Feature...A Remarkable Program For At-Risk, Middle Level
by Bill Page of TeacherTeacher.com
For more articles like this
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
TUTORING PROGRAM FOR CHILDREN IMPROVES YOUNG TEACHERS TOO
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
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
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
firstname.lastname@example.org 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:
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