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Article of Interest - Professional Development

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Bridges4Kids LogoTeacher Feature...A Remarkable Program For At-Risk, Middle Level Students
by Bill Page of
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There are textbooks, workbooks, manuals, manipulative devices, and gadgets of all sorts designed to remediate communication disorders. While the publishers claim many of these to be appropriate for junior high school, the fact is that there is a complete and utter void of remedial material appropriate for junior high school or secondary school. However, from my perspective, I am not so much concerned with the absence of remedial material as I am with the absence of a satisfactory rationale under which remedial techniques may be applied.

My perspective is that of a classroom teacher. I am not a researcher, or a remediation specialist, or a learning disabilities teacher. I am a teacher of undiagnosed, unlabeled, 7th graders; "kids who cause trouble in class," or "kids they kick out of other classes," and my concern is here and now.

I am glad that there are people working on theory, etiology, and hypothetical constructs. I am concerned for the particular kids in a particular classroom -- mine! My concern is for their beliefs, feelings, attitudes and ideas - my concern is for what to do tomorrow morning at 8:30 when my kids with primary level skills show up with a need to be taught.

Because my concern is for the attitude and self-concept of the kids as a prerequisite to learning or improving achievement, what is done is not nearly so important as how and why it is done. Specifically, the child must understand, in terms that are meaningful to him, what is needed and why it is needed. And, I must know how he sees it and how he feels about it.

The remedial procedure which I have found to be most beneficial is a tutoring program in which the disabled learner becomes the tutor rather than the tutored. Motivationally, this situation is ideal. The role reversal gives the tutor some genuine prestige and enables him to see the learner from a different perspective. One boy came back from a tutoring assignment and said, "Mr. Page, I was supposed to teach him subtraction but he keeps running off down the hall and I have to chase him." I didn't have to say "Yes, it is hard to teach someone who doesn't want to learn isn't it?" He saw it, felt it, was embarrassed by it.

Tutoring is obviously a good way to get an older student to work at a lower grade level without the usual stigma. He can work at as low a grade level as he chooses, or, as will be beneficial to him. Just recently I saw a seventh grade boy carrying around a third grade math workbook, deliberately exposing it so that others would say, "What are you doing with a third grade math book?" and he would reply, "Oh, I teach it!"

Tutoring helps to show the tutor that learning is a process. By analyzing lower level tasks, a sort of "task analysis," the tutor begins to see that learning is more than just a matter of luck, it is a matter of determining appropriate steps and then being committed to going through those steps, getting help when needed.

To profit from the tutoring, the child does not necessarily have to work in his area of weakness or at the specific level of his deficiency. A project in New York City showed that some high school students, who were potential drop-outs, were paid to go into at-risk neighborhoods to teach kindergarten and first grade children reading readiness skills. In seven months of tutoring the average gain in reading levels for the tutors was three and a half years. Perhaps the self-esteem involved in being appreciated, and seeing themselves as worthwhile, and becoming interested in somebody and some thing, along with the prestige, practice and interest accounted for the difference.

A typical reaction to the tutoring program is, "How can you have this kind of kid tutoring kids in the lower grades who are so vulnerable?" The tutoring involvement can range from a behind-the-scene activity, to helping a first grader learn to tie his shoes to actually teaching basic concepts. In some cases we start with a "methods course" in preparation for tutoring. We have discussion sessions on the value of good manners and appearance, and teach them how to prepare a lesson plan. As we use it, each child develops his own methods according to what he wants to teach and how he plans to go about it.

A second phase of the tutoring is materials preparation. The children create worksheets according to what they plan to teach. They do everything from making pictures to go with consonant sounds, to making puzzles or maps of the United States, or studying lists of words with the long vowel sounds. In some cases we have even had a second-grade teacher come before the class to request the class to work as a group to make certain materials for her. We use a lot of first and second grade activity books in our room for ideas.

We encourage those kids who are interested, to work up plays and skits and presentations of various sorts, to be presented to first or second grade classes. Sometimes they make up rather elaborate plays and write their own songs (parodies).

Some of the kids who are motorically capable, make over-size thermometers, or giant rulers and charts, or mechanical objects, as classroom aids. One eighth grade boy got a lot of satisfaction out of simply taking the 6" wooden blocks from the kindergarten, sanding them down and varnishing them, after he found out the kids were getting splinters from playing with them.

From the standpoint of actual tutoring, one of the best-liked activities is helping kindergartners learn to catch a ball or walk a balance beam.

A phase of the tutoring program popular with some of the junior high tutors is working with the elementary coach. There are many fairly passive types of tutoring involvement, such as listening to kids read, holding up flash cards, assisting the teacher or supervising games or spotting on the trampoline.

Active tutoring may include anything from giving make-up tests to teaching mathematics concepts or mentoring and coaching a variety of activities.

The program has been in use for four years in the University City School District, in St. Louis County where a school bus is now used to deliver some 40 children to five different elementary schools on an hourly basis during the school day. Our school pays the bus driver's hourly wage; the district pays the bus cost and the benefits.

As the elementary teachers saw their students improve, the request for tutors far exceeded the number in our program, so we included other junior high slow learners in the supply of tutors provided. The value to the children being taught in the elementary schools is every bit as impressive as the value to the tutor.

Before leaving tutoring component, I'd like to share a remarkable effect of the tutoring program on a special education student who had transferred into our high school from another district earlier in the year. This high school boy, by the first name of Murphy was nineteen years old, had no credits in high school and was reading at first-grade level. The counselor at the high school called me to ask if I could take him in our junior high school remedial program, because they had nothing to offer him at the senior high.

I was afraid of the stigma of his being in the junior high, so I could not let him be in the program, but I was able to have him come by on his way to the high school, for two hours every morning to ride the bus with the tutors. He was just going to observe until we could determine what he might be able to do.

Murphy really wasn't prepared to teach very much, if anything, but he befriended a fourth-grader and incidentally found that the boy couldn't tell time. Telling time was one thing Murphy was able to do, so with my help he set about teaching the fourth grader, using paper plates with attached moveable hands, later adding an alarm clock with no glass cover. In short order, Murphy taught his first student to tell time and created a "time-telling clinic." He would teach a child to tell time, and then teachers would send him another kid to start the process over again every few days.

In about a month from the time Murphy was assigned to the tutoring program, I got a phone call from the high school counselor saying, "Murphy's teachers want to know what you have done to him. He has changed so dramatically that the teachers can't understand it and would like a meeting with you to discuss it."

At the meeting, we learned that Murphy had been known to smile only twice in the four-month period the teachers had him before he started tutoring. He kept his chin on his chest and would not acknowledge the teacher's greetings when he passed them in the hall, he had never made a response in class, voluntarily or otherwise, and he had never turned in a single assignment or homework paper.

The teachers reported that, during the past two weeks he had been smiling almost continuously, he greeted them in the halls, he had volunteered answers in class, and he had turned in assignments every day for the past week. The two high school teachers subsequently set up the opportunity for both of their classes to tutor in a nearby elementary school. Murphy, as an experienced tutor, actually became a resource, a kind of a leader to his classmates as they got into the tutoring process.

Making their own materials

An especially practical remedial procedure is that of having the children make their own materials. This procedure reduces the need to find commercially prepared material; gets the kids involved in the activity, utilizes more of his modes; and is really great for building self-esteem. The things that we have found most useful in this procedure are the following: 1) raw materials which include such things as assorted arts end crafts supplies, boxes, cardboard, and sheets of flannel materiel. 2) machines and equipment including a copy machine, a paper cutter, lighted tracing box, and assorted tools. 3) samples, ideas, and suggestions which can inspire the creating of materials. 4) trips to a school supply store and game stores.

Here are some materials and ideas that we have used:

Use plain one-inch wooden counting cubes as dice. Kids can put anything from Roman numerals to phonic blends. They can put the part they're having trouble with in a different color magic marker and can devise rules for playing the dice game according to what they need most to practice.

Instead of having en entire set of phonics wheels, have just one or two as samples so the kid can make his own phonics wheels appropriate to the sounds with which he is having the most trouble. My kids make a lot of "blank" materials.

Catalogs of school supplies give kids all kinds of suggestions of things they can make to help themselves learn or tutor. They "scrounge" raw materials from many sources.

Activity books which show puzzles, mazes and games can be traced by the pupil or adapted and copied. They can also be pasted over and reused.

Children can make flannel boards and design and cut out their own flannel characters.

Some children make manipulative devices such as counting frames, geo boards, place value devices, and games of all kinds.

They can adapt games such as scrabble or anagrams by changing the rules according to what they most need to practice.

Projects and joint efforts of all kinds can be made. Children can make things for each other and can try out their materials on others.

One valuable aspect of the kids making their own materials is that of upgrading or adapting materials which were originally designed for lower grades, to the junior high level.

One boy took some of the Frostig visual material and changed the teddy bears and sailboats into battle ships and tanks as a way of upgrading it.

We introduced the Peabody Kit as being good but too babyish. The kids promptly began making their own by replacing pictures that were more appropriate and by writing their own activities.

One excellent project was a group effort in making an SRA type kit on "newspaper reading." They would paste newspaper articles on cards, make out the comprehension questions and answer cards and even designed and decorated the box. They wound up with sections of news stories, feature stories, editorials, cartoons, comic strips, columns and even want ads. Once the kit was complete nearly everyone in class went entirely through it.

One math workbook was made by clipping ads out of newspapers and making word problems based on the advertised items. Some of the sections of the workbook included money problems, two-step problems and a full range of fraction problems. The making of the materials was as valuable as using the materials, and made them more meaningful.

The potential for this program is virtually unlimited. Besides the self-concept factor, the two aspects of the program which I consider most valuable are that the kids become involved in active and creative and cooperative roles; and the teacher is required to explain the purpose of the activity so that the child can know what he is to come up with, and what adaptations he will need. Or quite simply, "The best way to learn something, is to teach it!"

The above article is a published transcript of a presentation given by the author (Bill Page) in 1968. It is "An Idea Whose Time Is Still Here After 36 Years." Originally titled, "A Junior High Remedial Program - A Tutoring Program with Unbelievable Results" was published by Selected Papers on Learning from a presentation by Bill Page given at the 7th Annual International Conference of the Association for Children with Learning Disabilities In Philadelphia, PA, 1968

Now 36 years old, the article was run to show how little things in education really change. Cross-grade tutoring has been around and has been used since the days of the one room country school. It has also been around in articles published in the last few years in major education journals.

Below is the newspaper article that inspired our tutoring program.

From St. Louis Post-Dispatch--Sept. 17, 1966
NEW YORK, Sept. 17 (UPI) -- A one-way project aimed at helping scholastically retarded Black and Puerto Rican children in New York's lower East Side schools has surprised its sponsors by becoming a two-way improvement program. The teachers, youngsters themselves, get smarter too.

This was reported today by Robert D. Cloward, research associate at Columbia University's School of Social Research. The school evaluates research programs of the Mobilization for Youth, which created the New York project, known as the Homework Helpers Program.

Since the program began in 1963 more than 600 high school students have worked as tutors with about 2000 children in 16 lower East Side elementary schools.

Cloward said that reading levels of all participants were significantly improved but the big surprise was that the abilities of the high school tutors--many of them poor students themselves at the start- - "surged ahead three-and-one-half years on the average in a period of seven months."

As a result, Cloward said, an effort will be made to enlist as tutors more boys and girls who are doing borderline school work. High school dropouts will also be encouraged to join the project as tutors. The belief is that many might then be inspired to resume schooling.

The young tutors are paid for their work. With the cooperation of the city's Board of Education, 150 high school students will be hired this school year and be paid $12.00 a week for eight hours of tutoring.

Bill Page, teacher, parent, and realist. Comments can be directed to: or visit Bill Page's Web Site for articles that can be downloaded free. Bill Page is available as a staff development program leader and he has audio and video tapes available for teachers, administrators, and parents. For information or brochures, check his web site or call toll free: 1-888-471-4385


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