Lynne Fedorcha: Reaching and Teaching Low Achievers

Lynne Fedorcha is an Educational Consultant for IU 21 and a Mentor for PA Initiative for Instructional Coaching or PIIC. Lynne’s presentation was the final session of a three-day workshop at LCTI, Teaching and Learning in Today’s World: Lessons from the Field, and the room was packed. I feel I already know Lynne because among the former CFF Coaches she mentors are Salisbury’s Jennifer Brinson and Lynn Fuini-Hetten. Because I have heard so much about Lynne’s fine work, I wanted to learn from her directly.

Lynne began with a disclaimer – “not a magic bullet presentation” because we all have low achievers. One participant shared that he was a low achiever back when, but he can better relate to his students because of it. That he is located in an educational setting is interesting, because he does not share the same problem that high achievers have as teachers. The goal for today is equity for students.

We began with a table discussion of characteristics of perceived high achievers:

  1. Intrinsically motivated
  2. Time-on-task deadline meeters
  3. People pleasers: they do everything they are told to do; teacher’s pet
  4. Participators with positive attitude
  5. Track the teacher
  6. Good attendance
  7. Complete homework. Follow rules
  8. Actively engaged
  9. Disrespectful
  10. What’s my grade?
  11. Goal oriented
  12. Extra-curricular activities
  13. High self esteem

Characteristics of Low Achievers

  1. Low attendance
  2. “What’s in it for me?”
  3. Behavior problems
  4. Off task
  5. Posture reflects attitude
  6. Misdirect the class with off-task questions
  7. Purposely unprepared
  8. Tired
  9. Avoidance behaviors (lav, texting)
  10. Low achievers
  11. Don’t try

Self-esteem seems to be at the heart of the problem. Eighty percent of students entering school feel good about themselves, but by high school those have managed to keep their self-esteem has dropped to a staggering 5%. Perception becomes reality and is reinforced by expectations and behaviors. Students often become what we believe they are, and that perception can have a positive and negative impact. One of the participants, Bob Lesser, shared a great icebreaker. He has his high school students in Wellness and Fitness at LCTI interact by creating a line graph. Bob has his students line up according to birthdays, or even on how far from home they have traveled. The activities create interaction in the class, and the more they share in common, the better they will believe their environment is safe and secure.

Lynne asked if gender, race, social class, past achievement and physical and mental challenges influence teacher expectations. Most of us believe these factors play a role in expectations, but the role is not always negative. Our expectations affect students’ potential, learning, achievement, abilities, and success. Research demonstrates that teacher interactions with high and low achievers are different and affect absenteeism and referrals.

Teachers possess 15 common teaching skills. Each teacher, however, uses these skills at varying and intermittent levels. The focus of one’s teaching should be to practice these skills equitably among all students, not just high-achieving students. All students must be treated equitably. Response opportunities must cover students with their hands down. For reluctant participants, try think pair-share. Writing engages all students simultaneously. Proximity is important; arrange your room so you can be with all your students during class. Feedback is aimed to improving student work and achievement. Personal regard is critical for relationships and are based on a respectful, friendly manner. If you have oppositional students in your classroom, you need to know them because they require special handling. If you have rules in place in your classroom and you enforce them, then there is no reason for a student’s desisting, because the student knows and chooses the consequences.

Bottom line: keep your work with your students genuine, consistent, and equitable. Show that you care. You cannot change someone else’s behavior unless you change your own. Make your students feel valued.

Never do to your students what you do not want done to you.

Never do anything for your students that they can do for themselves.

Empower your students to do the things they think they can not do.

Lynne graciously shared her resources.

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