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Remediation vs Acceleration

Updated: Feb 27

So if you have been in education long enough, you know we LOVE some buzzwords. We also LOVE acronyms, and rebranding old ideas and making them appear new. I think there is a lot of this going on, as there always is…so my favorite rebrand of the Covid Era…is rebranding remediation as acceleration.

I have read numerous books and articles about acceleration. Different people have different ways of spinning it. But the general idea that I got as I tried to understand this shift is that acceleration is basically addressing issues before they become issues. It’s basically doing your remediation up front so by the time you start a new unit, you don’t have students all over the place lacking different prerequisite knowledge. Meaning they can actually access grade level content with the rest of their class.

I read a great book called Learning In The Fast Lane that really had me going on this acceleration idea, and thinking it was something brand new and way better than remediation. As I put it into practice though, I realized it is literally just what we should be doing anyway. Acceleration is just good teaching. Rebranded.

When we talk about remediation, we talk about going back and providing more support to students who need it after the fact. What ends up happening is those kids are ALWAYS behind because they KNOW they are not ready for what the rest of the class is doing…so they often don’t listen or actively participate in lessons. This gets them all kinds of negative labels such as lazy, unmotivated, or low…when really these students are UNDERSERVED. And then we all know how labels work with kids, once they are labeled a certain way, that tends to become their identity, when most of the time, they are capable of much more IF THEY HAD ACCESS TO INSTRUCTIONAL SUPPORTS AT THEIR INSTRUCTIONAL LEVEL.

So acceleration to me is basically a fancy word that means…TEACHING. All teachers must know their students, both as individuals and as scholars. We need to know who they are and what prerequisite knowledge and skills they are bringing to the table. Acceleration just means “plan.” Before you begin something new, check in with your students to see what prerequisite knowledge and skills they are bringing to the table. Ten years ago I think we called this “activating prior knowledge.”

But here’s the important part…if you see students are lacking prerequisite knowledge, FIX IT. FILL THE GAP SO THAT THEY CAN ACCESS GRADE LEVEL CONTENT. Even if they don’t meet grade level standards this year, if you continue to meet them where they are and move them forward, they WILL eventually catch up. Even if it doesn’t happen until a year or two later. But everyone is scared to do this…for fear of REMEDIATING. See, now old buzzwords become bad words, so you have to keep on top of the socially acceptable educational etiquette yall!

Look, a perfect world for me would be one where students can progress through learning trajectories at their own pace, and grade levels based on age wouldn’t even be a thing. But in the meantime, I am determined to do something to support those kids that get labeled LOW. The ones who’s teachers say…I teach fourth grade. Benchmark testing is in a week. I don’t have time to go back to first grade to build that understanding. This happens A LOT, and most teachers don’t say this out loud. But they don’t have to because you can tell that is what they think by their actions.

The funny thing is teaching a first grade concept or skill to a fourth grader can often happen in much shorter time than it would happen in a first grade classroom. You just have to take the time. Shoot I didn’t understand how traditional algorithms worked until I was working on my THIRD DEGREE! It wasn’t hard, I just needed someone to stop assuming I understood things that I did not understand. My friends in the cohort I was with were either entertained or annoyed my all my A-HA moments in my Numbers and Operations grad classes!

My point is, once the issue is addressed, once the need is met, these “struggling” learners can keep up with their grade level counterparts, and many even become leaders in their classrooms. Today the fancy word is called ACCELERATION. I just call it teaching.

Sometimes you have to go back to move forward. Yes, kids may be very far behind according to their grades, or a test score on some recent benchmark or standardized test. But we need to remember that these roadmaps and pacing guides are made by people. Imperfect people. Just like you! “Experts” whose life experience may be drastically different from your students. “Experts” who do not know your students like you do.

I will say this loud and proud yall. I am a SLOW learner. It takes me a minute to learn something new. I have to understand things completely to retain new information. (Thanks ADHD for the working memory fun!) But this doesn’t mean that I am incapable of learning or being successful. In fact, the challenges that I have faced in my life as a learner I believe have actually helped me become a better educator!

And one thing I’m ABSOLUTELY SURE OF is this…every single student in your classroom has value. Every single kid in your class has HUGE potential. And as an educator, you are either going to highlight their potential, build them up, and make sure they know they are valuable and worthy of their education; OR you will make them feel inferior, less than, incapable, worthless, and hopeless. The choice is yours! Why do you teach?

Stop worrying about which buzzword you are using to meet kids where they are. Just meet them where they are. Take the time. Find their edge of understanding and build that understanding and their confidence simultaneously. Stop worrying about when the next benchmark is. Stop worrying about a standardized test score. Our kids are so much more than a score.

If we shift our focus to giving kids the quality instruction that they need, right at their instructional level, no matter where that level is, we will see kids grow like never before!

And you can label it acceleration, remediation, intervention…whatever you want to label it to make it sound like something new. It’s just teaching. Know your kids and take them from where they are, to as far as they can go for as long as they are with you. That’s how you teach.

Every. Single. Kid. Can. Learn.


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