Change Your Mindset About Student Potential

I started teaching in 1980 and, over the years, I became increasingly aware of the large number of students who were labeled special needs who probably did not need nor deserve that stigma and lifelong label. A consequence of that label is often a blow to the student’s self-esteem.
So often, I would work with students who, on-record, had learning disabilities, yet, when they were given strategies that honored their learning style, these students had the potential to be successful. I often thought that these students were unjustly labeled simply because at the secondary level, we primarily teach to verbal linguistic auditory learners.

student potentialJohn’s second grade teacher suggested to his parents that he had Attention Deficit with Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). His parents, unwilling to wait for the public school evaluation process took it upon themselves to have him evaluated. He was diagnosed with Central Auditory Processing Disorder. In the fourth grade, his parents and teachers noticed that his reading test scores were going down.

Although the teachers weren’t too concerned at the time, his parents once again had an outside evaluation done by a behavioral optometrist. It was determined that he had significant under-convergence of his eyes. His parents provided him with vision therapy. In one summer, he went from reading “Magic Tree House” books to “The Lord of the Rings”.

As John went through the school system on a 504 plan, his parents supplemented his education with metacognitive strategies provided by SuperCamp, sent him to immersion language programs during the summer to prepare for high school foreign language classes, and engaged an academic coach to support him in developing writing skills and preparing for state tests.

John, who by traditional academic standards would have been considered a candidate for special education without the support his parents provided, was able to be successful in school because he had a lifetime of ‘interventions’. Those ‘interventions’ responded to his academic struggles in ways that honored his strengths and learning style.

This student is now in an engineering program at private university on a scholarship he earned because of his success in honors level and advanced placement course work in high school. John’s eye-doctor, fifth grade teacher and academic coach expressed that what John accomplished was amazing considering his Central Auditory Processing Disorder ( CAPD) and vision issues.

Instructional leaders and educators may not be able to provide special camps or private coaches for students; however, the moral of this story is: A student who without interventions, would have started second grade in the lowest reading group and would have stayed tracked at that level through his school career would not be where he is today if his parents had not intervened. Providing intervention strategies to students, double dosing instruction (as John had with camps and tutors), frequently monitoring progress, and adjusting interventions will allow other students to have the same opportunity as John to reach the stars.
Resources for students with vision related problems are addressed here: https://susanfitzell.com/teaching-strategies-for-tackling-vision-related-problems/

And here: The College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD) is a non-profit, international membership association of eye care professionals including optometrists, optometry students, and vision therapists. https://www.covd.org

This article is an excerpt from “Special Needs in the General Classroom, 500+ Teaching Strategies for Differentiating Instruction, 3rd Edition.


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