This is the time of year when we celebrate our students and watch them walk across the stage and into the next phase of their lives. Graduating from high school is a milestone that provides an entry into college, career and the next step in life, but unfortunately, there are far too many students who are not making this transition. Every year, over 1.2 million students drop out of high school in the United States. That’s one student every 26 seconds, or 7,000 a day, according to the U.S. Department of Education. With an expertise in supporting the needs of struggling students, we have developed several easy-to-implement strategies to help districts unlock success for struggling students.
1) Different students have different needs. A wide range of barriers make it challenging for struggling students to access grade-level instruction, particularly below proficient readers, English learners, and students with learning gaps. Curriculum needs to respond to the unique needs of each student. Below proficient readers need help understanding individual words and broader reading comprehension, including carefully selected vocabulary that introduces grade-level ideas and terms in readily accessible language. These students need explicit instruction of the active reading strategies to understand assignments across subject areas and carefully scaffolded resources for reading, writing and note-taking. English learners can simultaneously develop language proficiency and subject-area mastery when they are provided supports to make content more comprehensible and benefit from simple definitions for unfamiliar words, relevant examples, rich visualizations and interactive learning experiences that offer alternative representations to understand new ideas. Students with learning gaps need to feel like they aren’t perpetually behind. If they get stuck, they need immediate support to get back on track, and they benefit from targeted remediation to prepare them for grade-level material, carefully chunked instruction with multiple ways to learn each new idea and calibrated scaffolding for grade-level assignments.
2) Students Succeed When Learning Sticks. Even when struggling students access grade-level material, they can only catch up if they retain what they learn. On average, students forget 50-80 percent of what they learn overnight and 95 percent within one week. Learning sticks when students actively participate in their education and learn by doing and building connections.
Practicing and applying their knowledge in a variety of contexts cements students’ learning by activating the experiential portion of their brains, rather than just the listening and observing portion of their brains. For this to be effective, two things need to happen. First, students need to practice frequently rather than in a single, summative activity. Students need the opportunity to practice step by step throughout a lesson as they progress through carefully chunked, guided instruction. Second, this practice needs to facilitate critical thinking through guided discovery so that students can reach a deeper, foundational understanding of each concept. Practice that encourages simple repetition or memorization isn’t enough.
3) Students’ day-to-day engagement hinges on positive momentum. Motivation is critical for struggling students to reach grade level, especially for students who have struggled for many years and see classroom struggles as part of their personal identity—they need to believe they can truly learn. This begins with having the right supports and scaffolding to access the curriculum, so they never feel stuck, as well as the opportunity to apply their knowledge in a variety of learning experiences. As they gain content mastery, students build the positive momentum they need to unlock their motivation. For this to happen, students need instructive feedback when they struggle and immediate feedback when they succeed so they never wonder whether they’ve mastered the concept.
4) Students’ long-term engagement hinges on credible hope for the future. For struggling students to stay motivated day after day and year after year, they need credible hope for the future. They need to believe not just that they can do the task at hand, but that the task at hand is meaningful and helps bring them closer to their goals. If struggling students only feel successful doing remedial work, they may lose motivation because they don’t see a path to success. For this reason, students are most likely to reach grade level when remedial work is “tightly aligned” with core, grade-level instruction. If high school students find themselves trapped in a cycle of credit recovery (failing in the traditional classroom, recovering the credit, going on to fail the next class, having to recover another credit, and so on), they may lose faith that they can make it to graduation. For these reasons, short-term success—passing a quiz or getting a credit—isn’t enough to sustain students’ motivation. Long-term engagement depends upon the belief that the work they’re doing today is meaningful and that it’s immediately interesting or that it will help them achieve their long-term goals.
Apex Learning Supports Struggling Students
Apex Learning partners with districts to provide their struggling students the learning experience they need to get and stay on track. Students get the precise support they need to access grade-level instruction, helping them retain what they learn, elevating their confidence through momentum-building feedback, and ensuring they believe their work will lead to long-term success, This can be a challenging, time-consuming task for districts or teachers to accomplish alone, but it can be made far simpler and more efficient by joining forces with a partner committed to and experienced in helping build that path to success for struggling students. Reach out to us today to learn more about how we can help your students achieve success: www.apexlearning.com.