The Top 5 Struggling Student Myths
How do you know when one of your students is struggling academically? Is it a particular look that they give you (or is it an avoidance of eye contact altogehter)? Could it be a certain behavior (or misbehavior)? In trying to understand the indicators a little better, I found a few blogs helpful. Paul Cancellieri conceptualized the student struggle as a cry for a second chance. Similarly, Jim Dillon described the struggle as students becoming stuck in a "fixed mindset" that limited their ability to compete with their peers. I believe that it is terribly difficult to define exactly what a struggling student looks like (it could be based on effort, expectation, disability, etc.), but nonetheless, educators are required to face and support struggling students everyday in the classroom. So, with all the different conceptualizations and characterizations of struggling students, the intervention waters become muddy. How can we best assist our students that are in academic need? to help begin the conversation, I have created a short list of myths that may get in the way of understanding and thus supporting struggling students:
1. Educators must rely on research to assist struggling students.
At first glance, this sounds like a probable strategy. The problem is in how we view and apply the research. For instance, the research that teachers are supplied may be misrepresented (the effectiveness of the classroom intervention may be exxagerated or minimized). Similarly, the research may be misunderstood in terms of expected student response or specific intervention implementation guidelines (Duke & Martin, 2011). The problematic nature of applying research is common (it is often referred to as the research to practice gap) and thus as educators we have to be cautious as to how we interpret or use research findings in our classroom.
2. Any support for struggling students is better than no support.
As educators, we are helpers. When we see a student struggling, we automatically respond. Because teachers wear so many hats, we often delegate tasks and reach out to paraprofessionals, parents, or even student tutors to assist struggling students. The problem becomes the type of help that the students receive. There is evidence that students gain more academically when help comes from an expert (a person trained, certified, experience in content area etc.) instead of a lay person (Slavin, Lake, Davis, & Madden, 2011).
3. Grade-level work should be the goal for typical developing students that are struggling.
As educators we want the world for our students and sometimes we push too hard. In order to keep students engaged, the level of the work should match their ability level. When the assignments breed a high success rate, the student is more likely to participate, comprehend the material, and get frustrated less often (Allington, 2013).
4. Struggling students should follow the mantra "practice makes perfect".
Of course students must practice, but what deserves attention is the type of practice. If a student practices with math problems all day but uses the incorrect formula, they are practicing/focusing on the wrong material. In addition, the practice must take into consideration the student's ability (please refer to #3 above). In short, the practice must be focused and ability-based in order for it to be effective for the student.
5. Struggling students simply do not want to do the work.
Attitude is important, but it is only one piece of the puzzle. Brain and biology play a part as well. Scientist have revealed that the brain develops at a different rate and a different degree for boys and girls (Gurian & Henley, 2001). These brain differences are reflected in classroom behavior (boys are more prone to movement and girls are more likely to express emotion). In addition, practices and philosophies outside of the classroom impact student effort (parents, neighborhood, access to educational materials etc.).
I know that I am guilty of believing in these myths, do any of them sound familiar to you? Are there other myths that need to be added to the list? Please continue the conversation in the comments below.