Local author shows how memory is critical to teaching struggling learners

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NORTHAMPTON, MA – Educators engage struggling learners when they use teaching techniques that are in sync with the brain’s memory systems, says local educator and author, Ken Pransky.

In his new book, Memory at Work in the Classroom: Strategies to Help Underachieving Students, Pransky and coauthor Dr. Francis Bailey give teachers the tools to support all learners, especially struggling learners, with instruction that responds effectively to the ways memory operates in the learning process.

Pransky, who works as a professional development trainer, coach, and Licensure Instructor at the Collaborative for Educational Services, says the book is unique in fusing brain-and-learning principles with a perspective on learning as a social and cultural process.

“There are internal (memory) and external (cultural) factors that affect a student’s learning. As educators we need to be able to understand all these factors and create a classroom environment that supports learning,” said Pransky.

He gave the example of a Cambodian student he worked with who was struggling to learn because his working memory was overwhelmed by the complex language of classroom instruction, as well as the amount of information presented that he had little background to understand. This student had also been trained in his own culture?s norms in which it is considered rude for children to ask questions of adults and shameful to make mistakes in public. Adherence to these norms prevented him from raising his hand when he started to get lost in class.

“A teacher needs to understand both the internal and external challenges diverse populations of struggling learners face,” Pransky said.

He added that educators will need to adapt Common Core curriculum so that the lessons engage struggling learners as well as proficient students. “The push is towards increasingly complex lessons and reading complex texts, which is not necessarily in struggling learners’ best interests. There are ways to adapt those lessons so they are in synch with how students use their memories to learn, as well as being aware of cultural factors,” he said.

Pransky said many teachers and administrators he has trained say they have gained valuable skills and increased awareness on how to reach struggling learners. “However,” he adds, “not all teachers have this awareness, nor do most administrators know they need to train their teachers to possess it. We wrote this book to reach as many educators as possible for the sake of the struggling learners in our nation’s schools.”

Ken Pransky has been an educator for 40 years, teaching, as well as coaching, and training teachers and administrators. He specializes in helping educators work with struggling learners, including English learners. He also trains teachers across Massachusetts in understanding academic language, getting students to think more, and improving the performance of struggling learners, as well as teaching ESL-related licensure courses.

Pransky is the author of two previous books: Beneath the Surface: The Hidden Realities of Working with Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Young Learners (K-6), published by Heinemann (2008), and My Fantastic Words Book: Young Student Thesaurus, published by the Collaborative (2013).

Dr. Francis Bailey is an Associate Professor at the University of Kentucky, where she directs the master’s program in Teaching English as a Second Language.

For more information visit: https://www.collaborative.org/areas-focus/curriculum-assessment-instruction/supporting-struggling-learners

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