I recently had a student walk out of the classroom in a fit of frustration. Before leaving, I was able to squeeze a few morsels of details from her as to the source of her irritation. Almost in tears, she said that the in-class review session for our next test simply “was not working” for her. A million thoughts were racing through my mind. The student had never asked for assistance before. In addition, I was unaware of any desire on her end to improve her performance or current course average — she was bordering on a C+/B- average at that point. I felt blindsided. I felt completely in the dark as to how I could reach out to this student.
Have you had a similar experience with a student in need of an academic intervention? I believe that a big part of the frustration lies in the fact that as teachers we want to help all of our students, but all of our students are not ready to receive the help. Often there is a disconnect between our desire to intervene and the student’s willingness to accept our help. In psychology, the mismatch between feelings and actions is often labeled as “cognitive dissonance.” In the classroom, I tend to view the misalignment between the helper (teacher) and the receiver (student) as “coaching dissonance.” In an attempt to decrease coaching dissonance — and the challenges that accompany it — I created an intervention readiness checklist that teachers can use as an indicator for student receptiveness.
Answer “yes” or “no” to the questions on the Intervention Readiness Checklist below:
1. ___Was the student’s intervention need expressed directly? Direct expression versus indirect — lack of class participation or low attendance — may be a stronger indicator that the student is ready to accept help.
2. ___Did the student’s intervention need manifest quickly? Student needs can appear within a few days or more slowly over the school year. Try to monitor student needs efficiently. Sometimes an unmet need can incite hidden student irritability.
3. ___Does the student have an intervention history in your classroom or in the school? The student’s history with seeking and responding to help may be very informative in planning and monitoring future classroom interventions.
4. ___Can the student contextualize the need and the impact of academic help? Discuss with the student, the benefits and consequences of seeking/responding to help.
5. ___Can the student identify examples and non-examples of utilizing academic help? Understanding that the need for help is natural and normal may help relieve some of the student’s anxiety with the help-seeking process. Examples of individuals needing and utilizing help can be identified with reference to classroom peers, characters in literature or celebrities in the media.
6. ___ Is the student aware of the range of supports available to ensure a positive intervention experience? Discuss with the student examples of classroom, community or possibly culture-specific supports that may strengthen the student’s potential for academic success
As for the student who walked out of my class, she never shared how I could have intervened to improve her experience in my class. As I review the intervention readiness checklist, I search for help in understanding her academic needs a little better. More importantly, I reflect on my role in supporting students to better receive assistance in the classroom.
Jennifer Davis Bowman is an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati and a licensed school counselor in Ohio. She has a doctoral degree in special education and has worked in the education field for almost 15 years. She contributes to an ASCD EDge blog and currently serves as an academic journal reviewer.
For further material on selecting and evaluating classroom interventions, please see the book, “Interventions for Academic and Behavior Problems” by Mark Shinn, Hill Walker and Gary Stoner.