Four Ways You Can Support Struggling Middle and High School Students

When students start middle or high school with gaps in learning, developing a strategy to intervene is paramount and can be challenging. There are many extra factors to consider that don’t apply to elementary intervention. You might find yourself asking: When in the school day will these students get the focused instruction they require? How far back does intervention need to go? Are secondary teachers equipped to deliver foundational instruction? Educators are grappling with these questions and seeking solutions to help students prepare for what’s next—be it course readiness, graduation, or career plans. After reflecting on many conversations with Edmentum customers who use Exact Path, we’ve compiled four of those best practices and considerations to help support your struggling middle and high school students.

1. Make Dedicated Time in the Schedule

The elementary school day lends itself to dedicated intervention blocks and pull-out programs in ways that secondary schedules simply don’t. In K–5 classrooms, teachers have fewer students to support, often more time to work with them, and additional access to foundational strategies that, together, make the intervention process more manageable. However, once students hit middle or high school and are met with a packed schedule of individual courses (all taught by different instructors), where is there room and time for intervention? And, when there is time for intervention, who is skilled to deliver it (sometimes at a foundational elementary level)?

Middle and high schools are finding success in a host of ways, including:

  • Tutorials before/after school.
  • I.N. (or “What I Need”) time, scheduled in designated remediation periods.
  • Remedial subject-specific classes that split time between on-grade instruction and academic gap closure.

2. Ensure You Spot Any Gaps

Often, students are missing one or two critical skills that will block them from making any meaningful progress. This can be incredibly frustrating, particularly for the student who feels like they have a mountain too steep to climb. It may also be challenging for the teacher who might have trouble identifying exactly what these gaps are and accessing resources to help close them. This is where a digital program can really make a difference.

With Exact Path, the diagnostic assessment looks across all K–12 curriculum to understand exactly what skill gaps are keeping students from making progress. And, when the assessment determines a 9th grader has 4th grade skills that need to be strengthened, it doesn’t mean that student has to review all 4th grade material—rather, the program delivers a targeted playlist of lessons that represent exactly what the student needs to work on to help get back to grade level. This targeted approach yields powerful information for the instructor and helps students make significant gains in the most efficient way possible.

3. Set Secondary Teachers Up for Success

When teachers are forced to teach skills and standards that are on grade level because that’s what the country-specific scope and sequence require, they are doing struggling students a disservice. But, can we expect all secondary teachers to be experts in teaching fundamental math concepts and essential comprehension skills that students should have picked up years earlier? Classroom teachers are experts in their craft, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t also human, and we all have limitations. Allow technology to help extend the academic reach and capture additional insights that will guide instructional approaches.

With Exact Path, instructors no longer have to guess if students have mastered something or don’t have the capacity to approach a skill. Instead, they receive real-time notifications while students engage in targeted intervention in an online environment. When gaps are wide and it’s “all hands on deck” to meet the need, school leaders can feel confident that the personnel or staff can successfully support students, even outside of their chosen content area.

4. Give Students Ownership in the Process

Students at the secondary level who are struggling don’t suddenly start experiencing these struggles overnight. Likely, the struggles have followed students throughout their academic career which, in turn, leaves them to believe that school will always be hard for them and that there’s just no way around it. This fixed mindset is tough to overcome.

For these students, quantifiable data reports that expose gaps, highlight strengths, and accompany a path forward can break down these overwhelming feelings, into manageable steps that students can actively pursue. The Exact Path Student Summary Report and Knowledge Map data views can be critical for forward planning, which is critical to keeping students engaged.

This sort of data analysis also fosters conversations that connect these ideas back to larger academic goals. For example, if in 10th grade geometry you see that students are still struggling with certain skills in the domain of measurement, data, and statistics, you can highlight that domain and target particular skills that are connected to the on-grade-level standards or concepts you know that students need to understand. This powerful, big-picture style of thinking encourages students to persist, even when things get hard.

Interested in learning more about how Exact Path, our K–12 assessment-driven, individualized learning program, can support secondary intervention?

Four Instructional Techniques to Support Credit Recovery

While many students utilize summer school as an opportunity to accelerate their path to a diploma, the majority attend to recover previously missed or failed credits. Summer learning programs offer an opportunity to intervene before missed credits accumulate and to get at-risk students back on track to graduate with their cohort.

The importance of summer programs is clear, but the reality is that some students may have not had positive experiences throughout their academic careers. The likelihood of a student dropping out increases exponentially with every failed credit. The responsibility for individual student persistence falls to many different stakeholders—administrators, guidance counselors, educators, parents and guardians, students themselves, and of course, summer school teachers. In many cases, it is an individual teacher who holds the key to finding meaningful ways for students to reengage, persevere, and achieve success.

Here are four instructional best practices for administrators and teachers to consider when getting ready for summer school classes.

1. Acknowledge that adolescence is challenging

There is no way around this truth. High school presents an ongoing series of social and emotional challenges for every student, even under the best of circumstances. Students in summer school programs have possibly faced more than their fair share of these challenges. They need to know that you acknowledge this and are more than happy to listen to their concerns. Remind your students that if they are struggling, you are there to help. Prioritize social and emotional learning (SEL) concepts like building strong relationships, and intentionally make your classroom space a place for respectful conversation, both inside and outside of class time. 

2. Remember that confusion is the first step to learning

This is one of the hardest lessons for any person—educators included—to truly digest. Coming to a place of confusion is a prerequisite to learning anything new because it provides the impetus and motivation to get started. After that, it’s all about embracing the journey. Individual learners are only likely to persevere if they feel safe and supported and are encouraged to take risks. Strive to make your classroom a place where asking questions, making mistakes, and attempting new things is the norm, not the exception. It’s OK for you to not have all the answers or make mistakes in front of your students—doing so offers profound teachable moments as students watch you own your confusion and move forward.

3. Vary instructional approaches to cater to different learning styles

Most educators are familiar with Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, and many have been trained to play to students’ strengths in terms of visual, audial, kinesthetic, and other learning models. However, to be truly effective teachers need to extend this approach beyond the initial instructional phase, especially when working with students who may have already struggled with the material. If students are unlikely to grasp what’s being presented on the first try, then other formats must be leveraged for them to approach the material again. Providing resources in various modalities that students can review independently, such as lecture notes, PowerPoint presentations, and Khan Academy videos, is one way to support different learning styles and help students learn to “teach” themselves—a skill that translates far beyond the classroom. Doing so also frees up class time for meaningful, active, “sticky” learning that incorporates questioning, dialogue, and interactive group sessions.

Effective teachers also use formative assessments consistently to check for understanding—highly effective teachers have a strategy for reteaching the same material in a different format whenever students haven’t fully grasped a subject. From the outset of your summer program, make sure that students understand their individual learning styles and preferences, encourage them to request and find materials that meet their needs, and always remain open and ready to make adjustments.

4. Provide opportunities for unit recovery

Summer programs are all about helping students get back on track for graduation, so it’s critical to stay intentional about finding creative ways for students to avoid falling behind in the first place. A good place to start is to consider options for unit recovery. If a student fails a unit test or other summative assessment, are there ways for that student to reclaim that specific material and demonstrate mastery before being assigned a failing grade for the entire class?

Online programs can offer resources to make unit recovery feasible. In Courseware, the Flex Assignments feature allows educators to assign tailored lessons and create specific recovery assignments that will give students an opportunity to get back on track individually or as a group. Or, for students simply in need of additional practice to achieve real comprehension, Study Island can provide targeted assignments organized by individual curricular strands and offer students the chance to work through these sets multiple times if needed. In the process, both of these Edmentum International solutions provide teachers with detailed data to drive in-person instruction, including the amount of working time spent by individual students, attempts made, concepts mastered, and areas where they are still struggling.