14 Characteristics of Good Remedial Teaching

14 Characteristics of Good Remedial Teaching


Kenneth U. Campbell
December, 2020

1. Remedial instruction should not be carried out during activities that the student loves. 

This often involves some sacrifice and flexibility from the instructor. After school may seem like a prime time for tutoring, but if this is the time the student could be or wants to be in extracurricular activities, you may be encouraging failure.  Students have been taken out of PE and art for Great Leaps, not realizing these times may be the only reason a child comes to school. All efforts must be made to select a time preferable for all. Putting together a plan for success involves thinking about a variety of issues.

We have often taken students out of social studies or science, the content areas. When our children do not have adequate word and world knowledge, taking them away from science experiments and the wonderful lessons of great science and social studies teachers may serve to further the performance gap for our students. There is a huge learning gap going on amongst many of our students with reading difficulties, let’s not exacerbate their progress. 

We do need significant work and dialogue with teachers and school administrators to recognize the importance of poor readers gaining knowledge in critical areas. There are accommodations that can be made to allow poor readers to succeed in content areas. One must not be an independent reader to be able to substantively benefit from attendance in content area courses and activities. 

I have worked with students before and after school to their convenience. I have often involved the student in scheduling times. I listen and think out the decisions. Some of the best choices I have made have been in taking the student out of “impossible” situations – the one I remember the most is taking a non-reader from journal writing time. The teacher objected because of the perceived importance of journal writing, seemingly unaware that the student couldn’t read or wasn’t given options in which she could succeed.


2. We should never embarrass our students.

The older a student the more embarrassing it is for them to be signaled out to their peers as being “behind.” Efforts must be made to destigmatize the intervention and sometimes the locale. For many, it would be better to be “punished” through suspension or even corporal punishment than having peers believe they are stupid. 

The first solution to this lies in the tutor being cognizant of this problem. Scheduling again is critical. You must know the children and their world and perceptions to ensure students feel comfortable within the intervention.

Convenience is the biggest enemy in this. We somehow in our adult world presume that which is in the student’s best long-term interests will be understood by the student. This is just not so. Take the time and effort to understand the child’s intricate world of social interactions and needs and schedule accordingly.

The world of adult perceptions can be radically different than that of the children. Our job is to design to get optimum performance and growth from involved and motivated students.


3. Remedial activities should take place once a day or more with a minimum of three times per week.

Continually I encounter situations where Great Leaps can be offered only once or twice per week. It does not seem to compute that this is not how the program works nor has been designed. There seems to be this attitude that a little bit is better than nothing. This flies in the face of learning theory and the research. 

Yes, I am aware that the one hour per week of intense instruction has been the norm for remedial tutoring. That has been for the convenience of the tutor and other practicalities of a time with limited alternatives. Our world has changed and we no longer need to be handcuffed by the past. Digital long distance learning has given us tremendous alternatives to the previous model. 

Dr. Ogden Lindsley, the father of precision teaching, stated that one minute a day is more powerful than an hour a week. Thus, working within the attention span of the child five times a week is considerably more powerful than the traditional tutoring session of an hour a week. Once more, design and implementation of remediation must work within the parameters of success. 

There have been those administrators who believe that in reducing the days of an intervention to twice a week rather than four or five can reach double the number of students. Little do they see that it is not about reaching more students, it is about teaching them to read. Two times a week courts failure.

I use the lifeboat analogy. If a lifeboat can handle 25 people safely and can save them. Putting 50 people in the boat does not save double, it takes the chance of losing all.

In most schools, you must schedule five times a week to get three. If I cannot get my three or more times a week, I have refused, going as far as to say the time would be better spent on the basketball court. I have spent a career in refusing to compromise when I know the consequences are virtually guaranteed failure. When we fail with a child it becomes all the more difficult to help later.


4. Teachers and tutors must have the time and take the time to prepare.

An involved and caring tutor will find the time to plan and be prepared for the activity. It is worth it to have an idea of what questions after the story reading will elicit the best responses and growth. Data must be reviewed before a session to better the tutor focus. Many administrators in schools working with paraprofessionals have often scheduled so the tutor has scant time to gather themselves. 

Student data and performance should be viewed and pondered before instruction begins. 


5. Students must be rested and cooperative.

You can’t fight Mother Nature. When students are in no mood to work, there are no easy answers. Forcing it without thought is not a solution. If I have done everything possible to ensure successes and eliminate punishers, I should not be getting inordinate resistance. Teaching reading cannot be pulling teeth. If there is continued resistance a game plan is needed. I do not wish to waste my time nor the student’s.

If the student is tired, the answer is rest. If the student is hungry, the answer is food. If the student is angry or oppositional defiant, quality time must be spent in putting together a feasible strategy. I do not wish to reinforce refusal, but know damn well that forcing participation is in almost all situations, a waste of time. How can I entice?

This is one of the reasons that your first two minutes with a student must be incredibly reinforcing. The student must think this activity or plan is far better than other alternatives and that it is their best interest to participate. 

This is also important, tutors must be rested and positively engaged.


6. Successes must be emphasized when they occur.

Not only must errors be immediately corrected, victories should be emotionally celebrated as they occur. The further the distance between the performance and the reward the lower the impact.

We engineer a series of successes. Success builds success.


7. Performance must be measured and recorded.

We use equal ratio chart performance measurement as opposed to equal interval measures. Percentage growth is far more valuable to us than incremental data. When you become used to seeing the trends on our charts, you will grow in the ability to make educated and valid prognostications determining future performance.


8. Materials must be highly interesting and relevant to the student.

I don’t know how many times when questioning a student about a competing program I’ve heard them say, “BORING!” Many students, especially older ones, will do anything, suffer much to learn to read – as long as they are not publicly embarrassed or humiliated.


9. Errors and successes must be detected and noted.

We learn from error patterns. This enables us to target these patterns and track their improvement and the effectiveness of an intervention. 


10. Teachers and tutors must be optimistic and encouraging.

The attitude and demeanor of the tutor is probably more important than the intervention itself. 


11. A plan should be dropped or re-designed if there is not positive movement after a fair trial. 

You cannot imagine how many children I have met or heard of over the years who have been in one style intervention for dyslexic students for YEARS. When changes are made the shift is often to a variation on the same theme, often from one Orton-Gillingham program to another. I do not care how great an antibiotic is, it will not work on a virus. If the data is telling you there is no or minimal movement, you must think and evaluate. We have many proven scientific, evidence-based practices and interventions available to us. 


12. The remediation should be continued until proficiency or automaticity in the skill has been reached. 

Recidivism can be expected when you do not take a student to the finish line, I have come to not want to participate in research programs that work with a child three months, publish the data to career gains and notoriety for the attention. What of the child? This is not a monkey or mold on a slice of bread! When rapport has been gained and a modicum of success gained, especially when the child felt themself to be a failure and then the child dropped to guaranteed recidivism and failure – are you not setting up a life of failure? The deeper I think on this, the more upset I have become. Carry these students and their successes to the finish line. In reading we strongly suppose (and there has been no substantive research that I am aware of this, just a preponderance of font-line data) that when a student is taken to an independent reading level, there is virtually no recidivism. In all programs, when we take a child from even zero to the 2nd grade level and then cease, we lose the gains. But what does the child think who has had a modicum of success and then falls back to failure? What are the emotional and behavioral consequences? What is our moral responsibility to the child? I say it is to carry the child to the finish line, with our assumption that once the independent reading level (4.5-5.0) is reached there is little if any recidivism and environmental and motivational factors determine much further growth.


13. All efforts should be made to eliminate punishers, overt and subtle.

By definition, punishers reduce or eliminate behaviors. We are in the world of increasing reading behaviors.


14. Errors must be looked upon as learning opportunities.

Look at the very terminology we use when an effort is made and it is incorrect. Often we seem to shout, “Wrong!”

1 comment

  • Great article.
    Should we not find out why remediation is required in the first place?
    I have read many articles stating that the cause of students requiring remediation is ’dysteachia.
    What is it that teachers are teaching wrongly?
    Should we discuss treating the cause instead of the symptoms?

    Luqman Michel

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