In order to leverage assessment data that helps us hone in on learner needs, teachers must take the time to recognize and leverage student strengths. Yes, when working with students who struggle and ELs it may seem almost easy to identify the gaps in learning and the challenges to success. However, only teaching students from this perspective can create a teaching and learning experience that is solely focused on correcting, remediating, and changing all the things that are “wrong”. This has greater implications down the road for struggling students and language learners especially, since their confidence as learners is many times already low. Due to this, students are not often motivated to achieve rigorous goals when this overwhelming discouragement is in place.
A more empowering approach (for both the teacher and student) is to engage students in learning to leverage their strengths to empower them to grow. So what can this look like? Well, students benefit from regular one on one time with the teacher where students are part of the identification of their literacy and linguistic strengths before collaboratively setting goals for their growth. As part of the process, teachers might consider allowing the strengths to dominate the conversation, with the goal setting as a follow up. This allows students to approach the target goal from a place of confidence, strength, and encouragement.
Once this goal is set, teachers and students benefit from focusing in on the power of that one goal, rather than working to improve everything. While we might be tempted to offer feedback and try to correct everything. From the perspective of the learning process, studies indicate that it may be more powerful to focus on one mini-goal at a time. In addressing this goal, the pre-requisite skills that students possess to achieve it, should be used as a stepping stone and “bridge” to connect one skill to the next. This is just one of the ways that strength-based approaches are so powerful. It helps students to make key connections of what they are already able to do, with the one next step they need to take in order to continue their progress.
For example, as a teacher is working with a student, she notices that the readers is effectively speaking, reading, and writing the beginning and end sound of single syllable words. The teacher has the opportunity to use this phonemic awareness to begin to develop within word sound patterns. However, consider working on helping students to identify the power in the phonemic awareness they already possess before sharing new strategies to assist in greater improvements.
When teachers take this time to focus in on strengths, students are better able focus on targeted goals with confidence. They are able to use the skills they already possess to bridge what they are able to do, with what they are learning to acquire. This strength-based targeted focus encourages students to embrace new goals with a bridge of skills they already possess as their guide.