Student Teaching Reflection #7
April 22, 2011
In every classroom, at every grade level, there is a huge academic gap between high and low achievers. Although it might be easier to teach to high achievers, I believe that teachers want low achievers to do well in their classrooms. At West Mercer Elementary, this is evidenced by the amount of additional academic support low achieving students receive. Beginning in kindergarten, students who struggle with reading are pulled out to work individually or in small groups with reading specialists. This extra phonics help directly supports the student in the classroom.
In addition, after a teacher has taught a lesson to the whole class, they generally re-teach the lesson to struggling students to ensure their success. I can honestly say during my internship, I haven’t encountered times where low achievers received less help than high achievers. If anything, I would say the higher achievers may receive the least amount of instructional time because teachers know these students are highly capable and are not struggling with academics. This is one of the toughest challenges for teachers; finding the right balance between challenging some students to push themselves and dig deeper into a lesson, while encouraging and supporting struggling learners to complete their assignments.
In certain instructional settings, high achievers can be paired with low achievers. Sometimes this is beneficial for both groups of students. For example, in kindergarten, if a high achiever and a low achiever are both reading a story together, the low achiever will benefit from having a fellow classmate reading with him/her and may feel encouraged to try harder. This is a productive use of peer pressure. In this same situation, the high achiever may benefit from reading with the low achiever because he/she may be asked to explain elements of the story. This forces the high achiever to pay closer attention to the details. When used appropriately, both students can benefit from the peer interaction. However, if the students are not paired appropriately and focused on the task, the reading exercise can be a complete waste of time. Ultimately, the teacher must manage the situation and ensure both students are set up for success.
As a teacher, I want all my students to succeed. That said, I will constantly work to find creative ways to help struggling students. Obviously, the most important thing I can do to help low achievers is to figure out why they are struggling. Are they struggling because of problems at home, are they unmotivated, or do they have a learning disability. If they do have a learning disability, I will work to develop an intervention plan as soon as possible. Sometimes, this will involve working in partnership with a special education teacher. At all times, I will try to work with the families of low achievers. For students to truly be successful, they must be supported at school and home. Students are helped most when both parents and teachers are involved in the education process together.
At the same time, I’ll try to challenge the high achievers. This is the group whom I fear receives the least amount of support. At West Mercer, we have a gifted program that represents about 10% of our student population. However, there are many more students who are not in the program, but are highly capable learners. This group of students receives the least amount of help but are expected to perform at the highest levels. My challenge will be to learn to motivate and push these students without just dumping more mindless work on them. More homework is not the answer for these kids. I will try to find a way to stimulate their minds and motivate them to dig deeper into what the whole class is learning. Unlike low achievers, high achievers don’t receive additional academic support outside the classroom. As a result, teachers must find a way to keep these children motivated and interested in school. This may be one of my greatest challenges.