Every learner is unique, and that's what makes prescriptive (also called diagnostic-prescriptive) teaching important. The term describes a refinement of something effective teachers have been doing instinctively for centuries: figuring out exactly what is interfering with a student's learning process and employing teaching methods that target those specific issues. As understanding of multiple intelligences and learning disabilities deepens, educators are finding new applications of this basic truth.
The Right Diagnosis
Beginning with an accurate understanding of the problem is the key to an effective response, and neither a doctor nor a teacher can create an effective prescription if diagnosis is flawed. In the case of children with identified learning disabilities, you may have expert help with this. The majority of students are diagnosed by classroom teachers through careful observation and assessment. Examine a student's record for clues. Watch carefully to see where your students are struggling and what comes easily to them. Ask questions that draw out their metacognitive processes. Keep careful records of your observations.
The Right Prescription
For prescriptive teaching to be effective, it's important that teachers have a thorough understanding of the mechanics of learning a given subject and a wide range of teaching tactics and materials at their disposal. Some problems are fairly simple to resolve; a student may need individual or small group time on a concept, or learn better orally or visually. Other issues, such as dyslexia or dysgraphia, may call for more specialized interventions. Research the pedagogy that applies, and don't be afraid to reach out to special education teachers for tips. Determine measurable behavioral goals for the student to reach.
Applying the Prescription
So many kids are in a class, and you have so much material to cover and only so many hours in a day. Obviously, you cannot deliver each piece of information 22 separate times in 22 different ways. But there are ways, besides one-on-one time, to integrate prescriptive teaching into the routine. When planning lessons, consider ways to convey the information based on different learning styles, such as visual, kinetic, auditory or musical. Try to identify which students you expect to struggle with a particular concept, and develop strategies for helping them in advance. It may be helpful to develop a shorthand that identifies the challenges you've found different students face and keep the information in front of you on a seating chart or class list.
Keep accurate, detailed records of each student's diagnosis and prescription, the tactics you use and the results you get. Diagnosis is an ongoing process, changing as the student changes, intimately intertwined with assessment of progress. Evaluate students' progress toward the goals you have set. When you witness emerging mastery, ask the student what helped most and what her process was. A combination of observation and assessment should enable you to see which prescriptions are working and which ones need to be tweaked.
- Western Michigan University: Reading Horizons: Diagnostic-Prescriptive Reading Instruction: What? Why? How?
- U.S. Department of Education: Education Resources Information Center: A Systems Approach To Diagnostic Prescriptive Instruction
- Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development: Diagnostic Teaching-ASCD
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