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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Intervention for Failing Students: The Mandatory Study Session

Bob Lenz

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.

Comments (37)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Tami Baker's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is a great idea. It is so frustrating when you have students that need remediation and the "requirements" we have to teach leave little to no time for those students who struggle. I work in a lower income district and many students fail to get the "push" at home when it comes to thier schoolwork. We have tutoring available, but it is left to the discretion of the student.

We have talked in the past about creating some kind of mandated program, but have failed to do so as of yet. I think this is something I may pursue. I teach 8th grade and we have begun to look at each indidvidual student and evaluate their "potential" for success as a high school student. Are they prepared? Are they ready? This may be a way of helping those that are stuggling now to better prepare them for next year.

Janice's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

At our middle school, we also have after school programs which include a homework center and tutoring. The tutoring (1:4 student teacher ratio) seems to be seeing results although they can only take in a limited number of students. The Homework Center feels more like a babysitting service. Two teachers supervise up to 50 or more children. I would love to find a better way to use the time and limited resources that go into this program. If anyone has a working program, I'd love to learn more.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I so agree. I teach 8th grade and I am trying to remind my students that they, in the world of NCLB, have to take charge of thier own education. They can no longer sit and wait for it to happen for them. I am scared for many of the students in my class. I think by the time they realize what they need to do to be successful, it may be to late to take advantage of the opportunities they had. Why didn't my undergrad studies talk more about motivating the apathetic student?

Katrina's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think this is a good idea. In fact our junior high do something similar. They have ZAP, Zeros Are not Premitted. If students have missing assignments or are not passing a class they can not do class activites. They have seen a turn around and students actually like the fact that they can't get a way with not doing their work.

Jen Davis Wickens's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am the principal of Impact Academy of Arts & Technology, the high school that implemented the mandatory study session that Bob Lenz highlights above. Here is a response to your questions:

1. What happens if a student doesn't attend the session?
The instructional assistant notifies the student's advisor. The advisor reviews the student's goals with him/her and revisits what it takes to prepare for success in college. If he/she still doesn't attend, I meet with the family and the student to reinforce the importance of developing academic behaviors. During the meeting, we co-create an Academic Improvement plan.

2. Is transportation an issue?
Our school is close to public transit, so our students take the bus home.

3. How do you deal with student behavior during the Study Session?
This isn't a traditional Study Hall. Students have specific assignments they need to complete. The instructional assistant knows exactly what the assignment is before working with the student (based on information in the shared Google document). As soon as the student has completed the assignment at standard, he/she may leave. This is motivating for the student.

Also, we are conscious about the language we use with kids. We try to restate over and over again - "We won't give up on you. You can do this. Failure isn't an option." Over time, the students begin to believe that we are invested in their success and this decreases behavior issues.

4. Are you seeing results?
This strategy is too new to see concrete, significant gains in student achievement. However, students are turning in more work and developing important academic behaviors. Over time, students will see themselves as responsible young scholars and this will drive their results!

If you are interested in learning more about interventions, I recommend reading "Whatever it Takes: How Professionals Respond When Kids Don't Learn" by Rick DuFour.

Joe creager's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really like the idea of holding students accountable. But what do you do with students that have no intention of going to college? What about when parents are unresponsive or unwilling to have students stay after? For example what if high schooler Johnny has to watch baby brother after school every day becuase parents work until late? This is not an uncommon circumstance in many homes. Another question is why is it a teaching assistant staying with the students? Wouldn't the students be better served by a classroom teacher? At the middle school I teach at we have a program of after school in which students are kept with an instructional assistant as well. When I questioned why there was not a classroom teacher to work the students it was assumed that I was volunteering. It seems like in todays classroom with more and more rules, laws, and regulations including NCLB that soon all schools will be implementing programs like this and we as educators need to help make these programs succeed. My final question is what to do with the student that does complete their work, but only gives the minimum effort? How do you deal with a student that is consitantly achieving below their ability level? Do you force them to redo the work or is encouragement and continued nagging the only option?

Lindsey's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think this sounds like a great idea. But the problem I have is getting the parents to cooperate! I teach 2nd grade and for some of my parents it is like pulling teeth to get them to come in and conference with me. I have one set of parents inparticular that I basically said I would jump through hoops to meet with them and they blew me off. So, although I like the idea of your plan I would just have issues with parents participating in the program.

Mark/Walden Student's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is a great idea to get the whole school involved. When I taught 6th grade Special Ed Block class(it was also homeroom), I was always after the regular ed teachers to get me progress information on students in my block class. Since I had the students twice a day, homeroom 1st and block last period, I was able to arrange a 2 period time slot for my students to make up missing or late assignments.
I had the sheet with student names and missing work, i'd hand out rminders in homeroom to pick up missing/incomplete assignment sheets and/or books to bring to the block class. If students didn't have the work when they sit down, they must sign the sheet I gave them (I always have an extra one with me), then scan and email or mail it to the parents.
Is this effective? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. But the overall outcome of my Special Ed class was that 66% made the honor role and no one failed. What do you think?

Lisa's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have used similar types of reward systems in lower grades. When I did my student teaching I had a combined fourth and fifth grade class. We created "Billbe Bucks" (Billbe was the last name of my co-operating teacher). Each student would have 25 Billbe Bucks at the beginning of the week. They would lose a buck for missing a homework, for not completing a station during station work, and they would also lose a buck for inappropriate behavior. Then at the end of the week, if they had 21 bucks they were allowed to participate in Fun Friday, which was a half hour block on friday set up for the class to either play a game on the computer, read a book, play a board game, etc. If they did not meet the 21 buck requirement, I would go through see what work they were missing and they would be moved to our aides room and woudl complete the work during this time. It worked really well. We also had ways for them to earn their bucks back, more like catching them doing good deeds they could get one back. And to avoid them "sharing bucks" or "stealing bucks" we put their names on the back with pen and laminated them. Just in case!

Jaclyn's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

What an awesome idea. I remember having a study hall in high school and having that time to complete work. I can see scores improving already!

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