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Helping Students Succeed

Updated on March 5, 2019
Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul has spent many years teaching EFL and ESL. He taught EFL in Taiwan during the 70s, ESL in the U.S., and most recently EFL in Thailand.

Thai Students

My Thai Students in 2011
My Thai Students in 2011 | Source

Underachieving Students in the World Today

Many schools around the world are not doing nearly enough to help their failing students. Instead, they are following a policy which dictates that all students in grades K-12 must pass. Sadly, students with severe deficiencies in math and language skills are graduating and entering both colleges and the labor force which must spend money to give them remedial training. This article will suggest ways that teachers and schools can help seriously underachieving students.

Who are the seriously underachieving students? Quite simply, they are students who are failing subjects because they can not get the necessary passing grade of 50 or 60. They are students who are getting a 60 when they should be getting a 75 or a higher score and working up to their ability. During my four and a half years of teaching EFL in Thailand schools, I have encountered many failing students in my classes.

How are teachers and schools dealing with the problem of badly underachieving students today? The students are all passing! If a school gets a list of failing students from a teacher, the students are first tutored for a short time and then retested with a simpler exam. If the students fail the retest, their scores are "fixed" so that everyone passes and no child gets left behind. I'm sure this policy takes place in other countries including the United States besides my personal observations in Thailand.

Reasons for Social Promotion Policy

In my first year of teaching in Thailand, I found this universal "passing" policy hard to accept. When I attended school in the 1950s and the early 1960s, no student was guaranteed a pass if they did not make the grade. Students would have to repeat courses the next year, go to summer school, or repeat a grade if in elementary school.

Today this social promotion policy where everyone passes is practiced in many countries not only Thailand. Why? It has to do with making everyone feel good about himself or herself. For political correctness, you dare not hurt anyone's feelings. Isn't that why we call old people "senior citizens" and crippled persons "handicapped"? Doesn't a "sanitation engineer" sound much better as a job than being called a garbage collector? If students are failing, we say that they "need improvement" and avoid the big, bad "F" word.

Another reason concerns money. It is a fact that private schools are businesses as well as being educational organizations. They all compete in the recruitment of students. If a school were to fail a lot of its students or give them barely passing grades, the parents would undoubtedly transfer their kids to other grade-friendly schools. When this happens, the school is hurt financially.

What Helps Students Succeed

Steps for Helping Students Succeed

What, then, can teachers do with failing students who are all guaranteed a pass? A teacher who doesn't care about having a number of failing students in his classes would probably do nothing, and only gear his teaching to the passing students. Any teacher who cares about the achievement of all of his students would be well-advised to do the following:

1. Diagnose the Cause of Underachievement

Schools and teachers should insist that medical and psychological tests be used to diagnose the cause of failing students. Many students underachieve and fail for medical and psychological reasons. If a teacher suspects that a student has a severe medical, behavioral, or psychological problem, it is his or her responsibility to work together with the school in contacting the child's parents about the suspected problems. If the parents are not aware of their child's problems affecting achievement in school, the teacher must advise the parents to seek medical or psychological help for their kids. A student could be suffering from autism, dyslexia, anxiety, or schizophrenia. Perhaps the child is afflicted with attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or obsessive-compulsive disorder OCD. Maybe it is just a fact that the kid has a low IQ. The diagnosis of reasons for underachievement is especially important for teachers who work in schools where there are no special education classes.

2. Create Special Education Classes

It is obvious that students with severe psychological and behavioral problems cannot function well in class with normal students. Special help and education must be given in separate classes by trained special education teachers. Unfortunately, this need is not met in many countries due to resistance from parents and financial concerns. Many parents don't want to admit that their children need special education, and many schools feel it is more cost effective to streamline all children into the same class. Teachers must continue to lobby for special education classes in their schools.

3. Utilize Diagnostic Tests to Group Students in Classes Based on Ability

Prior to the beginning of school, all students should be given a diagnostic pre-test to determine what they know and their strengths and weaknesses in a subject. Based on the results of this diagnostic test, students should be grouped into classes based on their ability. Although many parents feel this kind of "tracking" is politically incorrect and hurts a child's self-esteem, it is a wise policy because it makes it easier for teachers to teach and for students to learn.

4. Set Up Individual Tutorials with the Teacher

Badly underachieving students need individual help from the teacher. In my classes which average between 25 and 40 students, it is very hard to give this personal help during regular class periods. A good caring teacher will set aside some of his free time before, after, and during lunchtime to tutor individual students.

5. Encourage Good or Excellent Students to Tutor Failing Students

As much as a teacher may try, it will be impossible to give individual help to all students. For this reason, it is necessary for a teacher to persuade his better students to help the poor and failing students with their school work. I have done this in many classes and seen the gradual progress of my weaker students.

6. Encourage Supervised On-line Tutorials

There are many good and interesting online programs which a wise and creative teacher can use to give remedial instruction to small groups of failing students. If your school has the technology, a teacher can get online and interact with a group of students while they are going through a program in math, English, science or some other subject.

7. Be Involved in Moral Development of Students

Many students don't succeed in the classroom because they are lacking in moral virtue. Teachers must be willing to love students and show them how to love themselves and others. Compassion, honesty, hard work, and cooperation must also be taught to students.

The fate of failing students must be addressed in all classrooms. We as educators are being remiss in our duties by just ignoring the cause of the failure and passing along this problem to another teacher. We must begin helping students succeed. Hopefully, the suggestions I have made are a good start.

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© 2012 Paul Richard Kuehn


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    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      6 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Au fait,

      Thank you so much for your great insightful comments on this hub I really appreciate your praise of this article, and I especially thank you for voting it up and sharing.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 

      6 years ago from North Texas

      I think students who have not achieved what is reasonably expected should not be promoted. No one is doing them any favors by doing so.

      Studnets may feel great about passing from first to second grade when they don't deserve to. They may feel great when they walk across the stage with their bran new high school diploma when they don't deserve it and can't read it, and may even feel a little smug that they did nothing to earn it while their fellow students worked for theirs, but how great are they going to feel when they can't get a job at all?

      The truth is that most employers really don't care about education either. They would rather have 10 dozen people who can't read, write, or speak correct English than one person who can do all of those things and more.

      You have some great ideas for helping children succeed and if more teachers would read and use them it could make a huge difference. Most teachers have their hands tied and must do as they are told and they haven't the choice of doing anything differently. Given the awful behavior of children nowadays (just like their parent's) it's all many teachers can do to keep the children alive long enough to send them home again!

      Voted up, useful, interesting, pinned to my 'Education' board and will share.

    • OCDKids profile image


      7 years ago from North Carolina

      Thank you for this excellent post. I really agree with your analysis and list of step-by-step solutions. The first step you mention is critical, we need to diagnose the cause. Without this knowledge, kids are often left with treatable, yet undiagnosed, "issues." These kids continue to under-perform scholastically, fall through the cracks and are ultimately left with a personal, lifelong disadvantage. I might also add, since the first of your steps is so important, changes must be made within the IEP (Individual Education Plan)criteria and assessments with respect to mental illness. My 12 year old has severe, debilitating OCD. I've fought with the public school system for years for "reasonable" accommodations. Because of the systems current structure, my childs illness doesn't fit within the allowable "boxes" and, therefor, does not meet the necessary criteria to receive accommodations.

      Again, your article is excellent. Our entire system could be changed and our children would flourish by implementing each of your suggestions.



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