Supporting kids who are below grade level

A reader asked:

I’m a reading tutor for kids who are below grade level. This is a Title 1 school, which means poverty and the parents don’t speak English. The kids in my program do. I have a lot of discipline problems, ie, kids refuse to come in from recess to come to the program, kids being disruptive in group sessions. We don’t get the kids who are DIAGNOSED severely disabled. They’re all in grades 2-5.

So, what should I  be doing to get kids who don’t want to come in from recess to come in? So far, a sticker/star reward system is helping the group sessions, but some kids still call out, interrupt me and other kids, and won’t write answers unless I tell them what to write.

Any suggestions?

realsocialskills said:

Someone I know who does remedial reading has had success with some of these things:

Using computer or iPad reading games

  • Some kids who associate books with humiliation and failure don’t have the same association with computer-based things
  • But if you’re going to do this, make sure the games you pick are actually fun
  • It doesn’t work if it’s exactly like the thing that’s miserable for them off the computer
  • Particularly if it’s just a simulated standardized test

Having kids read plays together

  • This can work well as a group activity,
  • Particularly since all the kids are involved even when it’s not their turn to read
  • Some kids who don’t like taking turns reading stuff *do* like taking turns reading parts in a play
  • Also, again, it’s something they’re much less likely to associate with failure and humiliation
  • You can get books of kids plays that are designed for various reading levels

Use books with positive representation of kids like them:

  • Far, far too many kids books are about rich white kids
  • If all of your books are about rich white kids, you can end up inadvertently sending the message that you don’t respect your students (especially if you are white, but even if you are not)
  • Or that reading is rich and white
  • Having books that have poor kids, disabled kids, and kids of color can make a big difference
  • Particularly if they are good books
  • Particularly if they are books written by people from the same culture as the kids you teach
  • Immigrant kids come under *tremendous* pressure to assimilate and reject the cultures they came from
  • And it’s worth making an effort to make sure that what you do isn’t part of that

Do what you can to make it a safe space for kids who are struggling:

  • Do not let kids make fun of other kids
  • Do not have competitions between kids
  • Do not laugh at mistakes, even if they’re funny
  • (But do let kids laugh at *your* mistakes, even if they’re not funny)
  • Praise people for trying, not just succeeding
  • Because being willing to try over and over until you do something successfully is important
  • And for kids who have been humiliated for failing, it can be really important that you explicitly respect their efforts

Sometimes it helps to modify things in a way that work with rather than against kids’ behavior:

  • If kids are calling out, make a lesson where that’s *supposed* to happen
  • Have some time where you tell kids what to write and that’s ok
  • (And where if kids decide to not write what you tell them and to write something else, that’s also ok)
  • I can’t think of more examples offhand, but I know that this is something that people do successfully
  • Remember that the point is getting kids to learn, not getting them to obey you
  • (You do have to control the classroom to an extent – but it’s worth avoiding avoidable power struggles, and modifying your approach when kids refuse to cooperate with your initial plan isn’t a failure )

But also, are kids being pulled out of recess in order to go to extra lessons? That strikes me as inherently likely to end poorly. If that’s what’s happening, is there any way you can pull the kids out of something else instead?

Assume your audience contains poor people

Many teachers, religious leaders, and civic leaders want to raise awareness of poverty, often in a move to get their people to favor more socially progressive laws.

One way they do this is by promoting poverty simulations like The Snap Challenge or a Hunger Banquet.

Often, the way they talk about this undermines their own message by assuming that there are no poor people actually in the room. Or, even more so, speaking as though only privileged people have a place in the conversation about poverty.

The fact of the matter is, in just about any room you’re in, there will be people who already know what it’s like to depend on food stamps. There are people in the room who depend on food stamps or have in the past, and they know more about it than the people who spent a few days playing a game.

Those are the voices that should be primary in the conversation. When you’re trying to get people to care about poverty, don’t drown out the voices of actual poor people.

Some practical things this means:

  • Don’t ask people if they’ve done the food stamp challenge yet
  • Don’t tell a whole room you’re addressing that everyone should do it, because there are people in the room who shouldn’t, and people in the room who have n choice
  • If you’re talking about these things, explicitly acknowledge that probably some people in the room already know what this is like and don’t need a simulation to tell them
  • And point out explicitly that you don’t really know what things are like after a few days
  • Especially since people get all sorts of social points for participating in those things, people who are *actually* poor get shame and hate and hostility.
  • Simulations only simulate some things, and not necessarily the most important things
  • Do not talk over people who have experienced the real thing

When you say “we” to a room, make sure your we includes poor people. If you don’t feel like you can do that within the exercise you’re doing, it’s probably a program that shouldn’t be happening anyway.