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ESE504 : The Class : Advanced CD : At-risk

At-risk issues for Students

At-risk = any one + any time + not succeeding

Definition: At-risk refers to a wide range of factors that may make it more difficult for a student to succeed at learning. Some of the factors that make it less likely that a student will succeed are of an individual nature -- an unusual way of learning, unmet needs that are not typical of most children (separation anxiety, control issues, lack of ability to organize or remember facts, health problems that make it difficult to attend regularly). The condition may be pervasive, such as a loss of hearing, a loss of sight; situational, with the child having petit mal seizures that make a few moments blank during the day or asthma attacks that suddenly shift priorities.

The factors that put the student at risk may be tied to a predisposition, such as a learning style, a gift for learning kinesthetically. For example, a youngster who takes music classes will really be at a disadvantage if not able to carry a tune or distinguish notes. That same youth could be very successful in physical education due to an uncanny ability to sense where the ball is at all times. If a child feels anxious, the entire day may be colored with dread, while a child who feels competent may have a better chance of focusing on material and remembering the things that are presented.

Some at-risk factors come from the type of schooling a youngster encounters. If a student is slower at developing eye-hand coordination and is in a "back to basics" program he or she may be more at risk than if the setting is a multiage classroom. If a youngster has a strong need to learn by doing and is in a Montessori program, the child is likely to give a very strong performance and not be perceived as at-risk. If a youngster is very linear and cannot learn in the midst of chatter and activity, then that youth may be at risk in an open class room or with a less organized teacher.

Some at-risk factors are cultural or systemic in nature. A youngster whose parents did not attend school may receive a negative message about the value of education. The ninth child in a stair-step group of siblings may have a different school experience than an only or oldest child. If the family is angry with schools or critical of a particular teacher, the student may become at risk If the child moves around several times in the school year, it may contribute to being at risk. If a youth does not get enough to eat or is living in a shelter, time and energy may not be as available to expend on academics as when the student's basic needs are being met.

List some of the things you feel may contribute to a student being at risk (You can print out these pages any time and use them for note taking or to read when not at the computer. Some students report that it is nice to make a notebook of the course and keep track of readings and points, and they also have a personal copy of the material.)

Individual factors
School factors
Cultural factors







The author (Wood) discusses the student who is at risk on pp. 82-93. After reading this material and reviewing the factors for at risk, write a one minute essay defining the student who is at-risk. [25 points]

We all are at-risk at one time or another in life situations or in school. Turn the factors around that you discovered in reviewing this material, seeing the strengths or positive side of at-risk. Write another one minute essay talking about a time you were at-risk and the positives or strengths that came from those experiences [25 points]


Early identification and prevention:

Early intensive support can improve life and educational opportunities for youngsters who are at-risk For instance, imagine realizing that an infant is not hearing human voice sounds. It is crucial to recognize this child's limitation and enhance hearing while the child is most prepared to learn a first language. It is hard to think of anything that might enhance the youngster's ability to speak and communicate more than being able to learn to talk when the body is so poised to make that happen. By supporting hearing at the right time or critical period, a child may not remain at risk

Many skills that lead to learning, educational and personal success are enmeshed with early learning experiences and opportunities. Early identification programs are available in nearly every community.

Try finding some of the identification and prevention programs in the phone book for your area. Try the Community or Government pages. Child Find is an example of one of the Federally funded programs. Give yourself 25 points for looking them up. If you want to make a list for future reference or to share with others, add 5 points for each listing. Keep track of your points and feel free to post your list of names in WebCT or email it to the instructor.

Educational Interventions

It is easy to get side tracked once we decide a child is at risk. Instead of focusing on the student, we may find ourselves centered on the problems. In this next section, visualize the youngster as someone with many strengths and gifts. We will be working to find strategies to enhance the strengths and minimize the distractions. It may help to think of the student as one considers a diamond. We know there are flaws, and if we look closely enough, they become all we can see and focus on. However, if we look at the whole picture, many of us are willing to pay a great deal and display our gem because its beauty and brilliance make the flaws just marks that give individuality to the stone.

Tips and Strategies

Since our technological world is so focused on communications, one of the most powerful ways to support youngsters who have risk factors that may make educational progress more difficult, is to enrich communications.

Strategies that promote preschool communication
Keep the situation stimulating with many exciting things to talk about Give youngsters many choices and have them discuss their options Provide numerous role playing situations with many desirable parts Offer opportunities for students to take leadership and helping roles Provide singing and musical experiences that encourage spontaneity Give students buddies to work on tasks and share distinctive roles Remember to stand where light hits face and lips to enhance visuals Utilize kinesthetic activities to stimulate spontaneous vocalizations Provide pictures of key concepts and picture sentences when practical


Signals attention to concern about vision

Appearance - red rimmed, crusted lids, swollen eyelids, inflamed eyes, watery eyes, frequent sties, eyelids in constant motion, squinty slanting

Behaviors - those more indicative of long sighted problems = rub eyes often, shuts or covers one eye, tilts head, thrusts head forward, blinks more when reading, closes one eye to work, lays head on desk and reads with one eye, holds work very close to see or read, frowning squinty look accompanies efforts to read. Those more indicative of other visual problems = stumbles over small objects, may be slower than other students to develop motor skills, may be unaware of things to the side of, above, or below self, seems to listen closely to sounds.

Complaints - eyes itch, burn or feel scratchy, cannot see well, dizziness, headaches, nausea, blurred or double vision - from Wood (1998) p, 86


Signals attention to auditory concerns
No response to a voice from 10 feet away, not following simple instructions, d or unclear speech, attentive to faces during conversations, avoids situations that require talking and listening, shy and withdrawn from other children, seemingly hair trigger response to frustration from peers, shows joy and pleasure with silent laughter or a high-pitched screeching sound, unusually loud or soft speaking voice, very sensitive to bright colors and objects, overly aware of change in decor, unusual reaction to loud, dull noises (slammed door, dropped books, airplanes or heavy trucks) - from Wood (1998) p. 88


Signals attention to speech or language concerns

Speech - Consistent articulation errors that other youngsters have grown beyond, lisping, unusual pitch or vocal quality, dysfluencies such as stuttering, repeating phrases, prolonging sounds, unusual cadence to speech

Language - Unable to follow oral directions, unusually small vocabulary, does not seem able to express personal needs, shuns opportunities to communicate with others, unable to match letters with sounds, uses words unfamiliar to others, anxious look when called on, does not engage in verbal disputes, never "chats"



Personal notes

Parenting helps

AT-risk behaviors


OERI - Federal

Journal - At-risk

Drop-out prevention




You may want to surf the net for additional sites. Feel free to share them with others in the class, along with a personal note, by posting them in WebCT. [25 points - 10 for finding them, 15 more for posting and noting their value].

Go to WebCT

You should now:

Go back to Characteristics

E-mail J'Anne Ellsworth at

Course developed by J'Anne Ellsworth


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