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Getting to the WHY of student difficulties

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Getting to the WHY of student difficulties

As we relentlessly strive to find the right support for students in need – supports that will lead to positive responses to intervention – we are guided by several factors:

  • We are seeking causes of student difficulties. We must look beneath the symptoms and determine the why. For example, when striving to determine to appropriate behavioral support when a student is behaving, we look beneath the symptom (perhaps inattentiveness) to identify the function, purpose, or cause of the symptom: Why is the student misbehaving? We then do our very best to match a support to the cause.
  • The more precise and focused we can be in making this match, the more immediate the positive response. Research has continually validated this targeted approach  (Gersten, Compton, Connor, Dimino, Santoro, & Linan-Thompson, 2009).
  • As we will note below, in addition to the learning benefits (students respond more quickly to interventions), there are logistical benefits. When focusing on targeted causes, we can effect a significant change in 30 minutes per day. If we instead provide broad, unfocused supports that do not address the underlying causes of difficulties, much more time per day will likely be required. Again, this is validated by the research (Burns & Gibbons, 2008; Burns, VanDerHeyden, & Boice, 2008). We (schools, staffs, and students) simply do not have time within the school to spare. And, students surely do not have time within their learning journeys; gaps must be addressed, ameliorated, and /or sustainable work-around plans must be identified and practiced immediately.

If we find that students are not responding to the interventions that we are using, we suggest that we do not simply seek a new intervention; we may need to better identify the causes of student difficulties and better match a support to the diagnosed antecedent skill. This process may be iterative and we will not always be right the first time. But we never give up. In fact, we expect that we will learn quite a bit about the underlying causes of student difficulties through the very act of prescribing and providing an intervention.

A few more notes on prescribing targeted interventions: Several colleagues have lamented that they cannot provide all of the supports to meet all of the deficits in foundational skills with which a student may currently be working to overcome. We get it. The constraints on time (not to mention staff) will make providing multiple, intensive, highly-specialized supports in a day difficult if not impossible. However, here’s a contrarian point of view to consider: We may not need to provide multiple intensive supports. Instead, let’s identify the students most immediate area of need and intensively focus on that area:

  • Students who experience more academic success behave better.
  • Students who develop more positive and productive behavioral skills are better prepared to learn academic skills.
  • Students who read more accurately and fluently comprehend better.
  • Students who comprehend better and make better meaning of what they read tend to perform better in all academic areas: mathematics, social studies, sciences, and writing.

Secondly, our colleagues often lament that they do not have the right resources to provide interventions. We will address this further later in the chapter; a few resources that we have created and found to be productive for a very common and critical area of need, comprehension, is available online.

We cannot express this point often enough: The best intervention is a targeted intervention. We believe that interventions would dramatically and immediately improve if educators focused with laser-like intensity on specific foundational skills, because those skills were deemed to be the underlying causes that explain the symptomatic difficulties that the students were experiencing and that staffs were observing.

 

We never give up; we never stop providing intensive supports for our most vulnerable students – not until we have found the right support, until the student is adequately responding, and until we have ultimately closed the gap. Even if and when an eligibility determination is made, and the student receives special education supports, we continue to provide and adjust intervention supports until success is achieved. It’s inevitable.

© 2016. Chris Weber Education. Design by Cleverbirds.