Previewing As a Free and Easy Student Intervention

MagnifyingGlassWhy do we insist on making struggling learners "catch up" when we could just as easily give them a head start by showing them material a little sooner?A little over a year ago, I was sitting at the Association for Middle Level Education’s 38th Annual National Conference for Middle Level Educators in Louisville, KY. It was a sensational conference that I recommend any Middle School Teacher try and go to as often as they can in their education career.

While there, I was sitting in a breakout session where the presenters were explaining their master schedule and some innovations they’d made regarding their intervention and enrichment programs and how they’d been able to turn things around in their school pretty quickly using a variety of strategies. One of these strategies stuck out immediately as so simple, so brilliant and so obvious, I was furious I’d never thought of it myself. I’m not sure if they developed this strategy themselves or if they borrowed it from somewhere else, but it’s a tremendous idea that my colleagues and I stole, adapted and began using almost instantly.  I’ll attempt to contact the presenters and ask if they want to be mentioned here, if not, I’ll let them remain anonymous.

The strategy itself was used as an intervention for students who were behind academically. Most of these students were struggling for a variety of reasons – poor reading level, lack of prerequisite skills, motivation issues, emotional needs, basic needs, etc. And while the school had other protocols in place to help students in these areas (they’re processes really were impressive) it was this idea that could be adapted for any class that struck me as genius.

Students who were identified as struggling learners at the end of a grading period would be placed into a “previewing” intervention, in which they would get an opportunity to learn class material before their classmates viewed it in a regular education setting. Then, when this material was taught in the normal classroom setting, students who were once some of the most “tuned out” and afraid to participate in class were suddenly much more engaged. They already knew some of the answers, and they were eager to show this in front of their classmates. The boost in confidence led to greatly increased participation, which led to greatly increased learning. BRILLIANT!BrilliantIdeaSome ideas are so brilliant, and so obvious, it hurts when you finally realize them.

What’s more, classmates who’d grown accustomed to these kids not usually participating much or knowing the right answers were taken a back by this new found participation. They had to pick up their game just to keep up!

Some will say this strategy doesn’t give kids an opportunity to succeed the first time on their own. I’m sympathetic to that notion, except that if we as wait a grading period – or even just a few weeks – it becomes incredibly obvious to teachers which students are struggling. Typically, these students who are struggling will continue to struggle, so they end up in intervention programs or getting additional time in the form of “re-teaching”. How many times does a student have to end up in your “re-teaching” class before we decide that “pre-teaching” might be a better course of action?

Often times re-teaching is a cycle that can be difficult to break. However, if we use pre-teaching to teach students previewing skills and instruct them how to use this strategy on their own, this intervention doesn’t have to be a life sentence. The previewing skill, coupled with the boost in confidence and increased participation can occasionally turn a student around and make interventions no longer necessary. And isn’t that the point of a quality intervention?

Others will insist that this “isn’t fair” to students who have to learn the material the first time. Pardon? What “isn’t fair” is that we have a portion of our students who for a variety of reasons struggle to learn on the same conveyor belt schedule as everybody else. Is it unfair to give everybody the help they need? The fairness comes in when the students who aren’t receiving the intervention struggle themselves – then they too will be given the help they need. I fail to understand the “fair” issue and I’m reminded of Rick Wormeli’s book “Fair Isn’t Always Equal”. Fair doesn’t mean everybody getting what they want or everybody getting the same – it means everybody getting what they need. And some students NEED to see the material sooner than their classmates.

Some will ask the question of practicality – logistically – how do you find the time to do this with students? After all, even if your school offers a period during the day for intervention and enrichment, often the students who struggle in Science and Social Studies (and would benefit from a previewing class) are receiving interventions in the areas of Math and Science. In the case of my school we found a more unique way around this problem as well.

We talked about it as a grade level team and we were able to identify 14-16 students who struggle to learn “on schedule” in just about all of our classes. We then spoke with their parents and the administration and made the decision to remove these students from one of their elective periods (all students get two at our school, so the students were still given one elective). Since our grade level team has common planning time, we each volunteered to give up one day a week to “preview” material with this class. We would teach them the material we would be covering that coming week. Occasionally we used it for review, but typically it was just to give students an opportunity to get started on projects a little sooner, get started reading a little earlier, etc. So for one day a week, I didn’t have a plan period. But it was EASILY worth it to see the growth in some of those students.

I say “some” because like any intervention, it isn’t one-size-fits-all. It didn’t work for everybody, maybe because we were only getting the students once per week per subject. Ideally, this would be done every two days or so as part of a block schedule for students. It didn’t work for everybody, but for a few students, it worked EXTREMELY well to boost their confidence and participation in class. Our data didn’t necessarily reflect success – grades didn’t improve much though they did some for some students – but as  I said, the “immeasurable” categories of participation and confidence soared.

Some have asked in the past if the student who received this head start were bullied or made fun of for being in this “previewing” class? If they were, I didn’t see it. We fought it a little bit at the beginning of the semester, particularly with the boys, who felt they were in a class with “dumb” kids but they soon got over it and learned to benefit from it. Once the student body knew what was going, few of them had much to say about it. If they complained “That’s not fair! He already got to get started on this!” I just told them that if they needed additional time, they’d be given it as well. That stopped most of the complainers. Kill them with kindness – if everybody gets as many opportunities as they need  there’s no discrepancy, is there?

Another thing we found…if a student is REALLY afraid to participate in class and REALLY lacks confidence, use the previewing class to feed them an answer or two to specific questions that you’re going to pose to the class. Make sure they know, and when you ask them in their regular education class make sure you give them an opportunity to shine!

What if the students learn the material in their “preview” class and then don’t have work to do in their regular class? Then I’d say that student probably doesn’t need to be in “preview” – they learned it in one try!

What do you think? Is there any benefit to using “previewing” as an intervention? What are the potential downfalls of an idea like this? How might your school be able to benefit from this? Share your ideas for “Previewing as a Student Intervention” in the comments, or share your ideas with other Edunators on our Facebook page. Tweet them at me (@Edunators) and I’ll re-tweet your ideas for others to share. Good luck, and happy previewing! 

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