Opinion Blog

Peter DeWitt's

Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Struggling Learners and the Factors That Interfere

By Peter DeWitt — August 02, 2011 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

As a former struggling learner, I know that there are factors that interfere in a student’s academic progress. Those factors cover many different areas and some students can have more than one of the factors working against them. However, for educators to know how to solve the puzzle for struggling learners, they need to be able to indentify them.

The factors are:

Medical Social Emotional Behavioral Home environment/stressors Learning style Learning impairment

Medical is fairly easy to take care of if the parents bring their children to the doctor for regular check-ups. So many times the solution to a struggling reader is the fact that they do not have glasses because their parents never brought them for a vision test. Unfortunately, so many parents these days lack the proper health insurance and cannot always afford the appointment, not to mention the glasses.

Social issues can plague a child, especially if they are not fitting in with their peers. Learning how to interact properly with peers does not always come natural to a student, and often they need the support of a good teacher to learn how to engage properly. In addition, school counselors are necessary to build a bridge for these students through the use of a friends group or other peer mediation intervention.

Some of our students are plagued with emotional issues. Seeking outside counseling is a great option, and should not have a stigma. Everyone can benefit from talking with a third person to work through issues. Perhaps a child that deals with this at a young age builds resiliency and will become a stronger adult.

Behavior issues have many different root causes. Sometimes it’s a lack of discipline at home and other times their may be a medical reason that gets in the way, which is why I stated earlier that some students have a variety of factors that overlap and interfere. Through the use of behavior modification, like behavior charts, these students can work through their issues and become successful.

When I was in fifth grade my dad passed away from Cancer and my mother was left to care for five children, although two of them were in their early twenties. It was a major stress factor for all of us at home and that environment impacted my learning. It was no one’s fault and my mom and siblings did an amazing job holding it together. At the time there were very few books that explored the issue of a parent dying. Even now, I have heard from publishers who say that this is too sad of a topic and will not sell books, which is unfortunate. Having very few people to talk with interfered with my academic progress, so I made very little progression.

During these tough economic times, many students have parents who have divorced, lost jobs, or are struggling to make ends meet. Other students are living is areas that run rampant with drugs and shootings. Given all of the outside influences, it’s amazing that they even show up for school, let alone learn when they get there.

Learning style is a very important factor because students may learn in different ways than the teacher is teaching. Perhaps the teacher has so many students in his/her class that they cannot possibly differentiate their instruction. The key to breaking the code of a learning style is through the use of building engaging lessons.

Learning impairment is the last of the factors that interfere. This is truly the area that needs remediation or high quality Academic Intervention Services (AIS). I say high quality because it is not about giving more of the same; it is about finding different ways to engage the learner. Learning impairment and learning style can overlap one another.

Struggling learners struggle for a variety of reasons and the factors mentioned above can come at the same time or different times throughout a student’s career. Parents can help alleviate some of this by building vocabulary with their children at a young age. In addition, offering high quality health care and early interventions are key in defeating the factors that interfere. Diane Ravitch and Richard Rothstein have written about this extensively.

It is important to note that although a child may struggle when they are young it does not mean they are doomed to struggle for the rest of their lives. Parents, teachers and administrators can have a lasting impact on those students. We will be remembered by many of our students and we have to decide whether we will be remembered for have a positive impact or a negative one.

Follow Peter on Twitter.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.