Exceptional Children

How can I help slow learners?

We all encounter a variety of learning styles and abilities.

Last semester as a first-year, lateral entry teacher, I was thrown into a whirlwind of the realities of diverse learning. In one class alone, 12 out of 24 students were EC; half of those EC students had severe cases and specific needs that I had only heard of before teaching. Though I often felt overwhelmed and at a loss of what to do by so many exceptional children in my classes and differing learning styles, I would not trade my experiences for anything. From students dealing with Autism to Tourettes, Hearing Impairment to unclear but evident struggles, my students have already taught me more than I ever anticipated to learn. So, how do we handle their capabilities? What should we spend most of our time practicing with them? How can we as teachers keep their confidence at school in check?

Intelligence is malleable!

"Children do differ in intelligence, but intelligence can be changed through sustained hard work" (Willingham, page 170). The great thing about all learners is that we can change intelligence! Through hard work and much practice, exceptional student progress can be amazing to watch as it change throughout the course of the semester/year. We need to keep our focus on praising our exceptional students' progress rather than focusing on anything negative to futher build them up. "Praising progress rather than ability sends the unspoken message that intelligence is under the student's control ... Tell your students how hard famous scientists, inventors, authors, and other 'geniuses' must work in order to be so smart" (Willingham, page 183).

Show students the tricks behind studying

Self-discipline. Time management. Resourcefullness.

Sometimes, our exceptional students may continue in a pattern of falling behind because they have never truly been taught the tricks of how to stay ahead. Or, they may need skills for studying reiterated more than a couple times, and it is our job to take the time to ensure they feel comfortable with their ability to study before taking notes home before a test. As teachers, we are constant models of self-discipline, even if we don't recognize it all the time. How we exhibit our own self-discipline in the classroom can say a lot to our students. To properly teach self-discipline, check that you are indeed a self-disciplined person. I encourage my students to make reminders about upcoming quizzes and tests, and that unlike the popular misconception, it IS cool to be smart! Along with this includes management of time. We also model this; by immediately starting class when the bell rings, using each minute of instructional time wisely and meaningfully, and managing time to check for exceptional children's progress in study skills. Thirdly, students who are well equipped for studying know how to seek out help when they need it. They ask questions, re-read, etc. So, boost their confidence by ensuring that asking questions is O.K.!!!

Encouragement = boost of confidence

I want to conclude this section with a quote from Why Students Don't Like School by Willingham: "You want to encourage your students to think of their intelligence as under their control, and especially that they can develop their intelligence through hard work. Therefore, you should praise processes rather than ability. In addition to praising effort, you might praise a student for persistence in the face of challenges, or for taking responsibility for her work" (Willingham, page 183). Everyone needs encouragement, so give them as much as you can alongside helping them to academic success.