Home Educational Research Making Acceleration Work for All “Gap” Students

Making Acceleration Work for All “Gap” Students

by Lori Gracey
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In the first blog on the topic of which approach might work best for struggling students, we looked at the differences between acceleration, remediation, and intervention. Research shows that, for most students, acceleration works best to help them catch up on missed learning. But what does that look like in the classroom. Let’s take a look. But first, a brief review of exactly what acceleration is.

What Acceleration Is and Isn’t

“The primary focus of remediation is mastering concepts of the past. Acceleration, on the other hand, strategically prepares students for success in the present—this week, on this content. Rather than concentrating on a litany of items that students have failed to master, acceleration readies students for new learning. Past concepts and skills are addressed, but always in the purposeful context of future learning” (source).

The difference is in how students are enabled to develop prior knowledge specific to the content being studied. “The correlation between academic background knowledge and achievement is staggering: prior knowledge can determine whether a 50th-percentile student sinks to the 25th percentile or rises to the 75th (Marzano, 2004). Accordingly, a crucial aspect of the acceleration model is putting key prior knowledge into place so that students have something to connect new information to. Rather than focus on everything students don’t know about the concept, however, the core and acceleration teachers collaboratively and thoughtfully select the specific prior knowledge that will best help students grasp the upcoming standard” (source).

Making Acceleration Work

There are basically two key components to make acceleration work. One, as noted above, is the careful identification of specific prior knowledge that students must have in order to master upcoming content. The other is vocabulary. As Marzano stated in 2004, gaps in prior knowledge are largely related to a lack of content vocabulary. So what do these two pieces look like in lesson planning?

“Moving forward with students in an acceleration model requires teachers to carefully lay out the pieces of exactly what students need to know to learn the content at the desired pace. Before other students have even begun the unit, the accelerated group has gained an understanding of:

  • The real-world relevance and purpose of the concept.
  • Critical vocabulary, including what the words look and sound like.
  • The basic skills needed to master the concept.
  • The new skills needed to master the concept.
  • The big picture of where instruction is going” (source).

Since it may seem overwhelming to identify all of these components for each lesson, the teacher should start by prioritizing the most critical grade-level content for that grade and subject. What is it that students absolutely must know and learn? Ask yourself “Will this help every student get back to grade level?” If the answer is “no,” then it may not be a critical piece.

Let’s take a look at English/Language Arts as an example. You can narrow all of the essential standards in ELA down to these four:

As a former ELA teacher myself, this short list initially upset me. What about all of the other wonderful things we cover in this subject? But remember that our goal is catching all students up to grade level so that they can master the new content they need to learn. Some cuts will, most likely, have to be made.

This is what it might look like for math:

The Downside to Acceleration

Acceleration typically requires the most time to see results, often taking up to two years before student success is clearly evident. But it also has the greatest possibility of working for the majority of the students, as is clear in the research. It also, unfortunately, requires the most time up front by teachers and administrators. That’s why the experts recommend that a team is put into place to identify the critical pieces of content and determine the vocabulary needed. This reduces the work load on an individual teacher.

Acceleration Resources

To get a better handle on using acceleration in your classroom or district, take a look at these resources:

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