Thursday, April 12, 2012

Student Achievement = Expectation + High Interest

  Student Achievement Best Practices

By Josh Watson, Special Education Teacher, Math & ELA

Student achievement best practices extend to special education classrooms, as seen in this article.
image courtesy of
I teach Math and Reading/Language Arts to Special Education students at a low performing school, with a high population of Special Education students and about 90% low income classification. On the best days, it's a trying experience. But it's also rewarding. I wasn't forced into the position or assigned there. I chose to be there. I'm from the area; I know the people. And because of all of this, I care a great deal about the students that go there and about helping them to become better students and better citizens.

The key to student achievement is mixing high expectations with keeping the students' interest. If they are constantly told or given the impression that they can't do something, they won't. If what you are teaching them is putting them to sleep, they aren't going to learn it.

You might think they can do the work and have success but they need to know you think that. Encourage them. Pat them on the back for a job well done. Even if they don't get it right the first time, reward their effort. They'll get better the next time. Most students, especially those in my area of emphasis do not have the support system at home to help them succeed. They need someone to tell them they can be successful and encourage them to do more than the bare minimum.

Keeping students interested in what we have to teach can be difficult. As hard as it is to do, we have to find those things our students are interested in and incorporate it into part of our lessons. Oftentimes, you just stumble into what a student is interested in. Last year, I had a student who hated school, was failing classes, had behavior problems and was in trouble with the principal on a near daily basis. I talked to the student and encouraged him but just couldn't seem to reach him. Then we did a unit on Greek Mythology. We went over the stories of Hercules and the Greek gods, as well as a book study on Percy Jackson and the Olympians. This was a class that had no interest in school and wanted to quit as soon as they were old enough. They were upset when the unit was over. Most went out and bought the next book in the Percy Jackson series.

This year I had my students take an interest inventory to find out what their life is like and what keeps their interest. I've tried my best to find things that I can incorporate into my lessons based on their interests. Sometimes you can't, but it's important that we try as hard as we can to do so. I do things that are hands-on and use lessons as games that they can win prizes for. It builds their confidence and in turn improves their performance. I give my students examples of struggling learners who have become successful. I relate school work to real world scenarios that they can relate to themselves. I encourage them to be better. Not everyone can be the best, but we can always strive to be better. I don't expect perfection but I don't settle for mediocrity either. And now, my students don't either.

About me: I am a 2nd year Special Education Teacher in Branchland West Virginia instruction Behavioral Disorder and Learning Disabled students in Math and Reading/Language Arts. My background is in Computer Science but my life has centered around teaching and learning so a few years ago I decided to pursue teaching as a career. I enrolled in West Virginia's alternative teaching program called Transition to Teaching. With support from the best mentors and teachers I know, I've become passionate about helping struggling learners and getting them engaged about subjects they normally hadn't cared for and I love it.

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