9 things to do to do when students don’t learn

A question that showed up on twitter yesterday intrigued me greatly:
“Don’t tell me you believe all students can learn. Tell me what you do when they don’t.” Rick DuFour

It happens in the best of classrooms.  The instruction is delivered and the bulk of the class is moving forward.  But one, or two, or three or four students aren’t getting the material.

The steps for the teacher at this point are several.  If the reason for the lack of movement seems to be academic, it’s pretty simple:

  1.  Use or create an interpretive assessment to break down the process you are trying to teach and figure out at what point the student is “not getting it.”  In primary this could be things like counting, phonics, knowing how to break words into sounds, listening and following instructions, or listening comprehension (following a story’s details and creating meaning of the words).
  2. Use small group instruction to reteach those skills at a level the student can practice them.
  3. Check back in two to three weeks and see if the student is improving.  Go through this process repeatedly all year long.

But what if the reasons the student is not moving are more holistic:  attitude or willingness problems.  These problems have affected most students I have seen with learning gaps.  For these students, the most important interventions are in terms of personal behavior and relationships.  These interventions are administered all day long at appropriate times

4. Full class interventionTeach the routines!  When students know how to get in line exactly, they generally do it right.  If they are confused, there’s room for error and disruption.  Break each routine down into steps and teach the steps.

5. Praise good work and give the praise to the ones who struggle as soon as they demonstrate success.

6. Individual Interventions:  If the student is off-task, a change in seating, frequent encouragement, and recognition of success are some of the steps to take may help.

7. Put the name of the struggling students on a card near your instructional space (writeboard or Smartboard) and call on those children most frequently using differentiated questions that they can answer.  Provide scaffolding if needed.  Continue daily.

8. If the student is immersed in the social life  of the class and won’t focus on the work, a two-minute daily one on one conference and the teacher’s reassertion of her commitment to the student will often help. Make yourself a social support and the student may become less peer-dependent.

9. If the student is defiant and unwilling, it may be necessary to discuss the matter with the parents, first on the phone.  For more severe cases, if behavior doesn’t improve, the teacher may request the parents to come to the building.  And if that doesn’t work, a conference with teacher, parent, student and administration has helped. These interventions are time consuming but as long as they are always motivated by the fact that the student needs to learn, I have found parents to be concerned and cooperative.

Have I covered it all?  Fellow teachers, what do you do when the student isn’t progressing?

Next week:  More on this topic:  Practical (and classical) reading interventions for primary.

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