When I started school, there were seven first-grade classes, and about 30 students in each one. We were all about the same age, some shy, some way too active, some nervous, but in our minds we were all the same: classmates, equal.
By the time I started second grade, my class was missing a few students. Where did they go? Apparently, the school decided to create a special, eighth class, by selecting a few students with the lowest academic results from the other seven.
There's nothing wrong in giving them more attention and helping them improve their grades, right?... Except the only selection criterion was the grades. The grades from the same standardized written tests. Nobody tested the kids differently, or looked at the matter from any other point of view.
Low-achieving students were classified as lazy, distracted, restless, or simply slow learners. No one seemed interested to dig under the surface and fight the real reasons some students were struggling at school.
What's in a name?
I don't know about others, but after I started to go to school, I was in a rush to learn how to read. I was fascinated by stories and fairy-tales and I simply wanted to read them by myself.
One fairy-tale that I remember dearly from that time is Rumpelstiltskin. He was the bad guy in the story, and he could do a really bad thing as long as the others didn't know his name. Once someone recognized him and called him by his name, his spell would break and he would disappear. But they had to be specific: bad guy, or imp did not equal Rumpelstiltskin.
Likewise, slow learners don't equal dyslexic students. Luckily nowadays, we know that there are more than one type of struggling students, and the main reasons that explain which part of learning is a challenge for them. Therefore, we can work toward helping each one, and make the bad aura above them disappear.
Listening difficulties: not everyone hears the same, for some of us sounds travel in a different way through the brain so the words that sound similar are often misunderstood.
Verbal expression: some students are just better at writing instead of speaking. Words come easier and ideas have more sense when they are put on paper.
Reading disability, also known as “dyslexia”: A dyslexic student's brain interprets graphic symbols in a different way than a normal brain does. Some describe it like "printed letters dancing on paper". Students affected by dyslexia have trouble with word recognition, spelling and decoding.
Writing and writing expression: as some people are better at writing, others just excel at verbalizing their answers and ideas, and have trouble when trying to put their thoughts on paper.
Gifted kids: these are the students who have very low general academic results, but excel at one subject and get the best results at international competitions at that subject.
Using technology to meet struggling students' needs
Teachers nowadays are more prepared to deal with struggling students. They learn and apply teaching techniques meant to help those students find the most suitable way for them to learn and get better academic results.
Education technology gained a lot of ground over the years, and new features are created to improve the whole learning process. Take a look at the LMS for instance. The use of a learning management system in schools allows the students to register for self-paced classes, where they can set the pace of their learning process.
Students with listening difficulties can access the written learning materials of a lesson, as any video can be accompanied by a transcript. Students with speaking difficulties will rejoice in an online chat-room, where they can participate in written discussions on any part of their courses. For those having trouble with handwriting and writing expression, teachers can allow them send their homework as a voice record. Also, they can involve them in projects that presume a photo essay or a video book report. This way the teacher can assess and grade the true level of a student’s understanding of the class, and see past the spelling mistakes or the unintelligible handwriting.
Setting a learning path helps faculty, students and parents track down the progress every step of the way. this means that help and assistance can be offered anytime, at the right time — after each class, or learning module, not just after the results for the finals exams. Smaller goals are easier to be achieved and students stay motivated a longer period of time.
Everyone involved in the teaching and learning process know that each kid is a unique individual in every aspect of his or her life, including the way he/she learns and comprehends things. The entire teaching and learning experience should be about gaining knowledge not meeting the standards. Struggling students just have different standards.