How to Support Your Struggling Learners DURING Class Without Creating Separate Lessons | Mindsteps Inc.

How to Support Your Struggling Learners DURING Class Without Creating Separate Lessons

One of the biggest mistakes I see people make when developing a support plan for students is that they create a separate lesson plan for struggling learners, one for on-level learners, and one for students who need more challenge.

That’s too much work.

Supporting struggling learners shouldn’t mean that you exhaust yourself in the process. If you are going to provide students with the consistent, targeted support they need, then you need a plan that creates as little extra work as possible.

I remember when I first tried to develop a student support plan. I gathered all these additional resources, tried to organize them, and then provide each student the exact support they needed at the exact right time.

Not only did this create a TON of additional work for me, after a while, I couldn’t keep it up and students started slipping through the cracks.

What’s more, a lot of my students felt overwhelmed by my support. They complained that it was too much work and many gave up before they saw results.

At first, I dismissed their complaints. They just don’t want to work, I rationalized. But after student after student had the same complaint, I took a good long look at the supports I was providing.

They were right. It was too much. It was like trying to kill a fly with a sledgehammer.

So, I dumped everything and started over. My goal was to make support as simple as possible. That way, my students were more likely to access the support and I wouldn’t over-work myself in the process.

The results were immediate and incredible. Not only did more of my student take advantage of the simplified support, the supports were actually MORE effective.

Here’s how I did it and how you can do it too:

1. Create Progressive Supports

Think of progressive intervention like you do progressive behavior management. The first time a student is whispering to a neighbor in class, it’s unlikely that you would send her straight to the principal’s office, arrange a parent conference and assign a week of after school detention. Instead you might start with a reminder, a quick conversation or a minimal consequence. If the student’s behavior escalates, so too does your response.

Progressive intervention follows the same logic. A student’s quiz score may trigger a red flag because she was having a bad day, cut studying short to focus on work for another class, or barely missed the mastery threshold. So your first intervention might be to have the student spend 10 minutes with a peer tutor reviewing the material or making a set of flash cards with correct answers to use when studying for the next assessment. Perhaps all that’s required is a conversation with the student to review the directions for the assignment or direct her to an on-line tutorial or study guide that will firm up her understanding of the material. If this is sufficient, the student will return to productive struggle or success without further assistance.

If a quick conversation or simple measure solves the problem, that’s terrific. If the initial intervention is ineffective or that first conversation reveals that the student is truly lost, you will choose a more intensive intervention in response.

NOTE: Get a list of progressive supports (with explanations of each type!) here​

2. Support the NEXT step, not the entire process

We often think that if a student is struggling, the best course of action is to go back and reteach all the missing information. That kind of comprehensive support rarely works. Here’s why:

First, it overwhelms students. If students feel that they have to relearn everything in order to move forward, many will give up – especially if they failed to learn it the first time around. Second, it takes students’ attention off the NEXT step and places it on ALL the steps. You’ve heard the phrase “jack of all trades, master of none?” Well, focusing students on ALL the steps instead of the NEXT step ensure that they master none of the steps.

Instead of trying to go back and reteach the entire process, give students what they need to master the next step, then the next step, and then the step after that. That way, you create momentum and give students a series of small successes on which they can build.

NOTE: Get a list of progressive supports (with explanations of each type!) here

3. Batch and Automate

Working with students one at a time is inefficient. Instead, progressive interventions allow you to work with small groups of students, which means you can help more students more quickly. The idea is to choose interventions that allow you to work with more than one student at a time or better yet, allow students to work independently to quickly get back on track. In fact, if you sequence your interventions right, you may be able to intervene even before the student realizes he is struggling and get him back on track quickly.

So, I trimmed my list of supports significantly and sequenced them from least intensive to most intensive.

When students triggered a Red Flag, I would start right away with a least intensive support and monitor their progress. If the support worked, the students were on their way and no more support was needed.

If students showed that they needed more support, I would then go to a medium intensive support. Most of the time, that was all students needed to get back on track.

But sometimes, a few students would still need more support. So I would provide them with a High Intensity Support. Usually, this would do the trick.

NOTE: Get a list of progressive supports (with explanations of each type!) here


By sequencing my supports and moving progressively from least intensive to most intensive, I was not only able to keep my students progressing, I was able to do so without wearing myself (and them!) out in the process.

There is an easier way. You can support your students without killing them (or yourself) in the process.

And, if you want a comprehensive guide to progressive supports including explanations of each support type, click here to access our Strategy Guide on Progressive Supports. It contains step-by-step explanations of all of the progressive supports.

>