Teaching Kids Twice to Help them Keep Up

Yesterday’s Twitter conversation with some colleagues turned into a talk about how we can help our slower learners. Lots of us have them, right? And Riggs teachers have them too. For example, you may notice that during your daily spelling dictation lesson a few of your pupils are consistently struggling to keep up with the rest of the class.
These kids seem slightly lost, to put it mildly. And perhaps you’ve noticed that they rarely speak up during lessons. Let’s say that they are also doing poorly on their daily spelling tests and not  excited about taking them. They are learning, sure (all Riggs kids learn a lot), but they are learning a lot more slowly than the rest of their classmates. And they need your help.
So what should you do, exactly? How can you help them keep up with their peers? And where will you find the time?
Should you keep these pupils from their breaks so you can give them extra practice? (Not my first choice, for sure.) Should you ask the kids to come in early or stay late for that same reason? These Twitter questions are begging for the kind of answers that will truly help students without also harming them. They are serious and important questions from caring teachers who want the best for all kids.
Nevertheless, I hesitate to provide any answers about this topic because I’m concerned that they may be misinterpreted as being THE correct answers for all teachers at all times. They aren’t, okay? In fact, they may not work for your classroom at all (it depends on how well you’ve been managing it up to now).
That said, I do believe that the plan devised by Myrna McCulloch is a great one. And it’s one that I favor and use. And since it may prompt your own thinking about this matter, I will share it with you.
McCulloch said that first thing in the morning, before the official spelling-dictation lesson began, she would set most of the class to work on a project that they could complete quietly and independently. (I’d probably keep to the same daily schedule, having my larger group rewrite yesterday’s spelling sentences in their best penmanship or create original illustrations for their favorites. But that is just me.)
Once this was happening, McCulloch would take her small group aside and pre-teach, frontload, the upcoming lesson--giving these kids an opportunity to write, read, and think about the words that were to be presented to the entire class in the upcoming lesson. In other words, she helped them do each lesson twice.
This approach worked beautifully. The kids not only got extra writing, spelling and fluency practice with McCulloch but her frontloading strategy made a huge difference in their ability to engage in the upcoming lesson. Instead of being unable to keep up, these stragglers were now able to work side-by-side with their peers, saying and writing phonemes and graphemes along with the best. Instead of hesitating during Socratic practice, these twice-taught kids spoke up strongly and proudly, giving correct responses to question after question, time after time. Instead of acting as though they were slightly overwhelmed and discouraged during word analysis, these children were acting relaxed and confident, fully engaged in discussions about digraphs and diphthongs and spellings and markings. They were starting to thrive.
This frontloading approach is not for everyone, granted. For example, it absolutely will not work in an undisciplined classroom. (Not much will.) On the other hand, it is perfect for those teachers who are using the ‘gradual release of responsibility’ model that results in pupils who are working independently so that their teacher may help those who need her the most. So if your situation meets these demands, then frontloading your lessons may be a teaching strategy that meets the needs of slower students. And I definitely recommend it. It’s an excellent use of everyone’s practice time, it doesn’t require you to create specialized lessons for anyone, and nobody has to come in early or stay late or skip breaks.
There are, of course, other ways to help. And you may wish to use these as well. For example, teachers should probably not overlook the importance of the kind of practice that builds fluency (at the word level). So here are a few tips on this topic:

By Stephanie Ruston


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