The Goal Of Diagnostic Teaching

When students struggle in school, it can be for a variety of reasons.

From their grasp of content and literacy skills to their engagement level to behavior and organizational issues, to teacher actions, to the proverbial ‘stuff going on at home,’ the possibilities are maddeningly endless. The following 8-step process is a valuable tool for me as a teacher, so I thought I’d share a version of it here in hopes that it might help you. It was useful not only for me to see what strategic responses I had available to me as a teacher, but it was also useful for students to come to know what to expect.

It also was valuable in teacher conferences, and in discussions with district folks during walk-throughs when they wanted to know how I ‘responded to non-mastery’ (beyond reteach the same content in the same broken form with the same ineffective strategies that failed the first time.)

As you can see in the image below, this functions as a kind of hierarchy. The first step is the broadest and most powerful and worked for the largest number of students. The second step is a bit more narrow and wasn’t necessary nearly as often as step 1, and so on until step 8 which was necessary for very few students. This model worked effectively in grades 8-12, though I have never used it in elementary or at the university-level.

It is important to keep in mind the goal of this process–diagnosis. What’s wrong? What’s the hang-up? What’s getting in the way of learning, or of students proving what they in fact actually know?

No matter what process, model, system, or flowchart you use, as long as you have something designed and documented, you can use and refine it accordingly, keeping you from knee-jerk reactions to non-mastery like repeating yourself, talking louder/faster/slower, holding students after class, calling home, issuing poor grades, having them partner with ‘good students,’ giving them the majority of the answer, and so on.

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