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How to Help Challenged Students

From this question:

What are some ways that teachers can be more effective with their less intelligent students without making them feel bad about themselves?

Wow! That is a bold but fair question. Although there are multiple differing versions of the definition of intelligence, I think of it as the ability and rate at which a person processes information, applies it and retains the information.

  1. Teach your students how their brains learn and what can get in the way of effective learning. This will help them feel better about themselves if they are struggling with concepts. If a student is struggling to understand, this does not necessarily mean that they are less intelligent. There could be many other reasons that the student is not succeeding in the classroom including: poor diet, trauma, low reading level, lack of motivation, hearing or vision problems, not knowing how to study effectively, etc… The longer I taught, the more time I spent on teaching my students how learning happens in their brain. This paid off for my students because they stopped feeling bad about themselves when they were confused. Instead, they focused on what steps in the learning process they had skipped. This was very empowering for them. Once students are armed with this knowledge, they will stop feeling bad when they have times of learning struggle and they will be more likely to take the necessary steps to work through any temporary confusion.

  2. Integrate many opportunities for small group discussion for more challenging concepts so that students can learn from each other. In this way, struggling students will hear a peer explain their understanding of a concept and this will help all students involved in the discussion.

  3. Ensure that as many lessons as possible have relevant, hands-on activities, applied to real-life. This helps students that are more concrete in their thinking process. For example: Teaching Charles Law, have students make their own hot air balloons, test them and then explain the science supporting the law. (one of my favorite activities).

  4. Peer Tutors-Students will often accept help from a peer tutor without feeling bad. I loved having peer tutors and rewarded them with bonus points for helping other students. In my chemistry classes I would notice which students totally understood the new concept and then ask them to get up out of their seats and go help others at a table that I hadn’t gotten to yet. Then, I asked students to “pay it forward.” They knew that this meant, as soon as you understand, go help someone else to understand. This “helping” attitude became a regular theme in my classes and helped students learn much more content than would have been possible if I had tried to be the only teacher in classes that sometimes were as large as 42 students.

Final Thought: Students that appear less intelligent might not be. There may be other reasons for their low performance. Either way, students will feel better about themselves if they learn “how to learn,” participate in small group discussions, have relevant, real-life applicable lessons and have peer tutors.

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