Many struggling learners also struggle with appropriate learning habits. It is very important for the teacher/parent to provide interesting and appropriate text for the student to read. Self-selected text is best, because the student has a desire/need to read that material. It is also very important to provide strategies that assist the struggling reader. Once these are provided, however, the student must be able to respond with appropriate, on-task, focused, learning behavior. Sometimes, unfortunately, motivation is lacking in this area.

When teaching an individual student, usually the parent/teacher can help the struggling learner develop appropriate behavior. Self-selected material and positive results provide great motivation. Positive affirmation and activity breaks after successful task completion are very helpful. The same methods can be used when using The Sounds Of Words with a group of students.

However, sometimes several students in a group are severely lacking motivation for appropriate, on-task, focused, learning behavior. In one of my high school exceptional ed groups, several students were responding to the classroom setting with extremely talkative and playful off-task behavior. Offering appropriate material, strategies, and positive affirmation was not increasing appropriate behavior. Activity breaks were not being earned. Negative reinforcement was not an answer. So I got creative.

I continued verbally affirming the students who were exhibiting appropriate learning habits, and began also writing their initials on the board, setting them up for an eventual activity break. Systematically, every ten minutes, I added a check mark to their initials, also promising a one-minute activity break for each check mark. Gradually, I added other initials and check marks. I wondered if I would need to do this every ten minutes, every day, all semester... However, to my surprise, that same day, the most talkative students demanded to know what they had to do to get their initials on the board. So, once they began to attempt appropriate behavior, I added their initials. It took several days of this systematic, concrete method before the talkative and playful behavior began to chance to more focused activity. But it did happen, and eventually all my students chose to improve their language arts skills.

Then, whenever the group needed help settling down, or staying settled for learning, I revived the use of the technique. After a short time, the students would once again return to appropriate learning activity.

Anita Landoll

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