A very simple story to illustrate a larger problem. When I was a special education teacher I had a student who stated that he was unable to multiply. We were standing at the blackboard and he was struggling to decipher 6 X 4 = ?
I explained that multiplying is really just a short cut for adding groups of the same size, but he still looked at me with frustration and the certainty that he could never do this problem. Knowing that this boys’ Dad was a carpenter and that he sometimes helped his Dad on weekends I said, “If you had 4 pieces of drywall to mount and needed 6 drywall screws per piece, how many drywall screws would you need? He immediately answered 24. I of course then informed him that he just multiplied.
Of course the problems your students encounter are not necessarily that simple, and the solution is rarely arrived at so quickly or so dramatically, but there can be problems of communication exacerbated by a history of failure that impedes student progress. My 4th grade student knew that he was bad at school work, AND he knew he was good at helping his Dad. Helping students to find what they are good at, what they are confident about and expounding on that can start with allowing them to use their own language and thought process associated with success when solving problems or considering complicated sets of information.
– Ask students to consider the information from the viewpoint of their most successful endeavor or persona. In other words, if the student is most successful when babysitting, have her think of herself as babysitting while studying A&P. Ask her to relate what she is learning to babysitting. If the student is most successful at a video game or when playing music or a sport or entertaining friends, then encourage that student to consider him or herself to be learning the information for that endeavor, through the language of that endeavor and as related to that endeavor.
– Allow students to describe what they know in their own language – even if it is not purely the language of A&P. You can acknowledge the correctness of what they say and then encourage them to translate that into the language of A&P. Or you can congratulate their analogies and understanding and then supply the correct terminology.
– Ask students, whenever possible, for answers to open ended questions in which they must describe or explain something. Encourage them to relate what they learn in A&P to preferred topics in their writings. Proficiency comes with practice!
– An A&P professor of mine suggested (and offered) projects in which it was our job to explain a process to a younger or less experienced person. That person could be a novice in whatever the student enjoys or is successful in / knowledgeable about.