Sometimes, kids and teens struggle in keeping their grades up. With enough struggle, students can end up failing a class (or just be in danger of failing). This can be for a multitude of reasons from being absent too many times to not understanding the concepts to not turning in assignments. Regardless of the reasons, when kids and teens are failing a class, it’s a big problem. The good news is that there are strategies and interventions to help kid and teens get back on track.
We all play a role. An important note to mention about this article is that I have divided it up into three sections of strategies. These are strategies for the student, the educators, and the parents. There are so many strategies that they could be split up into three separate articles, but I purposefully kept them together. That’s because while it is ultimately up to a student to do the work required to pass a class, we all play a role in setting the stage, providing supports, and helping them get back on track. We’re in this together.
One more idea to keep in mind is that kids who are failing might feel like they are too far down the road to make their way back to a passing grade. Sometimes, it can feel hopeless for them. They need to know that adults are there to help them and that they can use strategies to help themselves too.
Consider the underlying reason why a student might be failing. There are many reasons why a student might be failing a class. Finding the underlying reason can help get to the root of the problem. Is the student refusing to do work because they are struggling with some personal challenges? Is the student having trouble keeping ahead because they are juggling too many after school activities? Is the student not preparing enough for tests and quizzes? Sometimes, this isn’t always easy to find out, but it’s worth investigating.
Collaborate with other educators. Talk with other educators and compare how the student is doing in other classes. Is the student failing in just one class or across the board? Understanding this can set the stage for next steps.
Provide encouragement. Remind the student that they can improve their situation with hard work and strategies. It’s important to keep a supportive mindset with the student, since the goal is to empower them to make better choices.
Meet privately with the student. Talking 1:1 with the student in a private setting can have an impact. If possible, meet privately with the student by calling them out of study hall or homeroom for a short session. Use this time to identify the problem, discuss, and come up with potential strategies together. It’s important be open to listening to the student’s perspective. Sometimes, the problems and solutions they list can be extremely helpful information.
Provide a list of missing work. After talking with the student, provide a concrete list of assignments they can make up for full or partial credit. Creating a missing work list serves for a few different purposes. For one, it lets the student know exactly what they can do to get started improving their grade. Also, the list can be mailed home and sent to administration for record-keeping at the same time.
Teach executive functioning skills. So often, students are expected to plan, stay organized, manage their time and work through challenges. When students struggle with these skills, it greatly impacts their ability to perform well in classes. The good news is that young adults can learn and apply meaningful strategies to help them. Use lessons and activities to teach executive functioning skills to give students the foundational skills they need.
Involve school administrators. When a student is in danger of failing, it’s important to be open and share this early on with school administrators. This is for a few reasons. First, the administrator can step in and contact families to provide an extra layer of support and reminders. Also, it’s important for the administrator to know early on that you are implementing strategies and supports. There should be no surprises about a student failing a class, which is why it helps to involve admin early on.
Give a study hall check-in. Stop into the student’s study hall or resource room to give an extra check-in. Sometimes, a study hall time for kids can be overwhelming; they have so much work and they’re not sure exactly where to start. When you give a check in, be specific about what work they can do in that moment to help get back on the right track. The goal is to help them get started and then allow them to complete it independently. This also helps model healthy work habits.
Teach SEL skills directly. Many social-emotional skills are actually a prerequisite to success in the classroom. These include skills like working with others, managing emotions, problem-solving, and persevering through challenges. Consider teaching social-emotional skills to your student (or whole class) to provide a foundation of support.
Consider learning challenges and needs. It’s important to consider if a student may have learning challenges that may have gone previously unnoticed. How are the students’ reading, math, and writing skills? Do they need interventions and tutoring in school? Do you suspect the student has a learning disability? If so, these are important questions to bring up and discuss with your school team.
Provide a daily check-in. A quick check-in with a student can help them feel connected while also building accountability. Every student check-in might be a little different depending on what that student needs; some students might need an emotion check in while others might need a check of their homework log. Some students might need both to help them do and feel their best. This check-in can be implemented by many different educators depending on what works in schedules, from a school counselor, classroom teacher, or paraeducator.
Consider social-emotional challenges and needs. Consider if the student has unmet social-emotional needs. It goes without saying that sometimes social-emotional challenges can impact academic challenges in a huge way. Touch base with your school counselor or school social worker to discuss supports that can be given, such as a group or individual counseling time.
Continue building a relationship. Many times, kids and teens need to feel connected to fully open up about their challenges. Continue focusing on relationship-building strategies. This isn’t a quick-fix but it’s a necessary support along the way.
Build motivation together. When conferencing or meeting with your student, discuss what it means to be motivated. Brainstorm strategies to build motivation together. You can even use motivation workbook activities to help build strategies for getting started, staying focused, and meeting goals.
Contact families. Work with families early on to let them know their child is struggling. Sometimes, these conversations can be uncomfortable, so it’s important to be open, honest, and supportive.
Build organization skills. Being disorganized can severely impact a student’s success in the classroom. If this is an area of need for your student, consider giving extra support specifically with organization skills. This includes teaching how to use a planner, keeping binders in order, and having the right materials each day. If this isn’t something that can be directly taught during class time, it might be worth reaching out to the school counselor or school tutor to see if they can work on some of these skills with your student.
Encourage healthy homework habits to families. From setting up a homework spot to keeping electronics away, encourage some homework habits for success that can help your student.
Schedule a family conference. A face-to-face conference with families and the student themselves is important. This sets the tone that extra supports are needed. It may help to ask an administrator to be present at the meeting too. One important note here is that the student should join the meeting too.
Develop a guided study hall. A study hall is often unstructured independent time to work. While this is great for self-starting students, it can be a struggle for those who need more direction. Consider implementing a guided study hall. This time is a more structured small group of students who need extra support. It should be run by a teacher or paraeducator who can give extra reminders and strategies along the way. For example, a 7th grade guided study hall might have a list of today’s homework up on the board. That teacher can get kids started on an assignment and provide academic support, as needed.
Develop a contract with the student. A contract very clearly spells out all the expectations for the student. Outline what the student is responsible for. For example, you might write in that the student will complete daily homework each night and will review grades with their homeroom teacher on Friday. Add in other interventions from the school. Then, have all parties sign the contract.
Teach study skills. Some students do not know how to study for tests, write down homework, or prioritize their work. These are skills that are essential for success in the classroom. Use strategies to teach study skills to help students do their best.
Try peer tutoring. Peer tutoring is a research-based practice that can teach both the tutor and the student they are teaching. If your school doesn’t currently support peer tutoring, it is something to be creative with and consider. For example, your peer tutor could earn extra credit for helping during study hall.
Consider extra credit opportunities. Sometimes, extra credit can be a helpful option. Such assignments can serve to help a student improve their grade, boost confidence, and teach meaningful skills. Ultimately, this is a decision up to every individual teacher to decide what works best for them and their learners.
Start with a growth mindset. A growth mindset means knowing that you can improve your skills with hard work and dedication. At first, failing a class might feel like an impossible-to-fix situation, but it’s often not. You can learn and implement strategies to help yourself make better choices and improve your grades.
Check your grades. Being aware is one of the first steps to helping you get back on track. Review your grades to figure out where you currently stand. You can write these down to chart them over time.
Talk to your teacher. Show responsibility by asking to meet with your teacher to work on your grade. Use this time to talk about your current grade and ask for suggestions on how to improve it. It also helps to come prepared with your own suggestions to show you truly want to improve.
Plan a dedicated daily homework time. Habits make it all happen. Start with a dedication daily time to work on homework assignments and study for assessments. Some students might do best working right away after school is over. Others might work best an hour after they get home to help them unwind from the day. Choose what works for you and stick with it.
Make a goal for yourself. Setting goals helps us accomplish tasks. Consider a measurable goal that you want to meet, such as getting a 70% or higher in math by the end of the quarter. Then, list out steps to get there. Check back in with your goal each week to make sure you’re on track. Consider meeting with an adult at home or at school to help you with writing this goal, if needed.
Keep up with current work. From this point forward, make sure you are staying on track with current assignments. Missing more work will set you further behind, so it’s important to stay up-to-date.
Make a missing assignment list. First, check to make sure your teacher will accept late work. Then, make a list of all the assignments you can turn in for credit. Try to not get overwhelmed with the amount of work if you have many missing assignments. Just get started on a few and turn those in to get some momentum.
Get organized. Being organized can help you accomplish tasks. Spend time tidying up your binders, backpack, and workspace. Then, tackle them on a regular basis to stay organized.
Use a homework log. Use a daily homework journal to record assignments. Some students prefer a paper notebook while others do well with a digital app. Find what works for you! Whatever you choose, make it a habit and consistently write in your assignments.
Participate in class. Make an effort to stay engaged in classroom learning by participating. One way to do this is to take notes while the teacher is teaching. These notes can help you later on when you need to study or review. Another strategy is to raise your hand to answer questions and share ideas. These strategies will help show your teacher that you are invested in learning.
Study with a friend. For whatever class you are struggling in, find a friend who can study with you.
Talk with a school counselor. A school counselor can help you with many things, from personal challenges you’re going through to making a plan to talk to a teacher about your grade. Consider signing up for time with your school counselor to work through some of those needs.
Ask for extra help. Asking for help is a strength! Consider reaching out to the classroom teacher and seeing if there is any extra help available. Be willing to stay after, come during your study hall, or even visit during lunch if that is what is needed.
Know when to put distractions away. This is a tough subject, but an important one! Phones and other digital devices can be extremely distraction during work and learning sessions. Know when you need to put them away to help you focus and accomplish tasks.
Be open to learn new study strategies. If you struggle with tests and quizzes, be open-minded to try new study strategies. Consider quizzing a friend back-and-forth with questions. Make flash cards. Make a mock test and quiz yourself with it. There are many different study strategies and habits to try.
Find an accountability partner. Ask a friend or trusted adult to help hold you accountable for doing your work and studying for tests. Just talking to someone about your progress and goals can help you develop greater self-awareness.
Get enough sleep. Getting enough sleep at night is important to help you doing and feeling your best. Consider coming up with a plan to get enough uninterrupted rest at night.
Provide encouragement. Be a positive force to help your child turn their grade around. Remember that your child may feel it is impossible to recover from their failing grade, making them want to give up entirely. Remind them that they can turn it around with support, strategies, and hard work.
Help your child cope with stress. Failing a class is a stressful situation for young adults. Sometimes, before we solve problems, we have to cope with the emotions first. Help your child build healthy coping strategies to manage stress with activities like deep breathing, listening to music, and mindful coloring.
Check grades together on a regular, planned basis. Checking through grades together helps holds students accountable. Plan a weekly time to review and stick with the schedule.
Create a dedicated work space. Set up an area where your child can complete their homework and studying each night. Set up some rules and expectations for the work space, such as no TV or cell phones while working at the space.
Check over the homework together. Before your child starts their homework, sit with them and review the homework for the night together. This provides an extra layer of accountability and structure.
Chat with the teacher directly. If a teacher hasn’t reached out to you personally, send an email or phone call to get in touch and discuss. Work together to come up with some actionable steps. If your child is continuing to fail, ask for an in-person meeting to discuss strategies.
Schedule consistent work session time. Habits make all the difference! Agree on a daily work session time each day for homework, studying, and organization. Then, put your plan in action.
Complete work together. Try sitting down with your child as they complete their work. Help them get organized and set up. Work through problems with them if needed.
Set a regular bed time. Sleep is incredibly important to helping kids and teens do their best. So often, young adults are chronically overtired. Set a nightly bed time and stick with it. This requires a lot of practice but is worth it!
Leave electronics away from bedrooms at night. Cell phones are distracting at all hours of the day, but especially during sleep hours. Your child needs uninterrupted sleep to perform their best during the day. Make it a nightly habit for everyone to leave their phones in a designated spot to charge before going to sleep for the night.
Learn about executive functioning skills. Read about executive functioning skills and how they play a critical role in learning.
Discuss consequences. Young adults need to be held accountable for their choices. Be up front with your child about consequences for not doing homework, getting to class on time, or finishing assignments in class. Then, make sure to follow through.
Plan incentives together. When needed, consider adding incentives for reaching goals. Try to gear incentives towards activities versus material items. For example, once your child meets a certain goal (all homework for a full week), you might allow them to go to the movies with a friend or choose the end of the week restaurant for dinner.
Create a contract. A written contract is a great way to keep all of the supports, strategies, consequences, and rewards all in one place. Write it out. Then, sign it together.
Celebrate successes. When your child shows improvement, celebrate together. This even means celebrating small wins, such as a better grade on a quiz or finishing homework for the week. Big progress starts with small steps and encouragement can go a long way.