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Responding to at-risk students

Looking out at your classroom you notice several students apathetically staring off into space, two or three students either tapping or rocking, a few who appear to be engaged in the lesson and several others who are focusing on anything but the lesson and attempting to distract everyone around them. Welcome to the world of the at-risk student.

Possible motivation
Suggested response
Laughs or shrugs when disciplined. May be an attempt to save face or maintain status, a defense mechanism. Reprimand privately when possible. Provide student with alternative appropriate responses. Do not react in anger.
Angry/confrontational response to teacher or peer May also be an attempt to save face and maintain status, a defense mechanism. Respond in a low firm voice. Do not raise your voice to the student. Calmly and repeatedly state your request providing the student with choices. When the situation has deescalated, discuss appropriate responses.
Argues loudly with the teacher or other authority figures. May have an inherent distrust of authority. May believe loud confrontation shows strength. Do not argue. Restate request. Provide choices. Have the student submit grievances in writing. Model respect for the students.
Indifference/does just enough to get by May believe they are incapable of doing any better or will fail if they attempt the assignment. May believe putting in minimal or no effort gives them control over the outcome. Increase positive interactions. Choose a subject area to focus on where the student shows ability. Set specific goals and expectations with the student. Be honest with the student. Provide immediate feedback. When expectations are met provide reinforcement and praise. If expectations are not met reset and reassure.
Physically aggressive behavior May lack the language or problem solving skills to solve the problem in a non-confrontational manner. May believe that not responding in a physical manner will diminish their self-worth. Stress that physical aggression is inappropriate in the school environment. Help student work through conflicts. Model steps of conflict resolution. Hold class meetings to problem-solve in a non-judgmental manner.
Often touching someone else or tapping or rocking. May lack practice in not touching or moving about. Allow doodling that is not distracting or use of stress or Koosh® balls. Give as much to do with the hands as possible. Provide hand signals to use during whole-group instruction. When in line or standing have students fold their arms or hold hands behind their backs. Model. State reasons for this procedure.
Inappropriate language or body language May not realize the language or gesture is inappropriate for the school environment. May be a habit. Allow students to generate phrases that could be used to say the same thing. Explain that the gesture/body language is disrespectful and not appropriate for the school environment. Model appropriate responses.
Difficulty remembering directions; skips steps in assignments May lack practice in using sequencing/memory skills. Provide step-by-step written instructions. Allow the students to check off steps when they are completed. Have check lists for completed assignments.