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4 Strategies To Help Improve Student Skills

Try these four strategies to help improve student skills.

Are you looking for ways to help improve student skills in your classroom?

Having a few students in each class who need more basic skills has always been an issue. For instance, most of a class will turn in A and B essays and be ready to move on, while a couple of students will still need help to form a cohesive paragraph.  

Or, a novel is entirely appropriate for the reading level of most of a class, but there are a couple of students whose reading skills are behind enough that you know they will struggle from page one. 

In recent years, this issue has been exacerbated. Here are some strategies that might help improve student skills in your classroom.

4 Strategies To Improve Student Skills

Strategy One: Levelled Work

Book Clubs or Literature Circles

Examples of levelled work in the language arts classroom are book clubs or literature circles.  These allow you to match appropriate reading materials with students. Here are some things to remember when setting up these types of book clubs or literature circles.

  • Highly engaged and motivated students will stretch themselves to read at a higher reading level than they would otherwise. Take the time to match books with students to achieve these higher levels of engagement.  
  • Remember that just because a student is a struggling reader does not mean they are a struggling thinker or discusser. It is important that you set up book discussions for each of your book clubs or literature circles so that students are not levelled down in their thinking and discussing just because they need a book with a lower reading level.

Scaffolded Lessons and Writing Groups

However, book clubs and literature circles are not the only way to level work in your classroom to improve student skills. Essays can be done this way as well. This can be done by providing a variety of prompts and through scaffolding your lessons.  

Just like you make book clubs or literature circles, create writing groups. Put students in groups and rotate through different types of writing needed for that assignment or skill. Work with each small group, providing help and direction as needed.  

Not only does this allow you to focus on a group’s strengths and weaknesses, but it also allows you to alter assignments and expectations for each group without it being obvious to your students. 

Teach the main skill needed for the unit you are teaching, then call each writing small group to work with you on a very specific skill. It could be writing an opening sentence, finding proof from the text, or, for higher-level groups, working on word choice and adding more depth to their writing. 

Try this Argumentative Essay Writing Unit, which scaffolds each lesson to help improve student skills and provides them with the opportunity to achieve success. 

Levelled Texts

When working with students on their reading skills you can assign different levels of the same text to students. There are AI tools that can help with this task, or you can purchase resources that provide different versions of a text. 

In this Article of the Week Full Year Mega Bundle, teachers are provided with 44 captivating high-interest non-fiction articles and 41 graphic organizers. Each article comes with a regular and modified version and MP3 audio files of each article to help improve student skills and reinforce reading comprehension.

I have also created regular and modified Social Studies, History, and Geography Units for Ontario teachers. These can help bridge the gap between the different levels in your classroom and help improve student skills. Check out these Ontario Curriculum Resources.

Strategy Two: Daily Practice

Like running daily exercises in basketball, daily or weekly practicing of skills strengthens everyone’s basic skills. Apply the same principles to your language arts classroom.  

  • Have students work on a daily grammar skill or proofread short daily paragraphs to find common errors you notice in their writing. Try this Parts of Speech Grammar Unit or this Middle School Punctuation Unit with your students to improve their skills.
  • If reading is an issue, have students read aloud or use an audio recording of a daily paragraph/article/essay with a partner.  
  • Give students a poorly written sentence or paragraph and have them improve it.
  • If students need help with idea formatting, finding text evidence, and writing paragraphs, try the Article of the Week structure in your classroom.   

Taking a few minutes every day to focus on skills drilling will be well worth the time in the long run – not only will it improve the skills of your remedial students, but it will also help those same skills come more naturally to those more advanced learners.

Strategy Three: Grade Improvements

Correcting mistakes is one of the best ways to improve basic skills, but our assessment of students is often a one-take assignment – students take their test or turn in their essay, and they are done. 

Instead of this one-take system, consider grading on improvement.  

  • Essays: Students prepare a draft. They get a partial grade for it, but that is not the end.  Students get corrections and suggestions for improvement. This might take the form of peer feedback, you looking over it, using a school writing centre, or other methods. Students then make changes and updates to their essays. Their final grade is based on improvements over the initial draft, not just the final copy itself. This not only helps struggling students, but it also pushes even your high achievers to improve.
  • Tests: Require corrections before final grades or full points will be given. So often, this technique is used as extra credit, but by making it required, you help those students who most need it practice the skills they need to. When students make corrections, require them to show their work or cite the correct answer in their book (depending on what the test is).

Not every quiz, test, or assignment needs to follow this thought process, but on major evaluation pieces, it is better to break down each section ahead of time with students and assess them on each part before moving on to the next section. This helps students improve with continuous feedback versus a final mark on the rubric. 

When students work on essay writing, I have them work in sections and collect each section to assess and give feedback. This saves me from having to mark all of the essays all at once, and students get a chance to improve their writing as the assignment progresses. 

Strategy Four: Partner with Others

You are not in this alone. Reach out to others to help you improve student skills and help your students succeed.

  • Talk to parents and/or guardians. Be gentle but specific about where their child is strong and where their child needs improvement. Then, give concrete suggestions on where and how they can help their child. Let them know your availability for extra help when their child has questions, and encourage students to use your availability. Suppose a student needs more support than you can reasonably provide in your classroom. In that case, it is time to bring your administrator and special education department into the discussion with parents and/or guardians.
  • Look for volunteers. There are those in your community who might be willing to come in and help periodically. Parents or grandparents, retired teachers or other retirees, high school co-op students, or local college or university students (especially those in teacher education programs) may be willing to volunteer. Then, when they are in your classroom, make pointed and concrete use of them – have them read with literature circle or book club groups, individual students, or provide one-on-one feedback on assignments/essays (using specific criteria, e.g. a thesis needs three pieces of evidence). Volunteers are worth their weight in gold; you won’t know who might be willing unless you ask.
  • Talk to other teachers. What ideas and strategies are your fellow teachers using with their students, and might you be able to use them, too? Join Teacher Facebook Groups and ask specific questions to get the ideas of other group members. You can request to join the Teaching Middle School With 2 Peas and a Dog Facebook Group

Remember, helping your struggling students while remembering the rest of your students can be a challenge. Still, by employing strategies that consider all your students, you can help everyone move forward. Try some of these four strategies to help improve student skills.

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