Ways to Help a Failing Student

When you have a student in your classroom who is not making progress, it’s easy to feel like a failure. 

Why aren’t they responding to my teaching?

Why haven’t they made progress?

Is it me?

We get worried, frustrated and lose sleep over it. Often, a student’s lack of effort plays a big part in their lack of progress. But, as teachers, we play a big part in making sure they never give up and try the best they can. How do we motivate a failing student to keep trying going? Here are some tried and tested tips.


Get the parents involved early on

Support from home is imperative so it’s important that you make a parent meeting as soon as you notice an issue. This may be from a failed test result or their general classroom ability. Address these issues in a kind and gentle manner as this may be the first time the parents have heard there is an issue. Keep your meeting to a format similar to this:

  • Discuss the things you love about their child (quirky behaviour, sense of humour, kindness to others, drawing skills, passion on a topic etc).
  • Gently bring up your concerns about their academic ability. Explain where their child is at and where you would expect them to be. 
  • Ask for some information on their child. What are they like at home? What are their hobbies and who are their best friends? This will help you build a relationship with the student in the classroom faster. 
  • Explain your classroom plan to develop their child’s ability. This could be extra EA time, one-on-one support, tasks broken down into small steps and extra breaks. 
  • Discuss what they can do at home to support your plan (extra reading, comprehension or games). Keep home activities light and fun and offer classroom rewards when it gets completed to keep the motivation going. Explain how important this is and that you’re on the same team to support their child. 
  • Plan a follow-up meeting to discuss progress and make adjustments as needed. Discuss the possibility of a communication journal or weekly/fortnightly emails to check in between home and school. 

Set achievable goals 

Ensure the goals you set are achievable to the individual child. Set these goals with the child so they understand what they are working towards. Writing a paragraph may be unachievable, but writing a well-formed sentence using correct grammar may be the first step that the child can work towards. 

Check in with them daily

Take at least 5 minutes out from each lesson to work one-on-one with your struggling child. These 5 minutes of direct instruction will be very valuable to their progress. Set a reward if they continue their work while you help the rest of your class. 

Ask them how you can help

Have a chat with your struggling child about their learning. Ask them how they like to learn. Do they like to work in small groups, with a partner or by themselves? What about working in a group of desks or away from the class to minimise distractions? Do they like a quiet classroom or do they like a little bit of chatter? Talk about subjects taught and how they feel about them. You will get a greater insight into how they learn best! 

Set up a clear routine and expectations 

Routine and clear expectations are very important for your struggling child. Determine a timetable for them and make sure you stick to it. If you have Education Assistant time, you can set up a small group session where they go through numbers/flashcards/reading depending on the child’s needs at a set time each day. Don’t worry if you don’t have extra help, you can use time like silent reading or news to do a 10-minute intensive session together daily. 

Ensure the child knows that you have high expectations of their behaviour and commitment to their school work. Refer back to the goals that you set together and explain that to get there we need to complete these tasks etc. Class Dojo has fantastic videos on growth mindset and training your brain like a muscle. Kids love it and you can call it your brain training time! Be sure to reward positive behaviour and effort and don’t be afraid to follow through on your classroom behaviour management plan when they refuse to work or try. 

Celebrate all progress 

Celebrate all tiny wins! Did they move up a reading level or write a sentence correctly with minimal help? Send them to the principal, show the class, cover them in stickers, call their parents, shout it from the rooftop! Ask the class to say what they love about their achievement (positive peer feedback is just amazing!). Quietly explain to the class prior that sometimes we need extra help in learning and it is a big deal that student ___ can now do this and you’re very proud of them. This should stop the ‘That’s not fair! Why does he/she get stickers for writing a sentence, I can do that!’

Check for other issues

Sometimes, there is something more going on than just a lack of motivation or being a little bit behind. If you still have concerns after your parent meeting, bring them back in and discuss the possibility of taking things further. Keep the meeting in a format similar to this:

  • Discuss what progress their child has made
  • Discuss where you would have liked them to be considering the intervention they received
  • Ask them to get their sight and hearing checked as they could simply need glasses
  • After the meeting, check in regularly for the results of these tests 

If they come back all clear, it may be time for another meeting to discuss the possibility of getting further testing for a learning disability. Talk to your admin team and follow your school’s procedures to make sure you stick to the correct guidelines.  


Remember – you’re doing a fantastic job in your classroom! The fact that you’re worried if you’re a good enough teacher already proves that you are. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your admin team and your child’s previous teachers to best support the children in your classroom. 



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