When scholastic intervention isn’t enough, who should be approached?

As teachers, we often notice when something’s amiss, but we do not always know how to help.  In the Foundation Phase, we notice difficulties such as discerning between sounds, providing rhyming words, spelling and reversals, as well as discrepancies between the content of verbal discussions and written work.

It is always valuable to help a learner individually or in small groups, as additional examples or explanation of work is often needed. Sometimes we need to take a few steps back and revert to a lower number range, a concrete level, easier books or even lessening the load for the learner. 

Additional intervention methods for struggling learners

If your school has access to a remedial teacher, they are likely going to be the first person to contact and connect with proactively. A remedial teacher is a qualified educator with extra training in assessing and supporting scholastic struggles. In a lot of cases, these teachers work closely with other clinicians to create a multi-disciplinary team (involving occupational therapists, speech therapists, audiologists, learning support teachers, educational psychologists, etc.) and form an effective support structure for learners, teachers and parents. 

If you have a learner whose eyes skip back and forth between words read, it might indicate irregular eye movements.  It could also indicate that the learner is repeating known words in order to decode the subsequent unfamiliar words.  In this case, it is beneficial to address possible difficulties by pointing out new or difficult words and blends in the text.  If the back and forth reading persists, it is advisable to have a consultation with an ophthalmologist to check the child’s vision and eye movements (tracking skills). 

Consistent reversals of letters and numbers can indicate a lacking understanding of left and right.  You can review these directions by putting the left-hand palm down on the table – thumb extended.  You’ll notice that your left hand has just formed the “L” for Left.

I usually address reversals by referring to the margin. Numbers such as 2, 3, 5 and 7 create bubbles away from the margin or would “reach out to” the margin. If you have an alphabet chart visible and sing the “ABC” song, you can track the letters from left to right; b will be first in line. Also, create the “thumbs up” sign with both hands and put the knuckles together. You have now created a mini-bed and will be able to see the “b” in the left hand and a “d” in the right hand. These associations work wonders for many learners.

Should children experience difficulty aligning the work appropriately on ruled paper (lines), have them make a dot in every second line down the margin. Draw a picture of a cat – with the head in the top space, the tummy in the second and the tail in the space. The dots resemble bellybuttons and serve as a quick reminder of where to write the letters a, o, c, r, s, u, w, v and z.  Letters that extend into the first space are “letters with necks” and letters that extend into the third space, can be referred to as “letters with tails”. Some educators use the image of houses with attics and basements or flowers with roots, stems and petals to create a similar idea.

If the reversals and confusion of spacing continues, a consultation with an occupational therapist will be beneficial.  An occupational therapist can also help with learners who struggle to hold the pencil correctly, are unable to cut on a given line and who may have postural difficulties. 

When a learner consistently struggles to discern between similar sounds (e.g. k/t) and/or struggle to produce age-appropriate sounds – despite all efforts at school, conversations with an audiologist and speech therapist can rule out specific speech and hearing concerns. 

Should a learner struggle to focus, try using a wiggle cushion (as used by occupational therapists), a yoga ball, tennis balls on opposing chair legs (e.g. front right/left back) or have the learner straddle the chair “cowboy style” with the stomach against the back of the chair. 

Some children have a combination of aspects that we need to address. If we see a discrepancy between the expected academic results and what the learner is producing, have a conversation with the parents and the learning support teachers. There might be a history of interventions and recommendations on record. An educational psychologist will be able to determine whether the shortfalls are related to emotional difficulties, a fluctuating attention span, academic backlogs, developmental delays, etc. Such a clinician can then suggest other therapies and means of support – through a very clear and descriptive report and discussions.  

These referrals are best made in conversation with the head of the department and the school’s support team – as some situations may be slightly difficult to word to parents.  However, when we make those referrals, we’ll do so in kindness – to help our learners achieve their best.

My Klaskamer by Juffer has been the “go-to” blog for Foundation Phase teachers for the past decade. Juffer also has a Teacha! store with many resources for Foundation Phase teachers and parents, both in Afrikaans and English.

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