We all have them. Struggling students. Our hearts go out to them, and we do our best to differentiate our instruction, but how can we really make a difference and encourage those struggling students? How can we get them on the path to success and give them the feeling of achievement they so desperately need?
Look for strengths and build on them.
Every student has strengths. We just have to look harder to find them in some students than others. A child’s strength may not be in a specific academic area. It may be in music, art, or sports. Find out what most interests the student and you have a clue as to where his or her strengths lie. Once you find this, build on it. Use this knowledge to make learning interesting for your student. Use books that match their interest and strengths for reading, use those topics to develop math problems, and allow them to share these things with others to build confidence.
Use multisensory instruction.
Just as you build on a student’s strengths, you should also adjust your instruction to incorporate all of the senses. Students will remember things better the more senses they use to learn it (not to mention that the number of engaged learners in your classroom will increase dramatically). If you found out that a student excels in music, have them create a song or jingle that helps the class remember a math formula or language rule. Have a student whose strength is art? Allow them time to paint a picture of an idiom. Utilize manipulatives whenever possible.
Scaffold your students.
So the common core standards require you to teach prepositional phrases but your student doesn’t seem to have an understanding of nouns and verbs. Don’t be afraid to back up! Your student won’t be able to understand the literacy standards at your grade level if they aren’t solid on the standards at a previous level. You will make far more progress with your student if you meet them where they are rather than attempting to get them to understand something that is beyond their current comprehension. In addition, if the goal is an engaged learner and mastery of a particular skill, do not require 20 problems if the student can show mastery in 5. This would only discourage your student.
Give specific praise.
A critical part of a student’s learning is feedback. “Good job” isn’t specific enough to encourage the student to use the same strategy in the future. Praise effort and strategies rather than intelligence. Students can control their effort and the strategies they use. They aren’t able to control how much they currently know. This will lead to a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset. Provide an environment in which they are not afraid to try, because they know their efforts will be rewarded regardless of whether they are right or wrong. Make a big deal of the strategies the student is doing right.
Encouragement is the key to success in most students. Change the way a struggling student looks at learning by looking for strengths, using multisensory instruction, scaffolding, and giving specific praise and you will make a difference in their lives forever.