Perhaps the greatest struggle I have observed and taken part in professionally is how to improve educational outcomes for students who perform below expectations. Many of these students have literacy and/or numeracy skills that are significantly below grade level expectations by the time they are in late elementary school. The typical response to this problem has been to provide remedial instruction in basic literacy and numeracy skills. Over the past few years I began to question this model. Students who did not fully grasp the concepts the first time – or first few times – are retaught the same skills, at a slower, more segmented pace. This feels akin to speaking slowly and with exaggerated lip movements to a foreign-language speaker. Every once in a while they get it, but most often slowing things down like this produces resentment, not understanding. This resentment fuels disengagement, and remedial students fall further and further behind their peers.
Rollins (2014) suggests an alternative to remedial instruction: acceleration. This acceleration should occur as early as possible – as soon as the need is identified. Students who struggle with literacy and numeracy should be given accelerated instruction as soon as these struggles are even suspected. The instruction should be in addition to, not instead of, regular class instruction, which creates scheduling and planning challenges.
First of all, the regular classroom instruction needs to be planned and this planning needs to be communicated with whomever is supplying the accelerated instruction early enough that the relevant instruction can be delivered prior to the regular classroom instruction. Second, time outside of regular class instruction needs to be created to provide the accelerated lessons. This could be done before or after school, or even on weekends, but any of these choices has its own challenges.
The accelerated instruction should include an activation of prior knowledge regarding the subject, pre-teaching vocabulary, a big-picture overview of the topic, an understanding of what new skills they will learn, and a review of the specific basic skills needed to master the subject (Rollins, p. 7).
I believe this model may significantly impact educational outcomes for students and deserves consideration as a replacement for the remedial model of ameliorating student performance.
Rollins, S. P. (2014). Learning in the fast lane: 8 ways to put ALL students on the road to academic success. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.