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September 19, 2018

Innovative initiative to ensure children excel in school

Annie with her students in class.
Annie with her students in class.

Many times, parents are called into school to talk over their child’s ‘behaviour’. That they are disruptive, fidgety, restless, talk out of turn and so on. Such behavior was frowned upon especially when the teachers employs the stand ‘speak only when spoken to’.

However, Annie Mucheru-Garza, a teacher at Grazia Elementary School, Corpus Christi, Texas, USA, differs, saying that learning disabilities have to be keenly looked out for because it sometimes manifests itself from a young age. “Those kind of students are bright and could just be suffering from attention disorder. “I encourage talking in my class. You need to talk in order to learn,” she says.

“We have to change the way we reach out to the students. I am a general education teacher, meaning I teach all subjects. That notwithstanding, it’s mandatory for me to go through one class of special education. If I wanted to specialise more in that area, then I would have to take additional courses and get certified.”

In the district where Annie teaches, they employ the Response to Intervention method. According to the Special Education Guide, RTI is a process used by educators to help students who are struggling with a skill or lesson. Teachers use a set of teaching procedures known as ‘interventions’ with any student to help them succeed in the classroom—it’s not just for children with special needs or a learning disability.

The RTI process was introduced within the 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). While it is not introduced as a part of the law, it was presented within regulatory notes as a method to help identify students with specific learning disabilities. In practice, most school districts use RTI to intervene prior to special education referral.

Once a teacher has continually noticed a drop in the students work or they are failing over and over again, they move to the RTI process where they are 3 tiers.

Tier 1: involves the teacher filling out on a computer what is going on with the student, what subjects they are failing in and how long it has been going on. Then the teachers used some strategies to try and find out what the problem is. They use extended time to finish tasks, repeating questions and information slowly and clearly, asking for feedback, providing feedback, use of small groups.

Tier 2: This stage mostly relies on direct instruction and one on one sessions with the student. Information is broken down into segments in order to simplify the grasping and learning process. Students are also provided with more opportunities to practice what they have learnt. The pace of teaching is slower and there is more frequent monitoring.

Tier 3: Most often, students receiving tier three interventions are taught by a teacher who is trained in using the specialized techniques needed to help students with cognitive learning difficulties. The time given to accomplish tasks is doubled from tier 2, the learning is more often than not one on one and the teacher is now taking the student through the process to establish what the student needs to be successful.

If this intervention works, the student moves back to tier 2. If it doesn’t, a diagnostician comes in and uses various tests to determine whether the student qualifies for special education.

Annie says, “all bases have to be covered before placing the student into the RTI process. As a teacher, you have to prove you have done your level best to help the student succeed.

“I make sure I am continually learning, researching trying to make my classroom a better place. I get some training at work but I also then go home and tweak things to suit my personality to best be able to teach my kids better.”

One of my 4th grade students (about nine years old) re-affirmed my career path when they told me “Thank you for working with me even when I was struggling and not giving up on me.”

It all makes it so worthwhile to see your students excel.

 

DID YOU KNOW?

  • Annie sang the US National Anthem at a Hooks game in June 2009. She loves to sing at any opportunity given.
  • Auditioned for American idol.
  • Is married with two daughters, seven and two-year-olds.
  • Her sister Liza Mucheru-Wisner finished in third place on the 10th season of The Apprentice with Donald Trump.
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