“We identify too late that a student has learning difficulties”

Juan Jiménez, catedrático de Psicología Evolutiva y de la Educación en la Universidad de La Laguna.
Juan Jiménez, Professor of Evolutionary and Educational Psychology at the University of La Laguna. Miguel Velasco Almendral

As a child, Juan E. Jiménez (Gran Canaria, 62 years) experienced great difficulty learning at school. He is now a professor of Evolutionary and Educational Psychology at the University of La Laguna and has spent more than two decades studying learning difficulties. “I put myself in the shoes of the student when he wants to learn and cannot progress,” he shares. In 2016 coordinated a pilot program to reduce educational deficits among students aged five to seven years, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education of Canary Islands. The hypothesis behind the so-called early intervention response (RtI) model is simple: detect and rectify these difficulties as soon as possible to prevent students from repeating the grade. Something that happens in Spain much more often than in other neighboring countries: the 29% of the students of 15 have repeated at least one time. In the Canary Islands, this figure rises to 36%, above the rest of the communities autonomous. The findings of this experiment were recently published in scientific journals and the results are favorable: the learning gap among the intervened schoolchildren was reduced.

Question. How does the RtI model work?

Answer. It consists of evaluating students, identifying who has learning difficulties and intervening in a personalized and intensive way to correct these deficits in reading and mathematics.

P. Why is intervention in infant and primary school important?

R. In 2012 I participated in an advisory commission of the Ministry of Education and we prepared a report in which we found that in most communities it is expected until the third or fourth year of primary school. to begin with the psychopedagogical evaluation of the students to see if they have learning difficulties. We arrived very late. We found in the study that the earlier the intervention, the better. The results we obtained in children [hasta cinco años] were tremendously better than those of primary school.

The best investment that can be made in education is in prevention, in providing resource centers to prevent difficulties when learning

Q. Why did the program focus on reading and math?

R. They are the foundation on which all subsequent school learning is built. The best investment that can be made in education is in prevention, in providing resource centers to prevent learning difficulties. Otherwise, it will always be much more expensive for the centers. In addition, it will be more difficult to recover those students who accumulate a consecutive failure, which makes them develop a feeling of helplessness that later affects their relationships and their self-esteem. That’s what translates to high rates of repetition and academic failure.

Q. How was the model implemented in the course 2012 – 2017?

R. We select 120 experimental centers and 15 of control, with a total of 8. 000 students. We trained the teachers and they administered a series of tests at the beginning of the course to identify which students were at risk of learning difficulties. Teachers had to enter the results of these tests into our web platform, which automatically measured the learning level of each student in a series of graphs. Thus, teachers identified students who needed intervention to correct educational deficits. We work directly with these children in groups of no more than five during three to four sessions a week, of about 50 minutes each. The evaluations were repeated in the middle and at the end of the course to see if the students were responding adequately to the intervention.

Q. What about those students who resist intervention?

R. There it is evident that the intervention is not quite adequate because the student continues to present a risk profile. The RtI model has one more level of intervention, in which the teaching is much more intensive. Practically the student receives instruction individually and daily, every week. But this last level was not incorporated in the Canary Islands.

P. There will even be children who resist all levels of intervention of the RtI model.

R. That is when the professional has to come in and do a more specialized neuropsychological evaluation because you can already, with all certainty, diagnose that they do have a learning difficulty. learning. Because you’ve already ruled out that the instruction is the cause.

P. Now, five years after the study, the results have been published in various scientific journals. Has the effectiveness of this model been confirmed?

R. Students who received the intervention benefited much more than students who did not. The risk of suffering educational deficits was reduced in all the courses and in all the areas that were intervened.

Many communities are going to bet on implementing this model because we have managed to demonstrate that it works and is a tool to prevent repetition

P. The RtI model has not been implemented in Spain since the test of 2016. Why?

R . It must be taken into account that the results of this first experience carried out in our country have just been published. From now on, many communities will bet on implementing this model in schools because we have managed to demonstrate that it works and is a tool to prevent repetition, one of the main axes of the Lomloe (Organic Law of Modification of the Organic Law of Education ).

P. Meanwhile, it has been able to transfer the initiative to Latin America, to countries like Panama. How has that collaboration been?

R. The Panamanian Ministry of Education, together with the Inter-American Development Bank, is in the process of implementing our model in its schools. We have adapted all the materials to Panamanian Spanish, so they already have the necessary resources to implement it in the first grade of primary school.

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