What Failing Students Want You to Know

There are many reasons why a student may be failing—difficulty at home, an undiagnosed disability, a lack of motivation, among others. But placing the blame solely on teachers is shortsighted, as the educational system is structured to evaluate mastery through grades. But what if the evaluation was broader? This is what a failing student wants you to remember—he is more than a grade.

How Involving Parents Can Help

Involving parents early in the assessment process can help a teacher identify any problems at home that might be causing the student to fail. But, if there are no identifiable issues in the home, seeking parental support and offering reinforcement strategies for after school can be critical to turning the situation around. Encourage parents to reward effort as well as achievement.

Talk to Students Regularly

Regular discussions with your failing students can help them think about how they are feeling and performing. Model for them the kinds of questions they should ask themselves to see where they are going wrong by asking, “What seems the hardest to you?” “How could you change your approach to learn more?” 

Seeking feedback consistently can help you as the teacher gain insight into the student’s struggle, providing you with a better path to provide assistance.

Look for Ways to Build Confidence

Actively look for things they are good at, personal strengths, and notice them. Communicate to them that you will not give up on them by recognizing the ways they succeed, but make sure that your comments are honest. Say, “I can tell you have been working on ________!”  A failing student can spot the insincere words right away. 

Reduce Direct Instruction

The traditional classroom instructional approach is for the teacher to teach and the students to take notes. By reducing the amount of direct teacher instruction, you will have more time for group collaboration and direct student interactions. Design academic activities that require problem-solving, critical thinking and group activities. 

Recognize What Apathy Masks

Often apathy covers up the necessity to admit that she can’t do what you are asking. Ask gentle, probing questions to discover what your student does care about, and use that as motivation and rewards to improve. Notice “improve” because this student needs to feel the way improvement makes her feel before she can move toward success. If there is another adult in the school, perhaps a lunch worker or custodial person, whom the student likes, share the improvements with him/her to provide more reinforcement of positive feelings about learning.  When this person says, “Hey, I heard your reading score went up…way to go!”, that’s a small but mighty encouragement.

Failing students want you to take the time to:

  • Help them set goals and support them along the way to succeeding
  • Clarify the learning objectives clearly and provide resources
  • Teach them skills and strategies to accomplish their work
  • Give useful feedback and point them in the right direction

At the end of the day, students want to feel seen and heard. Some small, but significant, adjustments in teaching can make that happen.

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