Author: Jennifer Coleman
Attending school is a huge piece of everyone’s childhood and it looks different for every child. Our kids are immersed in learning from the moment they walk in our schools until the second they leave. As educators, we have to look at the whole child and what each student needs. Some students come to us with everything in place, while other students may come with the bare necessities. This does not mean only physically, but emotionally and mentally as well.
As an educator, I have spent the last 22 years of my career trying to “make things click” for my students. I have taught in general education classrooms ranging from 3rd to 6th grade and then spent 5 years as a Math Lab teacher and Math Coach. My current position as a reading and math interventionist allows me to actually work with small groups of students and do math and reading interventions with them. Over the past 4 years, I have spent a lot of time trying to find ways for my students to achieve success, and here are my top three strategies to nurture the whole child as an educational interventionist:
Make sure students’ basic needs are met - As educators, we have to meet all of the basic student needs before learning can take place. We have to make sure our students are prepared to learn. Exposure and experiences are such a huge piece of nurturing for the whole child. For example, I am fortunate enough to live on the coast of South Carolina. We have so many students in our own area that have never put their feet in the sand or felt the ocean breeze on their faces. We live so close, yet for them “going to the beach” means they are going shopping. This can also extend to something as simple as vocabulary exposure. It is often easy to determine which children have someone talking to them since birth and a child with less interaction. Sometimes it all comes down to the depth of their basic vocabulary. A child that has not had so much exposure to someone communicating with them will oftentimes have a lower, more basic vocabulary. They do not know how to have basic conversations and that can also move beyond academics and into behavior. When students do not know how to engage with others, they often have a “fight or flight” reaction that can end up negatively. To combat this, I try to do my best to speak to each student throughout the day and engage them in a quick conversation. It can be as simple as a “good morning” or “good afternoon” in the car line. I love when kids begin to initiate the conversations with me because they are so accustomed to me speaking. Recently, I had a quick conversation with two students while waiting for their car at the end of the day. The student looked at me with a smile and said, “Have a good afternoon, Ms. C!” I felt like I had accomplished my goal of just having basic interaction that the student had initiated.
Create a cohesive environment that allows teachers/educators, students and parents to work together and create a community for the child that rallies around them with needed supports. This can include simple things such as checking in on students we know are struggling. You can find the support from a connection that is not in your classroom (a neighbor teacher, the adult in the car line, the custodian, the SRO, etc.) and have them check in on the student. It can also be as in depth as getting mental health services for a student that is having a hard time. Support can be academic as well, such as placing students on monitoring lists, adding students to intervention groups, and progress monitoring data. Working together as a community is the key to finding what each student needs in order to be successful.
Find and implement academic interventions. There are academic interventions (Tier II and III) that can be done in the classroom, in small groups, or with a pull out interventionist. Small group interventions, based on data, are beneficial to students because they allow students to work on their level to close skill gaps. As an interventionist, I love being able to build connections with my students along with building their confidence in their skills. Educational interventionists build communities in our classroom and individual relationships that are different from what students have with their classroom teachers.
Here are some quick ideas of what we do during my small group intervention blocks:
Get back to basics with syllables in words. You can snap, clap, chin map, etc. to help kids realize syllables in words. A huge part of my day is spent working on phonemes and phonemic awareness, and it often comes down to beginning, middle and ending sounds along with syllabication.
Teach/Reinforce using basic phonics. “When 2 vowels go walking, the first one does the talking!” This is a basic rhyme that many students are taught in order to help remember vowel teams when decoding words. Our district uses the Letterland Curriculum to work on phonics and phonological awareness. I use the Letterland resource to help students learn letters, letter sounds, and the other pieces of phonics to help them decode words while reading.
Get back to the basics in math. We do quick math fact drills (I typically use “Wrap Ups” with my older students - I got a class set from Donors Choose) while we wait on our group members to arrive each day. The students love working on Wrap Ups because they are racing themselves. It is a quick way to work through and see what they know.
Remember to keep it simple. I use a lot of dry erase markers for students to show what they know. I have them write responses on the table and clean them with a dry magic eraser, and the kids think it is so cool. This is an inexpensive way to get students engaged. Another simple idea is to use basic manipulatives across grade levels. I use my 2 digit number cards for my 1st grade students to recognize their numbers up to 20, for my 2nd graders to recognize their numbers up to 30, for my 2nd and 3rd graders to compare numbers, and for my 2nd and 3rd graders to work on 2 digit addition. Find and use strategies that are not complex; they just need to work for you and your students.
Model it. In my class, each student can model anything we do with base 10 blocks. You model addition and subtraction problems to show how to regroup along with basic things like comparing numbers. When a student can answer the “why”, which is usually through modeling, then they can understand how it works. I make sure my students understand the modeling piece of the math before we move to manipulating algorithms.
I hope you will explore some of the strategies that I have highlighted here. They have really supported my students’ growth, and I think they will help your students, too.
About the Author:
Jennifer Coleman serves as a Reading and Math Interventionist at Andrews Elementary School in Georgetown County School District. Connect with Jennifer @scjen79