Remedial instruction – used in an intervention program to targets basic skills such as phonics, reading, writing and number sense with the goal of raising the student’s ability to the standard expected of their age (to ‘remediate’ the problem before it becomes worse).
Remedial instruction is implemented when a teacher identifies that a student requires temporary, additional and specialist support for one or more core skills that cannot be provided by the teacher alone. Remedial instruction is the central strategy used in level 3 (the highest level) of Response to Intervention programs. Core skills refer to foundation skills such as reading, writing and arithmetic. More specifically, remedial instruction often targets phonetic awareness (identifying, processing, pronouncing, combining and using sounds and words). Other skills such as number sense (identifying and using numbers), handwriting and word recognition may also be targeted. As remedial instruction is used to address core skills, it is most often used with younger students.
The basic premise of remedial instruction is to help students to ‘catch-up’ to their peers and thus prevent ongoing academic issues.
The basic premise of remedial instruction is to help students to ‘catch-up’ to their peers and thus prevent ongoing academic issues. When students fall behind, a gap opens between their abilities and that of their peers. Over time, this gap gathers pace and widens to the point where learning in other areas is affected. Gaps in core skills affect all aspects of a student’s education as well as their self-confidence, motivation and interest in learning. Remedial instruction aims to arrest this spiral with targeted, small group or individual lessons delivered by specialist teachers. A typical remedial program involves the student attending daily sessions of 30-40 minutes with the specialist teacher. These sessions are held during class time, so it is not perceived as any type of punishment.
Hint: remedial instruction is not intended to be a “cure” for issues caused by a person’s disability or disorder. However, people with a disability or disorder can still attend a remedial program for the same reasons as their non-disabled peers.
Remedial instruction may sound great on paper, but there are some issues that need considering. Firstly, many remedial programs fail to produce an outcome that is any better than if the student stayed in class.i One reason for this might be that remedial classes sometimes repeat activities that have already failed the student in the past. Another common reason is a vague or incorrect diagnosis. When this happens, learning activities cannot target the specific issue. A common example of this is the false belief that a student has a problem with reading. In actual fact, the problem could be a mild and undiagnosed processing disorder, an eyesight issue, trouble with several sounds, or a lack of practise with whole-word recognition. No matter how many reading sessions the student attends, if the learning activities are not correctly targeted, the underlying issue will not be resolved.
No matter how many reading sessions the student attends, if the learning activities are not correctly targeted, the underlying issue will not be resolved.
Second, remedial instruction is not a substitute for poor or lazy teaching. Inexperienced teachers may need to seek further advice, training and support if a student has not progressed throughout the year but seemed to have no issues the year before. Third, remedial instruction can lead to negative labels and potential bullying: for example, ‘you’re in the dumb class’. Finally, remedial classes are expensive, time consuming, and they may require specialist staff who have specialist training (particularly for diagnosis and planning). The student also needs to be sufficiently motivated to engage in the process. Having buy-in from parents is also beneficial as research has shown that parental support has a positive effect on student achievement.ii
There is no consensus on the best way to organise and structure a remedial program. Often students follow a program similar to their original class but with a specialist teacher one-on-one or in small groups. Some strategies (such as direct instruction and direct explicit instruction which follow tight structures and scripts) save the teacher time on planning and developing resources, as well as providing easy lessons for parents to implement. Some of the main components of remedial instruction are outlined below:
Hint: there is no shortage of commercial programs available for schools to purchase – all with fancy names (many of them rhyming for added effect). Many promise remarkable results due to the latest ‘research’, ‘science’ or some unique approach. Unfortunately, there is no ‘neuro-something’ magic remedy or long-lost ancient solution that science is only now rediscovering. In fact, developing your own remedial program is easy provided the diagnosis is correct, the end goals are SMART and there are plenty of opportunities for practice combined with explicit instruction. Other strategies found in this book may also be useful, such as repeated reading.
Adam Green is an advisor to government, a registered teacher, an instructional designer and an author. He is completing a Doctor of Education and was previously head of department for one of the country’s largest SAER (students at educational risk) schools. Adam is managing director of Fast Track Training Australia, an accredited training provider for thousands of teacher aides every year.
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