If remediation works, why don't we take all of the kids who are behind,
catch them up and be done with it! Why do we continue to remediate the same kids year after year? It's because:
Remediation Doesn't Work
by Bill Page
The remedial concept does not work -- at all --for anyone, ever! The concept, not just the procedures, does not work. It is not a matter of which remedial program or process is used, or which teacher uses it -- it simply does not work! In fact, if the remedial concept works, why don't we remediate those who are behind, catch everyone up and eliminate the problem? If remedial procedures work so well, why don't we use those procedures in the first place instead of after he or she has already failed to learn? If remediation works, why don't we have all teachers using the techniques?
The Premise Is Wrong
The premise of remediation is essentially "more of the same." If they can't read, give them more reading. If they can't spell, give them more spelling. If they can't do math, give them more math. Take it slower, make it simpler, do it in smaller chunks, do it one-on-one, offer them M & M's, but keep shoving the same stuff down their throat. While that sounds perfectly logical, it is the same as saying if they can't swim, throw them into the water twice as often because they need it twice as badly. If that isn't sufficient, let their mother throw them in for a couple of hours each night at home; hire a swimming tutor; send them to the resource pool, send them to the university swim clinic on Saturday, and fill their Summers with yet more of the same. Some kids have been in remediation their entire school lives. If we know how to remediate learning deficits, why don't we do it? Why would we not have worked ourselves out of a job long ago. If we are still remediating them, it shows clearly that it doesn't work.
You Have To Change Their Attitude
There is only one way you can teach kids to swim, if they are two years past the time they should have leaned to swim. If they are just learning, there are many ways to teach them or more accurately, for them to learn. But, if their friends have all learned; if they feel stupid because they can't swim; if they have been trying for a long time with no success, there is only one way you can teach them to swim, and I can guarantee it. YOU HAVE TO CHANGE THEIR ATTITUDE!
If you can't cause them to change their attitude; you can't teach them! If you can't change their attitude toward swimming, their attitude toward their own capability of swimming, their attitude toward water, their attitude toward the need to swim, and their attitude toward you they will not learn to swim. If you can change their attitude, you can teach them to swim. If you can't change their attitude, you can't teach them to swim. The remediation concept leaves out attitude. When a remedial teacher is successful with a given student, as they frequently are, it is not the remedial procedure. It is because the teacher as a person has been able to change the student's attitude. Only then can he or she become successful in learning the material.
For all we know about the importance of attitude; and for all the difference we know attitude makes, it seems we, as teachers, know very little about it. Consider this, "Have you ever had a course in "changing attitude?" Have you had a two week unit in your methods course on attitude? Do you really know what attitude is? If I gave you a kid with a "bad attitude" toward math, one who says, "I hate math. It stinks!" Could you change his attitude? If so, how would you do it? Could you explain how you would go about it?"
A Definition Of Attitude
A simplified definition; attitude is a predisposition. When someone says, "Let's go fishing." If I have had some good experiences on previous fishing trips, I might say Hooray! But, if I hate the smell of the bait, the slimly fish and get seasick in a row boat, I might exclaim yeeeccch!. We are both predisposed to fishing, and respond in a predictable consistent manner toward its mention. We both have an attitude toward it.
My own experience has been that you must first change their attitude, before you can teach them. Obviously, he or she must change his or her own attitude. Thus, the real question is, "Can you cause him or her to change his or her attitude?" If so, "How do you do it?" How often have we seen a learning problem become a behavior problem, and then work on the behavior instead of the learning. We wind up dealing with the symptom rather than the cause.
There are only two ways to change an attitude. First, by my own attitude. Every student I have ever had has learned one thing from me, and I can absolutely guarantee it. They have learned me. (Actually they have learned I, but that sounds funny to a Tennessee boy.) They have learned what my attitude is -- my attitude toward learning, toward them, toward other students, and my attitude toward the subject.
My students know me. They know whether I value the use of class time. They know whether I care about every student, or just about the "good" ones. They know whether I mean what I say. They know whether I care about real learning, or just answers on the test. They do not have to like my attitude, or agree with my attitude, but if they spend time with me, they will learn what my attitude is. They also know what their classmates attitudes are. So, the first thing we have to do is make sure we have our own heads on straight.
We have to do a "check up from the neck up." If we, the teachers, don't think our subject is important, why would the students? If we don't think every student can and will learn, why would they? If we don't believe in them, why would they believe in themselves? Imagine taking a class where the instructor shows the class that he or she believes that every student will learn, will make an A+ and will be a top student! As opposed to a teacher who says, "I don't give A's. This course is so tough, you'll be thankful to get a D."
Seeing It Differently
The second way we have of helping students to change their attitude is to help them see it differently. If they saw it differently, they would behave differently. If they saw what I saw, they would do what I do. If they knew what I knew, they would do what I do. If a student saw that a particular unit of learning were going to affect his or her life this year, next year and throughout his schooling, he or she would keep me after school and make me teach him or her.
There are many, many ways to get kids to see it differently. A typical way to get them to see it differently is to break it into its parts so that they can see, "If I learn this, I could then learn that," or to feel success and want to go on. Some ways that can work well in remedial settings are role reversal, or a prestige position. An example would be making the class trouble-maker a teaching assistant, or having poor students in the junior high "tutor" kids in the primary. A good way to keep a kid from making trouble in the halls, is to make him or her a hall monitor who wears a safety patrol belt and badge.
In an old book by Robert Mager, Developing Attitude Toward Learning, Mager says there are three sources of influence on subject matter:
He further states that people often verbalize a conviction that they cannot learn particular subject matter, and that, "Once such a behavior pattern develops, it is unlikely that it will be reversed. ...no teaching goal can be reached unless the student is influenced to become different in some way than he was before the instruction was undertaken."
- the conditions that surround a subject,
- the consequences of coming into contact with the subject, and
- the way others react toward a subject (modeling).
Developmental Not Remedial
The remedial concept has no place in the classroom. It is the developmental concept that needs to be used. If a kid is in first grade and doesn't know his times tables, there is no problem or no concern. He or she is not supposed to know that. If he or she is in the seventh grade and doesn't know his times tables, we think he or she needs remediation. He or she doesn't. He or she needs to learn his or her times tables. Slow learning is no more than coming to a task without the necessary prerequisite knowledge to do that task. What he or she needs is to be taught the necessary knowledge. The problem is that he or she is over age. He has probably has a negative predisposition from already having been "presented " with the knowledge many times over. This is why it becomes an attitude problem with the kid and/or with the teacher.
Benjamin Bloom, in a book called Human Characteristics and School Learning, explains in a mastery learning model, that a learner comes to a given school task with two things -- prior knowledge and prior attitude. As he or she deals with the task, he or she comes out with two things; new knowledge of the task and a new attitude. Unfortunately, if he or she does not have success with the task, the new knowledge might be "I can't do it." And the new attitude might be, "I hate this stuff."
Unless we deal with his or her prior attitude before repeating tasks; and, unless we are aware of the attitude that can develop with lack of success in the task; we are not likely to be successful in repeating the task. The farther along the kid is in school, the more generalized the attitude becomes. "I hate fractions," becomes, "I hate math." and then becomes, "I hate school." The more generalized the attitude becomes, the more difficult it is to deal with that attitude.
Difficult, Maybe Impossible
It is difficult to deal with the various attitudes of our "good" students. It is more difficult to deal with the attitude of our less able students. It is still more difficult to deal with the attitude of students who have a history of failure. To continue to deal with them as remedial or failing students makes it all but impossible to deal with their attitudes or to help them learn anything but more failure and hate. All of this coupled with teachers who don't understand the importance of teaching attitude; others who don't feel the need to change students' attitudes; and still others who don't know how to go about changing attitude even if they wanted to; makes remediation impossible for many teachers and far too many students.
Remediation doesn't work! Changing attitudes does work; but we need to learn how!