When you’re faced with a student who just can’t make sense of what you’re teaching, powering through the curriculum won’t help, and assessments will only confirm the obvious.
Instead, you need clear intervention strategies that fill gaps in understanding and get them back on track. But what do these actually entail?
We’ve compiled the comprehensive guide to learning intervention strategies so you’re equipped to support the next student who says, ‘I just don’t get it’.
Three stages of intervention strategy
There is no one size fits all intervention strategy. Instead, intervention strategies can be classed into three stages as illustrated by the pyramid:
Stage 1 consists of adjustments that you can make to your delivery, without targeting individual student(s).
Stage 2 involves providing additional support for a small group who may benefit from slower-paced, more direct instruction.
Stage 3 consists of intensive work with an individual student who, depending on the outcome, may need to be assessed for special needs.
Progressing through each of these stages, from 1 to 3, allows you to accurately diagnose the student’s level of need. If Tier 1 doesn’t work, you move up a level – rather than trying random strategies and hoping one sticks.
Here are the strategies you can employ at each stage.
Stage 1 intervention strategies
At the first stage of the intervention process, think about the changes you can make to your instruction before taking drastic measures. Maybe students are unsure how to approach you for help, or maybe they just can’t focus with their classmate constantly squirming in their seat. Rule out the simple things first with the following strategies:
Set clear learning objectives at the start of the lesson
Clearly explain the learning goals of each class. This can be easy to forget, but from a student perspective it can mean the difference between a disorientating mass of content and a clearly scaffolded learning experience.
A concise two-minute explanation of what students are learning and why it’s important could be all they need to put the pieces together.
Establish a seating plan
It’s time to start assigning seats if you think a distracting partner is leading a student to miss vital teaching points, or if a struggling student is mimicking a peer’s disengagement. Place them next to a student who serves as a role model instead.
Provide open-ended activities that give the student a choice of different outputs. They might be more comfortable evidencing their understanding in the form of a drawing as opposed to writing, for example.
Proximity and monitoring
If you’re behind the desk while students are working independently, get moving and hover by any students who seem to be struggling. Lessening the distance between yourself and the student makes it much easier for them to take the daunting step of asking for help, and it allows you to observe their work up close. Some casual questioning can also trigger a discussion about their challenges (“making sense?”, “how are we finding it?”).
Connect the learning to your students’ lives
Learners have a better chance of understanding content if it is placed in a relatable context. If your content is starting to spiral into abstraction and theory, bring it back to the real world with a case study or question that focuses on something students can relate to.
Stage 2 intervention strategies
If you’ve adjusted your own classroom practices but certain students still can’t make sense of the content, it’s time to start explicitly differentiating your teaching to meet their needs. Try the following strategies:
Group together students who are having trouble and provide slower-paced direct instruction. Focus on carefully scaffolded teacher input, accessible resources and activities that have a relatively low barrier of entry. This can be run as a designated tutor group outside of class time, perhaps during lunch or recess.
Small group differentiation
In-class groups can work in the same way that tutoring groups do while also allowing struggling students to see how their work connects to that of their more advanced peers. Assign students to groups based on ability level and delegate lower-order activities to the students at risk.
Homework as revision
EdTech programs can allow you to differentiate without having to create custom work sets from scratch. For example, our Mathletics and Readiwriter Spelling programs allow you to group students by ability level and assign appropriate activities from an inbuilt library of resources.
Using programs like these have two benefits. Firstly, they provide struggling students the right level of challenge, which in turn motivates them to learn further. Secondly, they save you the time it takes to create targeted resources so that you can focus your effort instead on monitoring and engaging with the students in need.
Stage 3 intervention strategies
Where stages 1 and 2 have not led to improvement, it’s likely that the student concerned needs more intensive and personal support. Remember, not all students who end up at this level have special needs or a learning disability (although that may be a possibility). Our classes will always contain students who, for one reason or another, just can’t connect with what we teach.
At this stage you should be thinking about:
Inform parents of the situation so that they aren’t in for an unpleasant surprise when the report comes home. They will also be able to advise on personal or circumstantial factors that might be affecting their child’s performance.
For some students there is no substitute for one-on-one assistance. It gives you the opportunity to deliver explicit feedback in a personal and safe way. Take the time to go back over previous work in fine detail while also issuing new tasks that you can slowly work through together.
If you suspect that there might be an underlying issue that is compromising a student’s learning – e.g. a learning disorder, anxiety, or other psychological condition – don’t attempt to diagnose and treat it yourself. Refer to your school’s psychologist or student services team in this situation instead of discussing it with parents or the student themselves, as these can be very difficult conversations to manage.
The importance of communication
The most powerful intervention strategy at any stage is regular student/teacher communication. Talk to your students and get them to explain their difficulties before you stage an intervention behind the scenes.
You might be surprised by how much your students will reveal if you just take the time to ask, “how can I help?”
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