One of the questions that even the best schools often have to grapple with is, "How do we help students who are failing?" Bobb Darnell took on the challenge of answering that question during the opening session of the AFT's pre-TEACH Professional Development Network Conference on July 10.
Darnell (pictured at right), president of Achievement Strategies, said teachers often find themselves wondering if their districts and schools are doing enough to close the achievement gap.
Most failing students lack the basic skills they need to be successful, which often leads to a lack of confidence and motivation, Darnell said. "These students eventually develop a lack of respect for school," and many of them drop out.
A teacher for 20 years and an expert in staff development, Darnell traces the problem to the way that students—and their needs—have changed. Today's students, he said, have shorter attention spans, are visual learners and expect immediate gratification.
To help struggling students, educators should, among other things, clearly state objectives, provide students with frequent feedback and take steps to address the needs of diverse learners, Darnell suggests. He also advocates using data to "look at the whole picture as to why students are failing"—and to mobilize for action.
Conference participants also heard from AFT president Randi Weingarten, who applauded educators for being on the frontlines of the fight to counter those who would silence workers, dehumanize teachers and defund education. The best way to “to take back America and preserve public education” is to unite with the community around a quality agenda, she said.
Professional development is a big part of that agenda, Weingarten emphasized. “When you strengthen your own teaching and training skills, you are strengthening your profession, which leads to improved student performance.”
The AFT president noted that the national union would be giving more members access to its professional development programs through a variety of online tools such as Tools for Teachers and virtual training.
The two-day Professional Development Network Conference (formerly the ER&D Network Conference) also featured sessions on English language learners, Common Core State Standards, grading practices, a teacher-run school in Detroit, connecting with parents and more. [Roger Glass/photos by Marvin Jones]
July 11, 2011