Strategies for Teaching Vulnerable Learners

Teaching Vulnerable Learners: Strategies for Students who are Bored, Distracted, Discouraged or Likely to Drop Out
By Suzy Pepper Rollins
(W. W. Norton & Company, 2020 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Laura Von Staden

Suzy Pepper Rollins’ book is an excellent resource at a time when teachers are seeing more and more vulnerable students in their classrooms.

Whether it is the rapidly increasing number of English learners, the growing groups of students who are experiencing trauma, the increasing inclusion of special education students into the general education classroom (including our most gifted learners), or the expanding diversity of needs among students that come to our classrooms every day, this book has you covered.

No one will argue that without intervention the long-term consequences to our vulnerable students and our society are dismal at best, but how do teachers who are already stressed with high stakes testing, stringent overpacked curriculum pacing guides, accountability parameters and the myriad of other duties accomplish this herculean task that they are simply expected to do, as though it were nothing?

Rollins goes a long way in helping both veteran and new teachers in this important endeavor in her well organized and conversationally written book – a volume that is full of data, strategies, and a clear understanding of the real world struggles that caring, passionate teachers face every day.

A chapter for each group of vulnerable students

For each group of vulnerable students she provides the symptoms, characteristics, challenges and any pertinent data that will help educators achieve empathy by understanding why these students “are the way they are.”

Rollins then challenges us to implement or make simple tweaks to our current implementation of scientifically proven strategies such as using the term expectations rather than rules (p. 135), or saying “It’s been a while since you’ve worked with surface area, so there’s a cheat sheet on your desks,” rather than telling students that they should have learned this in a prior grade (p. 107). And then she explains why these methods are effective.

This book is full of tables to clearly list dos and don’ts as well as other tools. The implementation of strategies is clearly spelled out, and specific examples from several core content areas are given for each.

Additionally, each chapter includes sections discussing “research to practice,” “questions to ponder” and “moving forward.” The questions both in the text and at the end of each chapter are thought provoking and on point, and designed to inspire us to become innovators as we help underperforming students thrive.

“What educators do every day,” she writes, “matters greatly in the lives of our children.”

In this book Rollins gives us a clear understanding of our vulnerable students and provides scientifically proven strategies that can easily be implemented by teachers who already have way too much on their plates. I highly recommend this book for every teacher!

Dr. Laura Von Staden is currently a Middle School Gifted Math and Science teacher in Tampa, Florida. She serves on numerous committees in her school district, works closely with the local university, and writes curriculum. She is also a professional development consultant, and previously served as an Exceptional Student Education Specialist, and as a mentor.