Updated: Feb 23, 2021
In education, we regularly sit around the table and discuss how to support our struggling students. So many of the meetings follow the same format, tell stories about what the student looks like in the classroom, pull the data to see their academic performance, discuss their area of struggle. Easy… right? Wrong.
Time and time again, I found myself (as well as my fellow teachers) frustrated that we weren’t any further along than when we started. Odds were the teachers already knew that the student was struggling with “reading”, they didn’t need a percentile to tell them that. While MTSS and RTI have both presented processes for supporting struggling students, they both fall short of helping teams to identify the root cause of a student’s lagging skills.
Defining Lagging Skills and Root Cause
When thinking about academic achievement, lagging skills takes us back to a loose definition of the 3 R’s (reading, writing, and arithmetic). We think of lagging skills as the overarching skills that students engage in on a daily basis.
Match Concepts and Applications
Root cause describes the cognitive tools that students use to perform the skills needed for academic tasks in class. Think of the root cause as the tools in a student’s learning toolbox that they use to perform academic tasks.
Logic and Analysis
Language and Comprehension
Visual and Spatial
Processing and Attention
Tools at Work
We have a drawer in our kitchen that started to fall apart a few years ago. When we realized that the face of the drawer was starting to come loose, we went to our toolbox to find what we needed to fix it. Now, my husband and I are not handy and do not have many tools. So, instead of using the tools that were most likely needed for the repair, we used gorilla glue and white duck tape instead. Before you judge… this was only a temporary fix until my dad (who is handy) could come into town and help us fix the drawer.
Students come to school with their own learning toolboxes every day.
While this example is about our toolbox at home, students come to school with their own learning toolboxes every day. When they are tasked with an opportunity to learn or show what they know, they must rely on their cognitive toolbox to get the job done. For some tasks students may have all the tools they need, while other times students may have Gorilla glue and duck tape. As teachers, when supporting our struggling students, it’s important to identify the root cause (the tools) of their lagging skills (poor task performance) in order to support their learning.
The good thing is, just like our approach was only a temporary fix for our kitchen drawer, students can improve their cognitive toolbox through accommodations, intervention, and strategies. By gaining a better understanding of the cognitive tools that are needed in the classroom, we can better understand how to support students with their lagging skills.
Not yet sure how to look into a student’s learning toolbox? Just ask! Learning questionnaires and inventories are based on the idea that students have different strengths and preferences when it comes to learning. While research over the last few years has questioned the effectiveness of different learning styles, we have found that student inventories, when considered as a piece of a body of evidence, opens doors to provide intentional and targeted accommodations and interventions.
Check out our free student learning profiles inventory and don’t forget to join our Facebook community to share!