Have you watched students move from grade to grade, but never catch up?
As some students progress through the primary grades, their inability to make meaning or learn new concepts becomes more apparent. By then however, the child may have lost precious years of learning. The earlier we identify risk factors for students, and implement strategies to accelerate learning, the greater their chances for success.
Early childhood education is critical. It is far better to prevent failure in the first place than to remediate later. The consequences of failing to learn to read in the early grades are severe. As early as the end of first grade, students who have trouble reading begin to view school as punishing and demeaning. (Slavin, 1993) Effective early intervention programs help students maintain their enthusiasm, motivation and self-confidence. But, without intervention, failure to read in the early grades will almost assuredly guarantee failure in later schooling.
But, some students become “at risk” later in their school career. Others may come in and out of risk because of changing factors or personal issues. These students are often harder to spot, so staff must be able to recognize the warning signs.
The term “at risk” does not imply that the problem is with the learner.
Risk factors include anything and everything that is blocking learning. Today, the term takes on a broad connotation, as more and more children – from all classes and income levels – are “at risk” not only from school failure but from outside forces. Tragically, factors outside of school such as instability in families, abuse, neighborhood violence, homelessness, or the death of a loved one affect many children. Older students are increasingly drawn away from school by the magnetism and danger of the streets. Helping these students internalize and visualize being part of a classroom community can be an essential factor in making them feel like they belong.
Yes, many students need special attention – and fast. You can never do third grade again for the first time. Technologies like Data Warehousing can be of tremendous help in quickly identifying factors such as poor attendance, tardiness, falling grades, low test scores, and even students dropping out of activities. A comprehensive staff development program that includes training on how to recognize warning signs and initiate intervention will increase the chances for success. And don’t underestimate the willingness of parents to intervene and help their kids or support teacher policies.
Looking At the Research:
Educational Leadership highlights this topic in their October 2007 edition: “Early Intervention at Every Age”. They look at interventions that research and experience are validating as effective ways to reach out not just to students on the verge of crisis but also the many students who need an extra nudge to stay on the path toward success. The articles look at crucial crossroads in students’ lives and times when interventions can have an incredible payoff.
Take a look at what leaders in the field are saying:
“Changing the Odds”: by Susan B. Neuman How do we improve the academic prospects of the poor?
“Giving Interventions a Head Start”: A Conversation with Edward Zigler, by Deborah Perkins-Gough The founder of Head Start talks about its early days and its long-term potential.
“The Perils and Promise on Praise” by Carol S. Dweck Praising students' effort is more effective than praising inherent intelligence.
“Perspectives / Interventions That Work”, by Marge Scherer
- Do we know our students well enough to know when they are “at risk?”
- Can we really have early intervention at every age?
- Could our staff benefit from professional development on identifying risk factors and implementing interventions?
Review the “at risk” factors you currently use to assess whether a student is in need of intervention. What additional information would be helpful?