Keeping Up, NOT Catching Up | Mindsteps Inc.

Keeping Up, NOT Catching Up


When I first started teaching, no matter how well I planned, there were always some students who did not do well on the summative assessment. Other students lagged behind the rest of the class because of HUGE learning gaps.

What frustrated me the most, was that these students were capable, they could understand the material if only they had the background knowledge and skills they needed. So, I invested a lot of time in remediation – staying in at lunch, working with them after school trying valiantly to catch them up.

It never worked.

In fact, it just made them MORE frustrated, more hopeless, and more unmotivated.
For years, I thought that I just needed a better remedial program. So, I shopped around, tried everything I could find, to no avail. My students – the ones who even bothered to show up to my remediation sessions – remained frustrated, discouraged, and overwhelmed with all that it would take to catch up. Many gave up.

Then one year, I heard Dr. Max Thompson speak about the idea of acceleration. He argued that rather than intervening with students AFTER they fail, why not set them up so that they wouldn’t fail in the first place?

Immediately, I went back to my classroom and changed my approach. I instituted an acceleration program – much of which took place during class and during the school day, and within one semester of instituting it had zero students fail the following marking period.

That’s right. Zero failures.

I didn’t lower my standards. I didn’t give students easier work. Neither did I spend hours personally tutoring students after school.

I simply made one change to my approach with students and it made all the difference.
That change was to switch from remediation to acceleration.

Acceleration is previewing background knowledge and learning skills students will need to be successful in an upcoming unit. It’s essentially setting students up for success by equipping them the skills they will need before they need them.

It’s not the same as pre-teaching however. Pre-teaching is focused on giving students multiple exposures to the content while acceleration is really more about helping students develop the pre-requisite skills for learning.

That might include previewing important vocabulary, providing advanced organizers, using activating strategies or student learning maps, or filling in important background knowledge.

Acceleration directly addresses the major causes for students’ difficulty in school – lack of prior knowledge and soft skills – by providing students with the prior knowledge they are missing and helping students develop the soft skills they need to be successful with the lesson at hand.

Acceleration is much more powerful than remediation because it helps students get ready to learn and heads off struggle before it begins. It cuts down on students’ frustration and fear by preparing them for what is coming.

By helping students develop the pre-requisite skills they need for an upcoming unit and helping them become comfortable using these skills prior to needing them, you can set up students for learning successfully, increase their motivation to learn, and make their learning much more meaningful.

In other words, instead of always catching up, you can help struggling students keep up with the rest of the class and maybe even get ahead.

Many students would struggle much less in school if we took the time to help them acquire the tools they will need to learn effectively before they were expected to learn.

Stay tuned. In the next post in this series, I’ll show you why so many efforts to support struggling students fail – and what you should be doing instead.

  • Alecia Cobb says:

    I loved the idea of acceleration instead of remediation. Equipping the students up front will get the students an opportunity to preview what is coming up and the teacher can assess prior knowledge. Thank you!

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