Intervention for Failing Students: The Mandatory Study Session | Edutopia
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Intervention for Failing Students: The Mandatory Study Session

Bob Lenz

Co-founder and Chief of Innovation, Envision Education, Oakland CA

At a recent professional-development day, I challenged my colleagues to think about how we could reduce the number of students in our lower division (grades nine and ten) -- especially the ninth graders -- who fail high school courses. "What if we decided that failure is not an option, and that success is the only choice available to us?" I asked them.

Here's one strategy that seems to be working at our newest school, the Impact Academy, in Hayward, California:

  • When a student doesn't complete a major assignment, including an exhibition, an essay, a test, or a lab, the teacher enters his or her name in a shared Google spreadsheet.
  • The school's instructional assistant calls the student's parents and notifies them that the student is scheduled to remain on campus after school the next day for a mandatory study session.
  • The next day, the instructional assistant gives the student a reminder slip during the last period of the day.
  • The student stays for the mandatory study session until the assignment is complete. (The instructional assistant runs the study session every day from 3 P.M. to 4:30 P.M.)
  • The student turns in the assignment to the teacher and the teacher deletes the student's name from the spreadsheet.

From time to time, I'll highlight a successful intervention strategy that seems to be working at Envision Schools. Please share your own ideas, or tell us about how your school deals with this issue.

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Adam's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

One of the biggest problem that I see with this program is the transportation issue. At my school we have the students assigned to working lunch to complete their work instead of after school. A problem that I have seen hindering the success of the program is student apathy and lack of parental support. Often the students that fail to show to complete their work have parents that are too busy to come for appointments or they can't do anything with their child either. I guess my question is how do you motivate the unmotivated student (problem child) and the "I can't do anything with my child" parent.

Lisa's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think this is a wonderful idea, but the majority (90%) of our students ride the school bus. What we do instead is have the student miss chess time in order to make up the assignment.

The students hate it because they miss the game. The teachers love it because they get the grade.

We also have a similar program for students that consistently get low grades.

Michelle D.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach at the secondary level and my school has two hour detentions after school, one hour in the am, and just began a four hour detention on Saturdays. The teachers voiced their opinions that most of the students serving detention are "at-risk" students and are also in danger of failing. So weekly an email is sent out with students scheduled for detention so that the staff can provide the students and detention proctors with missign assignments. I am not sure with a school of its size we would be able to institute the mandatory study session.

Aaron Wiens's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Theoretically this is a great idea, but I have some concerns about getting an entire department, grade level, or entire building "on board" for this approach. In our building, the eighth grade team does collaborate and share information on students to make sure they are being productive in all classes. Providing an after-school mandatory study session would be incredibly beneficial and our team would endorse it completely. However, I do have a few questions for the group regarding its plausibility:

How do you require students to stay after school the next day? Our building has to schedule detentions with parents so they either do not inconvenience them or do not conflict with work schedules. How has the parental response been overall?

Who proctors the after-school session? Is it a contractual obligation or is it voluntary?

I work in my classroom at least two hours after school, so personally, I wouldn't have a problem proctoring, but I know some would take issue with teachers volunteering to do this.

Christina's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Transporation is also a problem at my school. If I need to keep a student after school I have to arrange for the parent to pick-up the child. I teach 5th grade at a k-8 school. Middle school has late busses and on occation that can be an option. In the 5th grade our science teacher stays in during recess and runs a study hall. Students that do not complete work from the morning, tests, etc. can stay in there and go play once they finish. The problem that I see if student apathy. I am a first year teacher and am amazed at the lack of care that many of my students have about school. Getting them to complete the work is a major feat. However, the bigger problem as I see it is the apathy. Just because they complete the work doesn't mean they have gained much or are motivated.

janet williams's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I like the idea of having students take responsibility for their success. Not accepting failure is a positive step. Problems with staffing and transportation may arise in some situations. I'm sure there are ways around this.

Dina Miller's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I found this website from google. My son is failing 6th grade and I need some help please. I have been in constant contact with his teachers, but he is still failing? I feel helpless as to how to motivate him to "care" to do his work. The teachers say he is capable, just not doing what he is supposed to all the time. Am I allowed to ask for help or advice on here via email?

Diane Demee-Benoit's picture
Diane Demee-Benoit
Former Director of Outreach at Edutopia

To Dina Miller:

Chris O'Neal had some advice for another parent which may be helpful to you. You can read his comments here. I'll also ask our other bloggers for suggestions. Check back in a couple of days. Please don't give up.

Jim R. Moulton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hello. Your query was passed along to me from the folks at Edutopia, and I wanted to write. Your voice is that of a parent who cares, and is willing to go the distance, and that is the most important thing. I feel your concern.

The only advice I can give you is to keep on being a parent, and to me that means never, never, never giving up - never stop caring, never stop talking with your child, never stop expecting success. You see, I visit a lot of schools, and the issue you describe for your son is not an isolated issue, it is close to epidemic. In fact, it led me to write this piece in my blog in the Spiral Notebook:

People, your son included, will not allow the world to tell them they are a failure. Call me stupid, and I will find others who will tell me I am smart. I want, above all, to be liked. A wonderful presenter from Texas, at a conference I was part of in Japan, ended her keynote with a reminder to all that what each of us really wants is to "have somebody save us a seat on the school bus of life." I have never forgotten that.

So it seems to me that if your son is not being successful in school, then he has to be being seen as successful by someone... You need to figure out who is telling him that "not engaging in school" is the right thing to do. If this is not true, if his friends are all successful in school and his situation is a true anomaly, then there may be some emotional issues that will need professional help, but if he is part of a culture that does not value success in school, then you need to be real aware of where he is getting the "strokes" for not being engaged...

Then you do the parent thing - you tell him how much you love him and believe in him, that you have always and always will love him. You also tell him what you expect of him. You remind him that you are a family, and families take care of each other. You will fulfill your responsibilities to him, and you expect him to do the same for you...

Even when our child tries to make us show dislike, we parents need to respond with love. Love is not always like, sometimes love gets angry, sometimes love gets mad, sometimes love is hurt. But love is always honest.

As a parent this is what I try to do. Am I always able to do it? No. I get real mad sometimes. I say things I later wish I had not. But I do everything that I do for my family. I will go to the end of the world for them, and this means I am not always happy.

And celebrate the good things. No one wants to be constantly reminded of the failures. Grab the good times and hug them close, and make them feel so good that your son will want more...

I know this is just ramblings from another parent, but I hope you know you have been heard, and that I, like you, care about children.

Good luck to you, and to your son. He will do great things.


Dr. M. Elias's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

All children are motivated. It's just that they are not always motivated to do what adults want them to do. So, the first thing is to see what your child IS motivated to do. What does he enjoy? What are his strengths? Make a note of these things and go to your school psychologist or professional school counselor and ask if there can be a part of the school day, at least weekly if not every day, when your child's strengths can be employed for some good purpose. Your school psychologist or counselor is in a good position to work with teachers to get them to integrate your child's strengths into an ongoing activity. Once this gets going, it may provide incentive for your child to do things he may not be so motivated to do, but will be willing to do for an opportunity to continue to exercise his strengths. For example, some kids love to teach younger kids and will give up lunch periods or recess to be able to tutor younger students. Some kids like to help with music or art classes. Where there is a will, there is a way! You might find it helpful to look at some of the writing of Robert Brooks on resilience, Larry Brendtro on reclaiming unmotivated youth, or my own book on Emotionally Intelligent Parenting. The key is to try to engage his strengths and use that as a bridge to engage him things he may not prefer, or areas in which he is afraid to try because he is afraid to fail.

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