Remediation for Students Who are Behind

Whitney P. Gordon
Whitney P. Gordon
Special Education and English teacher; Ed.S. in Teacher Leadership, Thomas University, GA
Young girl being helped by a teacher while working on a worksheet.

This year, the COVID-19 pandemic brought the ebb and flow of education to a screeching halt, forcing schools around the world to initiate remote learning at a moment’s notice. Like the superheroes we are, teachers adapted with little time, and some with limited resources at their disposal. Despite the laudable adaptability of educators across the globe, we must all face the fact that when school resumes students will likely be farther behind than ever. Between lost instructional time, technology access inequities, and the trauma of a pandemic, more students than ever will present deficits when the fall semester begins. As we dust off our capes to resume hero work in our (physical or virtual) classrooms this fall, here are some strategies that can help you remediate for students who will start the year behind academically. 


Differentiation is the education buzzword that many teachers have heard frequently over their careers. Yet and still, a discussion about remediation without differentiation will make remediation efforts ineffective. Differentiation is the foundation upon which remediation rests. In order to support students who are behind, you must first understand and accommodate for that student’s unique needs. In a more practical sense, you will need to assess the student to determine strengths and weaknesses; then use this assessment to influence differentiation of content, process, or product. Furthermore, by providing the supports outlined below as part of a remediation plan, you will be implementing differentiation in your classroom.

Gradual Release 

The Gradual Release of Responsibility model is a strategy that many teachers implement, sometimes even unknowingly. Using this model of instruction, teachers navigate through decreasing levels of support, guiding students toward full independence with a skill. The first tier of gradual release is typically teacher modeling followed by guided instruction, student collaboration, and finally independence. When working with students who are behind, you may have to extend their time on any of the first three tiers to remediate learning. For example: while some students can work collaboratively to achieve a skill, others may still need guided instruction from the teacher in a small group. In order to move students through the gradual release model at differentiated speeds, you must be strategic about student grouping.

Homogeneous and Heterogeneous Grouping

When grouping students strategically, there are two main types of groups: homogeneous and heterogeneous. Each of these groups can be useful for remediation given the circumstance. Homogeneous groups feature students with similar academic levels while heterogeneous groups feature students with mixed ability levels.

During the gradual release scenario above, for example, a teacher should form a homogeneous group of students who are behind with mastering the concept at hand so that they can continue with guided instruction while other students move on to collaboration. Teachers can also use heterogeneous groups for remediation, however. For example, teachers may group struggling students with more advanced students to facilitate peer tutoring and sharing of knowledge.

Create Tiered Assignments

Tiered assignments allow students to exercise a skill or skillset in different ways based upon ability level. In order to create an effective tiered assignment, you must assess students to determine their readiness for a task. Using data from your formative or summative assessment, you should create 2-3 versions of a task to distribute to students. In a tiered writing assessment, for example, tier one students might summarize two sources while tier two students compare/contrast the sources, and tier three students evaluate or critique the sources. When developing tiered assignments, it is important that you do not place students in default groups. Students’ ability can shift with each task; thus, you should have specific data that influences your placements for each tiered assignment.

Maximize Anchor Charts

Anchor charts are a useful addition to any classroom and can enhance your remediation. When students come into your classroom without the necessary foundational knowledge, these gaps are perfect opportunities to create anchor charts that work. For example, although your ninth-grade algebra students should be familiar with the order of operations, having an anchor chart to support those students who don’t have this concept stored as prior knowledge will be very helpful. Seeing these charts daily and referencing them as needed will help your students commit the information to memory. The bonus is that you can direct students to the chart instead of repeating information multiple times. Even your auditory and tactile learners can benefit from anchor charts by reading the information out loud or finger tracing.

When to Solicit Outside Resources 

Sometimes remediation within the classroom is not enough to help a student make progress because the student may have specific learning disabilities or other exceptionality that is a hindrance to growth. If you notice that remediation efforts are unsuccessful and you feel the student may need more support than you can provide within the classroom, you should request to initiate the student’s response to intervention (RTI) process. Through this process, students will receive interventions as determined by the student’s RTI team and possibly qualify for special education services. If the student who needs remediation is already a special education student or is in the RTI process, you should reach out to the student’s RTI or IEP team to determine how the student’s interventions or accommodations can be altered to meet his/her needs.

Implementing remediation strategies for students who are behind or students with learning disabilities is a challenging endeavor that requires patience and understanding. As we enter the uncharted waters of a new school year during a pandemic, be proactive about remediation while also extending yourself some grace as you navigate this new normal in the classroom. Remember to maintain a growth mindset and use tools to help you understand your students’ unique needs.

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