Classroom Strategies for Helping At-Risk Students
Publication Type:Web Article
Year of Publication:2005
John M. Holland, a Virginia NBCT, says that this 114-page book compiles hundreds of pages of recent research and presents six strategies for at-risk students. They are whole-class instruction, cognitively-oriented instruction, small groups, tutoring, peer tutoring, and computer-assisted instruction.
Citation: Snow, D.R. (2005). Classroom strategies for helping at-risk students. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
David R. Snow
2005 (114 pp./paperback)
ASCD and McREL
$19.95 ($15.95 for ASCD members)
Reviewed by John M. Holland
Head Start Teacher / NBCT
When faced with the question: "What do you want to be when you
grow up?" some kids want to know, "What is the right answer?"
Some teachers are the same way.
Teachers want to know the best, "right" way to teach their students.
Maybe it comes from a desire to be better, more effective
teachers. Maybe it is because teachers are uncomfortable with
mystery in a profession that requires accountability. Increasingly,
this desire to find the "right" way to teach is satisfied
for teachers and administrators with another R word: research.
As teachers have become more accountable for their classroom
practice over the past 15 years, they have become more dependent
on research to inform their practice. The trouble with using
research to guide practice is that the results of research
are similar to statistics in the media. Numbers can say
anything you want them too. In the media it is called spin.
When examining individual studies, a researcher, a professor,
or a classroom teacher can look at the data and draw the
same or different conclusions as the researcher. The results
of a particular study might change when applied to different
types of students. This study may contradict that study,
and it seems an impossible task to learn what all
of the research might say about a particular subject or
approach, much less make sense of often contradictory information.
There is a constant back and forth in the teacher's heart
that asks, "Am I doing what is right for my kids? What does
the research say? Is this research definitive? Should I
rely on my own experience?" Onto the middle of this topsy-turvy,
teeter-totter of classroom practice steps David R. Snow,
the Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL),
and this book.
This small yet powerful book has researched the research. At 114
pages, Classroom Strategies for Helping At-risk Students
is a deceptively short read that actually represents hundreds
of studies and thousands of pages of published research. I
had not expected to gain much new insight into teaching the
at-risk students at my school because, in the past, I have
usually been firmly on the personal experience side of the
teeter-totter. It has always been easy for me to see the holes
in some studies. Sometimes the flaw is in the students not
being similar to my students, sometimes the approach of a
study is so prescriptive that it would be impossible to apply
to my teaching. But by focusing solely on at-risk students
and generalizing specific programs into practical strategies,
Snow easily convinced me of the applicability of this book's
recommendations to my classroom practice.
Classroom Strategies is a synthesis of recent research into effective
strategies for teaching at-risk students. The layout is
similar to a textbook presenting each of six strategies
in a similar fashion with a description, synthesis of the
research, implications, and citations. At the end of the
book are discussion questions that are meant to help teachers
apply the book to their practice. The six strategies are:
Whole-Class Instruction, Cognitively Oriented Instruction,
Small Groups, Tutoring, Peer Tutoring, and Computer-Assisted
Only research specifically related to at-risk populations has
been used to shape McREL's findings. Classroom Strategies
never says, "This is how you should teach." But instead
says, "This is what all the applicable research says about
this approach." In this way I felt empowered and informed
at the same time. I felt that what I already do in the classroom
was confirmed by research and that I could improve my practice
through incorporating other research-based strategies.
As a classroom teacher I often ask, what does the research
say? At the same time I have had seemingly opposing "effective"
strategies presented in staff development sessions almost
back to back. (Think whole language vs. phonics; which is
specifically addressed in this book.) As a preschool teacher,
I have always felt that if I could reliably cite research
to support my practice I could not only be a better teacher
but bring more credibility to my chosen grade level. Snow
and McREL have made citing "the research" that informs my
practice easier and more reliable.
They have also convinced me that research-based teaching is not
only possible, but necessary, and this little book can help.
I recommend Classroom Strategies to any teacher or
administrator seeking more clarity and less spin about applying
research-based strategies in their school.