Tips for Helping Struggling Students in the Classroom

  (Updated September 1, 2022)
Kate Fritz
Kate Fritz
LIEP Supervisor for PA School Districts; M.A. in Urban Education, ESL Program Specialist
A teacher sits next to her struggling student as she assists her.

How to Recognize When Students are Struggling Strategies for Closing the Achievement Gap for Struggling Students

In school, students can sometimes struggle behaviorally or academically. At times, some students may struggle with both academics and behavior at the same time. Determining the antecedent to these struggles can be tricky for educators at any level. For example, you may ask yourself, “Are behavior struggles happening because they are struggling academically or are they struggling academically because their behavior is interfering with learning?”

This is when data collection and the MTSS process come in to help uncover the root causes of students’ struggles. Regardless of root causes, recognizing when a student is struggling academically is not extremely difficult if you use formative assessments with your students in the classroom.

Formative assessments inform instruction by showing you as the teacher whether students are grasping content that has been taught. Based on the results of the formative assessments, teachers should be able to decide whether or not any re-teaching or re-presenting of concepts and skills is needed or if students have achieved the content and are ready to move on.

Other key signs students are struggling academically include:

Behavior may change or worsen when students are struggling academically as well. Attempts to leave or escape the classroom by frequent bathroom requests followed by long stays in the hallway, chronic absenteeism, and disruptive classroom behaviors could all be related to academic struggle.

Tips to Help Your Students who are Struggling Academically 

There are many ways to intervene and mitigate academic struggle. Here are some suggestions to try in your classroom to help a struggling student:

Know Your Students

Recognize that students do not all learn the same way, nor do they come to the classroom with the same life experiences and backgrounds. Get to know your students to help support and reach them in ways that work for them. Ask your students their favorite subjects, least favorite subjects, what they feel successful in, what they feel least successful in, how they learn best, and how you can best support them.

Differentiate

Carol Ann Tomlinson describes differentiated instruction as factoring students’ individual learning styles and levels of readiness first before designing a lesson plan. There are four ways to differentiate instruction in the classroom: content, process, product, and learning environment.

Content

Differentiating content means modifying assignments to meet your learner’s needs considering their background knowledge, current skill level, and intellectual level. This could be providing the same piece of literature in versions of different Lexile levels. It could also be using a variety of assignments created in relation to various levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy with multiple means for representation of learning.

Process

Differentiating the process of learning and instructional strategies for students means recognizing that students learn differently and planning accordingly. For kinesthetic learners, manipulatives and multi-sensory activities may be most appropriate. For auditory learners, audiobooks or videos may be most appropriate. For visual learners, videos, graphics, and pictures may be most appropriate.

Product

Choice boards are a great way to include and engage learners who are struggling academically. Whatever the root cause of the struggle is, choice boards give decision-making power and voice to students. This also gives students an opportunity to feel supported, encouraged, and can increase motivation. Differentiating the product of a student’s learning gives students the ability to choose how to show what they have learned through a means that is accessible and successful for them.

Learning Environment

Seating arrangement and seating options are crucial for student success. Students cannot be sat with those who will keep them from being able to receive instruction. They also cannot be placed in a space that does not permit them to be able to participate. Some students need noise to focus while others need silence. This also includes considering whether students should be placed in groups, pairs, or work independently.

Set Up Student Supports

Empowering your students to be in charge and confident about their academic growth and achievement starts with our support. Pair a student with a mentor to help support independence.

With this mentor, students should have routine times set to meet and discuss:

  • Current assignments
  • Overdue or missing assignments
  • Organize physical and digital spaces
  • Set goals
  • Use a calendar
  • How to know when, how, and who to ask for help

Teachers should connect students to school-based and local programs that involve tutoring and additional mentor support.

Parent Involvement

Make sure to keep families up to speed with the students’ growth and performance. In addition, communicate resources to parents for extra academic support for their students and provide guidance to families around homework environments and the positive correlation to home routines that support their students’ achievement in school.

There is value in team decision-making regarding students who are struggling academically and how to intervene. Support them through programs such as the Student Assistance Program and educators should also bring these students up during academic team or child study team meetings. The use of data to inform decision-making and following an intervention protocol will assure families that their student’s success is important to the school.

Interested in advancing your own career? Check out our available graduate programs for educators like you!

*Updated September 2022
graduate program favicon

Looking for a graduate program?