What do you do when a student is failing? How can you position your students for success? Often when students fall behind, they do not see a way to catch up and ultimately give up.
Course failure is not an easy topic to address, but since it is a main predictor of whether a student will drop out of school or graduation on time, it needs immediate, focused, and strategic attention.
Many high schools wait until students fail multiple courses before beginning a serious intervention. However, waiting until students are seriously credit deficient compounds the problem, creating the risk of students not graduating. You simply cannot wait until a student’s senior year and try to make up multiple failed courses along with other required courses. The old adage, “prevention is worth more than a pound of cure,” holds true when addressing the issue of course failures.
So how can we prevent students from failing a class in the first place? As the principal of a ninth-grade academy, this weighs heavily on my mind each day. Research shows that one “F” in 9th grade decreases the probability of a student graduating by 30%, and two “Fs” in 9th grade decreases the probability of graduating by over 50%.
There are many reasons students struggle in their classes. Often adults will quickly say, “he/she is lazy” or “they just don’t care” or “they refuse to study.” However, a deeper look reveals the following:
Students who fail courses in high school usually lack skills in time management, often procrastinating until they have dug a hole too deep to climb out of. They lack the ability to focus, usually succumbing to distractions from social media, smartphones, and the ever-increasing challenges at home. When life gets tough, many students do not know how to push through and overcome adversity. They give up when the tasks or life’s circumstances get too hard. Also, when students start falling behind, they often get embarrassed or frustrated and start withdrawing further. That begins a downward spiral until many give up completely and drop out of school.
It sounds somewhat hopeless, but it is not. If educators notice, reach out and help students develop strategies to deal with their struggles early on, they not only can help students with their challenges in high school but also give them the strategies they can use throughout their entire life.
Equipping students with skills to manage time, balance external challenges, and intently focus on what is most important will put them on a path to success. Students must learn that in life they will make mistakes and experience failure at some point; we must teach them to be resilient, to learn from our mistakes, and move on.
As educators, we should teach students how to manage time and incorporate lessons on overcoming life’s challenges within our coursework. We can provide interventions and hold students accountable, even if it means breaking lessons, projects, and/or assessments into smaller manageable parts. This teaches students how to handle life when it seems overwhelming. You know, the same way you eat an elephant; one bite at a time. We should examine our grading and assessment practices. Do we allow students to demonstrate mastery at any time during the course or is performance on unit tests the only way and time for a student to demonstrate mastery? If a student fails an important test, do we offer another option for showing mastery or do we just say, “he/she is not a good test taker?” Or, “they just didn’t study.” Quick and strategic interventions can make the difference between a student failing or passing a class.
Finally, struggling students need lots of monitoring and encouragement. Praise them for the smallest successes and let them know you believe in them. Positive results may not come quickly, but consistent forward progress pays off in the end. Slow and steady wins the race!