I love answering questions and sharing them with you!  It’s always so interesting how I get very similar questions at the same time from opposite ends of the country…it reminds me that we’re not alone in this work that we do!

Today’s question comes from Shane in Chicago.  He writes:

I had a conference this morning with a student’s guardian and our principal concerning a student who is failing about every subject in fourth grade.  I know that my team met with you last week and this student was discussed, but we wanted me to e-mail you asking if maybe you had any additional suggestions on how we can better help him.

His guardian wants to see her child repeat fourth grade, in fact she didn’t want him promoted to fourth grade this year but he was.  Our principal stated this morning that studies show that retention after the second grade is not always the answer.   Last year he was pulled out of the regular third grade class and was worked with in a small group setting for many of his core subjects. This year he was placed in fourth grade without any accommodations other than those that I made for him.

This student’s reading fluency is good, but his skills in both reading and math are very low.  We have tried many strategies but none seem to work. We have shortened his assignments, he has gone to the after school program for extra help, we have helped him in a one to one situation.  Sometimes he works for us and other times he refuses. We have tried many of the reading strategies that you presented but nothing seems to work.  Math is extremely hard for him.  He struggles with simple addition facts. We have shown him on a daily basis how to use a times table and have practiced flash cards and given hints but he does not remember them from day to day.

If you have any suggestions I would love to hear them.

Here’s my response:

Hmmm….here are some thoughts I had when I was reading your email.  I do remember talking about this guy!

I agree with your principal that retention isn’t usually a viable option for kids  – we just aren’t seeing (in the research or the reality of school life) that retention is a solution to kids who are struggling.  BUT, just passing him through doesn’t seem to be working, either.

I keep coming back to our conversation about this boy and it sounded to me that his issues were not necessarily academic alone.  He gets in the way of his own learning because he dramatically gives up if he gets one thing wrong – isn’t that the situation?

So, it’s not just an academic skill, but a behavioral problem that’s inhibiting his academics in addition to just needing academic support.

I think there has to be intervention on two levels:
1.    Behavioral/attitudinal
2.    Academic

As far as academic intervention, it sounds like he’s had a lot of support in the past, but is it possible that he’s had TOO much support – and that it was disjointed?  We have to look at how long the interventions/support have taken place before and whether we have jumped around and providing too much and too little and too disjointed?  We have to look at the quality and durability of the interventions in the past – who taught them?  Were they well-prepared?  (I know we don’t like to think about these things, but they provide us really solid clues so that we aren’t doubling up on efforts that didn’t work in the past or we are uncovering incomplete interventions that were administered in the past).

If he were my student, I would pull my team, Sped (even if he’s not identified), your coaches, your principal, your Title coordinator and his guardian together and I’d review all of the data that you have:

  • Weekly tests
  • Theme tests
  • Phonics diagnostics
  • AIMSweb results

I would come up with a plan that outlines the following:

  • 1-2 goals TOTAL for academics (A sample goal might be that we will pre-teach/rehearse the instruction for him daily and pre-establish with him the questions that he will be responsible for answering)
  • 1-2 goals TOTAL for behaviors (A sample goal might be that when he gets a wrong answer, he will not throw up his hands and huff and puff)
  • A way to monitor this plan (His teachers will have a 2- minute conference with him at the beginning of each morning to review the expectations and give encouragement or correction) + add in observations by outsiders once a week to see how he’s progressing
  • Timeline for delivering support (the team will meet back together in 4 weeks to discuss the results)

To me, if you can get a short-term plan for him that’s focused on small things, then maybe you can isolate where he’s having the most trouble PLUS you’ve pulled in a group of folks who can help you devise a simple plan and carry out a simple plan with him.

Then if that doesn’t work or if it does work, you can choose to extend the plan, assess for SpEd or bring in other support, determine whether there needs to be more academic support or whether there needs to be more behavioral support…

What I seem to remember is that he meets with a counselor?  Is that right?  If so, I’d definitely like to know what the counselor would suggest and what support he/she is offering – we want to make sure that we’re all working to the same end and that no one is allowing him to wallow in self-pity or whatever.  It sounds like he’s quite dramatic on his own, so we don’t want to be encouraging that or engaging in it, if you know what I mean!

Question for our readers:  What would YOU do?  What are we not considering that we should?  Leave your comments for us!