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Teaching Tip: Working with challenging students

Michele Dufresne

My little dog Jack is a challenge. He just doesn't seem to be able to learn or do things as easily as my other dogs. But, believe it or not, things I learned from teaching students who were having a great deal of difficulty learning to read is helping me think about how to help Jack. Here are some of the things I keep in mind as I try to teach Jack new things.

  • Don't ask for something that is so difficult you are setting the learner up for failure. Set high expectations, but break tasks up into manageable steps. Consider what it is you want the student to do and then what he/she will have to be able to do to get there. If I want a fluent reader at level J then I better teach him/her first to be fluent at level C.

Jack the Dog from Pioneer Valley Books

  • Be consistent. Whatever you are expecting, stick to it and only then will you get results. (If I give Jack a treat to keep him quiet when I am on the phone I can only expect the same behavior from him the next time I am on the phone.)
  • Praise for partial attempts, not just for being 100% correct. For example, if a student tries to figure out something by rereading-even if he /she doesn't figure it out-you can say, "I like how you are rereading to try to figure that out!"
  • Don't get discouraged and give up. Marie Clay talks about "different paths to common outcomes." It might take more time, the route might be different or not as straighforward, but we can and should expect all of our students to learn!

I will keep you posted on Jack's progress! 

Good luck with all your students, challenges and all!
Michèle Dufresne

Michèle Dufresne is author of many Pioneer Valley Books early readers (including the Bella and Rosie series), Word Solvers (Heinemann), and an early literacy and literacy intervention consultant.

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