5 Easy Ways to Teach Students Who Work Below Grade Level in Your Classroom
Not what I had expected, my first teaching job turned out to be quite the opposite. In a small, rural school with a student population of approximately 50, the incident took place. The intermediate teacher and I were the only members of our two-person teaching staff. She taught students ranging in age from fourth to seventh grade, whereas I was tasked with instructing 26 students ranging in age from kindergarten through third grade. Fortunately, we had a small number of support staff and parent volunteers who assisted with office duties as well as library and recess supervision. Our principal and learning assistance teachers were based at another school, which happened to be 75 miles away from where we were enrolled. They would come once a week if the weather permitted them to do so. Weather conditions were rarely favorable.
After several months of trial and error, I eventually discovered a method of teaching students with a diverse range of abilities in the same setting. Every lesson began and ended with the same premise. I would present a concept to the entire class, but alter the learning activities and outcomes based on the ability levels of the students in attendance. When teaching a science lesson on the lifecycle of plants, large group activities such as storytelling, demonstrations, and/or presentations would be used to engage students. Students would complete follow-up activities that were appropriate for the grade level at which they were working. Students in third and second grade who were performing well might draw and label a representation of the plant’s lifecycle, whereas students in kindergarten to first grade would be drawing, tracing, and/or labeling a picture of a plant, depending on their grade level. One of the objectives was for the students to be exposed to varying degrees of the same lesson while also providing them with the same opportunities to socialize, learn, and grow with one another in a single classroom.
Experts and researchers recommend that educators create classrooms that include students of all ability levels, respond to individual learning needs, and provide equal educational opportunities for all students. In our naturally diverse communities, research shows that these inclusive classrooms prepare our students to thrive socially and emotionally in their new environments. The intellectual benefits that inclusion brings with them, on the other hand, have a slew of positive consequences that have been researched for decades.
Because of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, classrooms in the United States are gradually becoming more inclusive of students with disabilities. Teachers are becoming more adept at working with students who have learning disabilities, developmental disabilities, as well as speech and/or language difficulties, as the years go on. The unfortunate reality is that there are still some students who are rarely included in the class and who spend the majority of their day separated and educated from their classmates. The majority of these students have intellectual disabilities and perform at a significantly lower level than their peers. Students with intellectual disabilities are only 16 percent of the general education population, according to data from 2015. It appears that general education teachers find it difficult to include and teach students who are not working at the same grade level as their peers, based on these findings. As a result, separate special education classrooms are established to carry out the responsibility of educating the students. This continued reliance on separate education contributes to the perpetuation of inequalities in educational opportunities and experiences.
Teachers can adapt class lessons to meet the needs of individual students to facilitate inclusion and improve educational equality for students who perform below grade level. The extent to which a lesson is modified is determined by the objectives of the student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP). The strategies employed by the teacher have an impact on how the lesson is modified. It is possible to make these modifications directly on the class activity or through an alternative format (i.e. assistive technology). Teachers can use the following five simple strategies to successfully modify class activities for students who perform below grade-level expectations.
1. Break the assignment down into manageable chunks – even the most complex topics can be broken down into understandable concepts. Allow the student to concentrate on a major concept related to the lesson. Reading passages can be shortened, math problems can be scaled down in difficulty, and visual representations can take the place of written work in some situations.
Teachers can provide word banks of answers, cloze passages, yes/no, or true/false responses, or pre-written vocabulary to guide students’ practice with new material. 2. Break down the answers –
3. Get the lesson off the page – Using this strategy, teachers can have students create a corresponding illustration, a model, or give a presentation instead of a traditional lecture. For example, if the class is studying the Pioneers, a student can trace a picture of a wagon to demonstrate their learning (and write about it, label it or talk about it).
Providing graphic organizers, outlines, and/or a series of steps to solving problems can help teachers guide student engagement and response to a given situation.
5. Have the student complete an alternate task on the same page if the class assignment cannot be made simpler for the student. In the case of a student learning to identify numbers, the teacher can have the student search for specific numbers on a class assignment that would otherwise have students solving algebraic equations as part of the learning process.
Nicole Eredics is an elementary school teacher with more than 15 years of experience working in inclusive environments. She is also a parent, an advocate, and a writer in the field of education. Her blog, The Inclusive Class, is where she regularly writes about inclusive education for teachers and parents, which she started in 2011. She can also be found on social media sites such as Twitter (@Inclusive Class), Facebook (The Inclusive Class), and Pinterest (The Inclusive Class).