When Is It Time to Panic?

Time to panic

Great tutoring and test prep businesses are focused on helping students achieve academic growth; but what happens when a student isn’t demonstrating significant gains from assessment to assessment?

Avoid the urge to push the panic button! Take a step back, analyze the situation, and develop a new plan. Every student can make academic gains; it’s your job to crack the case and figure out how. The good news is it may be easier than you think!

Step 1:  Diagnose the problem

When students fail to demonstrate academic growth, the reasons tend to fall into three distinct categories:

A lack of effort

The student simply is not engaging with the content to the best of their ability. This can happen for a variety of reasons including boredom, frustration, distractions, or emotional issues.

The adage holds true: you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. If students aren’t engaging with the work, they won’t make the gains.

A lack of accountability

Many times, students will put in the effort during sessions, but there is little to no work being done between sessions. This time outside of formal tutoring time is some of the most vital when it comes to rehearsing and developing skills. As such, when students don’t use this time productively, the resulting gains will be limited.

The student is working to their ability level

Sometimes diagnostic tests demonstrate a lack of growth because a student has truly plateaued. The material the student needs to master in order to improve may simply be out of reach. This could be for any number of reasons including learning impairments or gaps in their prior knowledge. In these cases, the student isn’t at fault; rather, the curriculum and instruction methods need to adjust to meet the unique needs of the student.

Step 2: Addressing and Solving the Problem

In each of the aforementioned circumstances, there are steps a tutor can take to help a student get back on track to make learning gains.

Stimulating Effort

There are a number of reasons why a student chooses not to engage with the coursework. By starting a dialogue with a disengaged student, you may be able to find your inroad to jumpstart engagement.

Typically, a student’s lack of effort usually corresponds to either a curriculum or learning environment that is not a good fit. Rather than peppering an apathetic student with more photocopied worksheets and stale diagnostics, find ways to energize the learning experience and make it more enticing.

At the same time, evaluate the materials you are expecting your students to work with. If you aren’t providing your students with engaging and multimedia-infused content coupled with meaningful and immediate assessment tools, it’s probably time for a change! Clear Choice Prep has you covered with 100% custom branded test prep solutions that can help boost student engagement and growth with a multi-faceted approach.

Building Accountability

Today’s students lead busy lives full of commitments and distractions. When academics and test prep regularly get pushed to the side, progress tends to flat-line.

To prevent this, tutors and test prep professionals need to build in expectations for accountability from as early as the first session. Having a system in place that allows tutors to establish this accountability electronically can help prevent difficult conversations about what work is or isn’t getting done at home.

Ultimately, students must be willing to put in the time between sessions to develop and rehearse new skills. At the same time, parents must be willing to hold their children responsible for doing so. If a client isn’t willing to make this commitment, progress isn’t likely to be made; it may even be time to consider letting the client go.

Supporting Struggling Students

It can be incredibly frustrating when a student is demonstrating solid effort both during and between sessions but not showing growth on diagnostic tests. However, your assessments should be giving you more information to unpack than just an overall score (if they aren’t’ it may be time to move to a more comprehensive, data-driven curriculum!).

Use the data you have to identify any lingering gaps in a student’s prior knowledge that may need attention. For instance, if a student doesn’t understand exponents, trinomial factoring isn’t going to happen. A student that has trouble identifying claims and evidence in a text is likely going to struggle with the task of drafting and defending a thesis of their own.

In these types of situations, you may need to breaking larger concepts into smaller, more manageable parts to help scaffold student learning. By identifying and filling these gaps, you can remove potential barriers to progress.

As far as test-prep is concerned, students will have areas where they are more likely to achieve growth than others. Help your students prioritize their test prep efforts focusing on the areas where the largest gains can be made in exchange for the least amount of frustration. These small gains can provide the spark to propel future, more difficult, efforts down the road.

For some students, the struggle may have a deeper root. Students with anxiety or other learning disabilities may need special attention when it comes to developing a plan for academic growth. Become familiar with the types of modifications that the student may qualify for on standardized tests and be sure to incorporate these into your sessions and expectations.

As an educator, it is important to believe that all students can learn and grow. With the right combination of motivation, accountability, and developmentally appropriate support you can make it happen for every client that walks through your door.

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What strategies have you found effective in dealing with lackluster student progress? Share your experiences with our readers in the comments below and on social media!

Matt McCorkle