity
to teach at-risk students (any level you choose) how to...
- write a complete sentence.
- figure percentages.
- write a summary.
- locate map information.
- create a budget.
- predict weather patters.
- interpret information graphically.
- build something.
- analyze something.
- illustrate something.
- tell a joke.
- fill out a simple tax form.
- take a test.
- add fractions.
- print letters from sounds.
- run faster.
- maintain a car.
- draw a stick figure.
- check out a library book.
- make popcorn.
- balance a checkbook.
- set up a campground.
- identify wild flowers or birds.
- bake cookies.
- stay out of trouble.
2. OR -- Create a game that at-risk
students in your classes can play to learn any of the above or other concepts.
Send me the instructions through email.
NOTE: Choose a learning activity that you can
incorporate into one of you lesson plans.
What did we leave out in our discussion
about at-risk students?
How do you feel about working one-to-one
with at-risk students? Is that a good idea? Possible?
For example, if you’re teaching or
learning about the moon, you might read books about the moon (linguistic),
calculate its distance from the earth (logical-mathematical), examine photos
of the different phrases of the moon (spatial), listen to songs about the moon
(e.g. "Fly Me to the Moon") (musical), reflect on your earliest
memories as a child of the moon (intrapersonal), build a hands-on model of the
moon revolving around the earth (bodily-kinesthetic), plan a
"moon-watch" via telescope with some friends (intepersonal), and/or
investigate the geographic terrain of the moon (naturalist). You don’t have
to teach or learn something in all eight ways, just see what the possibilities
are, and then decide which particular pathways interest you the most, or seem
to be the most effective teaching or learning tools. The theory of multiple
intelligences is so intriguing because it expands our horizon of available
teaching/learning tools beyond the conventional linguistic and logical methods
used in most schools (e.g. lecture, textbooks, writing assignments, formulas,
"... To get started, put the topic of
whatever you’re interested in teaching or learning about in the center of a
blank sheet of paper, and draw eight straight lines or "spokes"
radiating out from this topic. Label each line with a different intelligence.
Then start brainstorming ideas for teaching or learning that topic and write
down ideas next to each intelligence (this is a spatial-linguistic approach of
brainstorming; you might want to do this in other ways as well, using a
tape-recorder, having a group brainstorming session, etc.). Have fun! "
(Bridges to Practice [BP], Guide Book 4 - Section 4, p -21-23)
- Phase 1 - Provide Objective
Phase 2 - Introduce and Model the Skill
Phase 3 - Provide Guided Practice with Feedback
Phase 4 - Encourage Independent Practice and Generalization
- You do it.
- You do it with the student's help.
- The student does it with your help.
- The student does it.
Five Peas and a Nod
Practice 1 (Students help
Practice 2 (Teacher helps
Performance (Student outcomes)
Create a short lesson plan (30
minutes) to teach a simple concept in your course applying what you have learned
about at-risk students.