The Eclectic Teacher|
by Ginny Hoover
If Dreaming Made It Real
Working with the At Risk
The brakes on your car are not functioning. Naturally you take your car to have some work done. However, the brakes can't be repaired, so the mechanics increase the volume of your horn. Ridiculous, but that's what is often being done in education when working with the at risk. When young people are not successful in the normal classroom they are being placed in alternative centers that are actually just alternative settings, a way of removing them from the classroom where they are hampering the learning environment of others in one way or another, but not all that helpful to them.
I have a dream of how alternative centers really could function for the benefit of its clientele. The following considerations would be needed (in no particular order of importance)
Computers available to all students (minimum 2:1 ratio of students to computers)
Specially designed Computer Assisted Instruction (CAI)
Instruction on keyboarding and use of programs
Interactive, immediate feedback learning centers and manipulatives
Instructors trained and willing to teach according to needs and levels of students
A safe environment free from weapons and threat
Uniforms that make it impossible to show "colors" or any other gang designations (classroom to be neutral zones)
Music and PE (used to support core courses)
Provision for short attention spans
Adult volunteers to help with reading
Health issues addressed (pregnancy, drug addiction, illnesses)
Computers allow for instruction to be provided at the level needed (individual instruction), remove the threat of "authority," and allow students to choose their speed of advancement.
All Computer Assisted Instruction (CAI) should be programs designed for at risk. I wouldn't allow the answer choices a,b,c,d. Instead, I would make available programs where answers, not the letters, be typed from the choices. This will prevent the students from typing in letters until the answer is correct and provide an opportunity to practice keyboarding.
Students would learn keyboarding. I believe a goal of 40 wpm would be a good start. Hunt and peck shouldn't be an option. Keyboarding would help with CAI and the writing program.
Too much of one thing is not desirable, so other interactive, immediate feedback centers and manipulatives would be needed. Word puzzles could be used for vocabulary growth. Word puzzles are bars that are cut into 2 parts--word on one side with definition on the other. The cut on each word bar is unique; therefore, a handful of vocabulary words could be housed in a baggie for easy management. See sample Word Puzzles on http://skyways.lib.ks.us/ksleg/ CDROM/Guides/Teacher's_Guide.pdf, check out page 47. (This is the Teachers Guide for Kansas Lawmaker CD prepared in part by Ginny Hoover.)
I would use other tactile/kinesthetic manipulatives such as light boards, golf tee cards, hookups, etc. (Patterns such as these are available at http://www.teachertimesavers.com/TK3.htm and a sample is below.)
figure 1 (click image for printable pdf copy)
Instructors are needed who are willing to think outside the box! One administrator I met at a meeting from TX ran a successful alternative school in Miami. All her teachers were required to be at the front door before school started. Each child was hugged as they entered. It was a welcoming hug and a quick search! They found several guns and knives that way! I think I'd rather depend on quality metal detectors at the entrance with building windows placed where they would be inaccessible to students (to smuggle in weapons). She had much of the low level knowledge taught through music and PE. I'm thinking here how effective it would be to have students doing all of their exercises calling out multiples of numbers. The easier the exercises the lower the multiples. For instance, students would call out 2's when doing jumping jacks and 9's when doing chin ups! Music would be also core related--songs such as School House Rock, historical songs, and other songs written to impart pertinent information.
Duolog reading http://www.geocities.com/ginnyks/duolog.html is one of the best techniques I've seen for improving poor reading skills. I would have a 30-minute time period set aside everyday for such reading. Adult volunteers would be taught the technique and students would progress at an individual rate as reading skills improved. During the day, peer partners would be assigned for duolog reading of material necessary to accomplish daily work. However, at no time would the lack of reading and writing skills be allowed to limit the acquisition of knowledge from other core subjects. Tape-recorded books and recorders could be used to "cover" for lack of these skills until students obtained some proficiency. (Hey, this is a dream isn't it? So, I can have such help in my school!)
Reading, writing, and maths would be the primary focus until skills became functional. All history and government would be taught as application through a quality citizenship program. Science would be based on a balance of instruction and laboratory work. No matter what is being taught, the attention span of the students involved would be honored--but still working to increase the amount and quality of that time.
Student clothing would be according to a uniform code. No colors or any other gang related sign could be visible in the classroom. It would be neutral ground. Management would be non-confrontational. Students have to be willing to try to follow the rules or not be there. They would be given choices and a time to adjust to the new learning environment.
Because needs of students are caused by a wide variety of factors, I would also address other problems. Food would be available at lunch and supper (at no cost to the student) since the school would have 2 basic times beginning in the morning and again in the late afternoon. In addition, nurses would be available to help in any health issue (pregnancy, drugs, diseases, etc.). If needed, perhaps some agreement could be made with a medical doctor or an agency that provided medical doctors. Counselors would provide realistic career information/guidance as well as private counseling.
A program like this would be costly, but not as much as I imagine it is costing us to keep dropouts in prison...depending on the state about 75% of inmates are high school dropouts. And, keeping them in prison for years is really more costly than teaching them how to be productive citizens. When will we look at this issue with new eyes?
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