Help a Struggling Student
Some Things to Do and a Few Things to Avoid for A Teacher Helping a Student that Struggles
Most children want to do well in school and enjoy many aspects of the formal learning experience. However, some children struggle.
Take my nephew, for example. When he was ten years old, he loved trucks, tractors, horses, and fixing things. He was and still is a curious boy and wants to know how things work in the physical world. However, school work including reading, writing, computation, and memorization made him want to give up and bang his head on the desk.
Because he struggled so hard in school to do his work, he often missed recess and had a large pile of homework to do each night. His mother wanted to bang her head, too, while sitting with him for over two hours each evening to move through his large pile of school work.
And then he got a group of teachers who took a different approach. They appealed to his interests, reduced the volume of work he was expected to complete as long as he gave well thought out answers, and gave him the ability to track his successes.
With the current common core curriculum in the United States, sometimes we as education teachers need to refocus on the student instead of the program. Here are a few suggestions to help fully engage and support students struggling in their current academic environment.
Things to Avoid:
- Making negative comments like; “This is so simple.” “You are so slow.”
- Just giving them the answer or telling them what to do to save you time. This reduces the struggler’s learning processes and reinforces the message to give up when things are difficult.
- Expecting quick answers from students. We all need time to formulate an answer and give a reason for our answer. In Mary Budd Rowe’s research on teacher wait times for student responses, she found:
“Protracted wait time appears to influence motivation and in turn may be a factor in attention and cooperation. Slowing down may be a way of speeding up!”
Things to Do:
- Talk to the student’s parents about classroom management practices you can put in place to benefit the child’s natural learning style.
- Make use of a struggling student's strengths and interests. Design reading assignments and problems around things that motivate them. Make it fun for them.
- Make student success attainable every day. Help the student make clear short-term goals and give them a physical way to personally track their educational progress. Using stickers, color-coded strings, or even a daily check-off list gives them the power to see their progress and share it with others. Regularly give them feedback on their progress and help them set new goals when they are ready.
- Write down all directions. This way the student can be responsible for and easily remember the next step.
- Teach time management skills. Have the student tell you how much time he or she should spend on each type of homework assigned that day. Then discuss how much time you expect them to spend on each section. Suggest they use a timer. Get them to commit to focusing and working their hardest for the set amount of time and be ready to discuss it with you tomorrow. Part of good time management is helping a struggling student to understand when to move onto the next problem if they are stuck.
- Break assignments and tasks into small chunks. When assignments and tasks are broken down, the volume of work isn’t overwhelming. Completing each chuck lets them see their progress towards the whole.
- Give Brain Breaks. Just like your computer, a child needs time to shut down and reset to fully focus on academics. Incorporate brief breaks for stretching or balancing throughout the day. Refrain from taking away recess time.
- Use multisensory instruction. Most students have better comprehension and understanding when engaging all their senses in the learning process.
- Incorporate graphic organization. Have the student draw a picture or graphic map to boost reading comprehension, prep for writing assignments, or digest math problems. Using the spatial part of their brains will improve their overall learning progress.
- Ask open-ended questions that require thought. Give the student time to form an answer and explain their answer to you even if they are unsure. This will help you as the teacher understand their thought processes, and where they may need correction.
- Teach Perseverance. The light bulb will come on. They will understand if they keep trying different strategies to figure it out. Keep a few tips and strategies listed somewhere in the classroom where students can see easily see it.
- Remind students the best things in life, that bring the most personal satisfaction, don’t come easy. These things require hard work and commitment. Learning now how to keep working until you figure it out is important to enjoy the best things in life.
- Seek out your school district’s special education resources including online learning resources to help the student if the student’s progress continues to stagnate. Further support resources may be warranted for the child’s academic progression.
These types of practices will make a major difference in the life and future success of a struggling student. My nephew had some great teachers in elementary school who patiently supported his perseverance to learn. Through their devoted work and constant communication with my sister, my nephew began functioning on grade level.
These early educators have impacted the quality of his middle school and high school experiences, too. Though the academics of school are still not his favorite, he is in a good place to do well and enjoy extracurricular activities because he has found ways to engage and make the learning process successful for him.
Article by Miss Jae
Cox, Janelle. “10 Teaching Strategies to Keep Struggling Students Working.” Teach Hub. 2016. https://www.teachhub.com/teaching-strategies/2016/09/10-teaching-strategies-to-keep-struggling-students-working/
Rowe, Mary Budd. “Wait Time: Slowing Down May Be A Way of Speeding Up!” Journal of Teacher Education. 1986. Title Page, p.3. https://www.scoe.org/blog_files/Budd%20Rowe.pdf
Gordon, Whitney. “Ways to Increase Student Motivation.” Graduate Programs for Educators. 2019. https://www.graduateprogram.org/2019/07/ways-to-increase-student-motivation/
Cox, Janelle. “5 Ways to Create a Healthy Classroom Environment.” Graduate Programs for Educators. 2019. https://www.graduateprogram.org/2019/08/5-ways-to-create-a-healthy-classroom-environment/
Oswalt, Ginny. “5 Common Ways for Helping Struggling Students.” Texas Partners Resource Network. https://prntexas.org/5-common-techniques-for-helping-struggling-students/
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