How to Prevent Failure | Mindsteps Inc.

How to Prevent Failure

[This article is Part II of a series: Read Part I: Why Remediation is keeping your students behind here]

Previously, I told you about how frustrated I was with remediation and how I realized that the reason that I was so frustrated was because I was focusing on remediation which responds to failure rather than preventing failure in the first place (you can read THAT story here).

Well after that workshop, I went to my classroom on fire. This year WILL be different, I declared.

  • No more epic battles to get failing students to show up for remediation session.
  • No more spending my entire lunch period working with students one-on-one.
  • No more sacrificing nights and weekends grading make up work – assuming students turned it in at all.

This year will be different.

So, I started trying to figure out ways to prevent failure. I realized that I couldn’t wait until the end of the unit to provide support, so I decided to insert periodic reviews and “help days” during the unit so that I could provide students support before the end of unit assessment.

I also set up regular review sessions at lunch to help struggling learners prepare for the test. And, I created formative assessments that would help me determine where students were struggling so that I could put interventions in place.

Plus, I’d gathered a bunch of intervention strategies I’d read about and had them prepared and ready to go.

I was sooooo excited at the beginning of the year. I had a plan in place. I felt sure that I would be able to keep my students from failing this year…

. . . My enthusiasm lasted about 6 weeks . . .

By that time, several of my students were struggling badly in spite of my new strategies. So, I tried a few interventions:

  • I invited them to come work with me during the review sessions, but only a handful actually showed up.
  • When they did come, my students soon became more frustrated with what they saw as “more work” and refused to show up again.
  • I spent many a lunch period chasing down students and trying to force them to come work with me.

Note: Want the exact strategy I used to fix this? Download your copy of the Red Flag Planning Sheet Now

My plan wasn’t working.

At first, I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. (And, I have to admit, by this point; I was ready to give up). All that work and my students will still failing, and still fighting all my efforts to help them.

I was completely discouraged.

About that time, my principal gave us a book called Good to Great by Jim Collins. It’s a business book about why some good companies fold, while others become great companies. We were expected to read the book and come to the next faculty meeting prepared to discuss it.

I had been so busy creating my interventions that I hadn’t had time to read the book. The faculty meeting was the next day, so I started skimming the book hoping I could fake my way through the discussion. About halfway through the book, something stopped me in my tracks.

Collins talked about his time as a college professor and how he created a red-flag system – a really simple system to alert him to the first sign of student struggle.

That was it!

Suddenly, I realized that the reason my system wasn’t working was because while all my review sessions and interventions helped me catch students earlier in their failure cycle, I was still too late.

If I was going to be successful, I had to catch them at the first sign of struggle.

Note: Want a surefire way to catch students at the first sign of struggle? Download the Red Flag Planning Sheet Now

But how was I going to catch them at the first sign of struggle? After all,

. . . I had almost 300 students,

. . . All at different stages,

. . . All with different needs.

Plus, I was teaching 3 different preps. How was I going to figure out when each individual student needed my support?

In order to work, my system needed to be:

  • Easy – I was already working hard enough and didn’t want anything so complicated that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with it.
  • Unambiguous -- I didn’t want to waste time wondering, is that a red flag?
  • Hard to ignore -- I didn’t want to miss a red flag.

Well, after a lot of trial and error, I finally came up with a system.

I called it a Red Flag System and the moment I instituted it, I was able to catch students early, sometimes before they even realized they were struggling.

What’s more, the system made catching kids early automatic.

That meant LESS work for me.

Win. Win.

(Note: Download the Red Flag System Planning Sheet here)

The Red Flag System is just one part of the Student SUCCESS Plan. If you’d like to create a red flag system of your own, you can download our free red flag worksheet and get started developing your own red flag system today.

P.S. If you’d like to develop a complete plan to keep your students from failing (and get step-by-step instructions on how to create your own Red Flag System), get your copy of How to Support Struggling Students today.

  • Mayra says:

    Great tips, Robyn! I enjoyed your article and plan to share it with other teachers.

  • Ashley says:

    How do you determine the mastery threshold? I’ve been teaching for 3 years and still struggle with understanding how to determine criteria for mastery that my students should meet to succeed.

  • Nicole says:

    Great content! Thanks!

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