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What To Do When A Student Isn’t Making Progress · Mrs. P’s Specialties


Do you have a student or students who seem to be stuck and aren’t progressing at a goal or skill that you have been working on with them? It can be frustrating and concerning when a student isn’t making progress. If students get stuck and you aren’t seeing any progress from them, there are some things you can do.

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Review the data

One of the first things I look at when a student isn’t making any progress on a task or goal is any data that has been collected. The data collection sheet lets me see exactly how much and which types of prompting and support the student has been getting. 

Our students frequently make progress at a slower rate, so it’s important to look at which types of supports or prompts students are getting. Sometimes, even though it feels like there hasn’t been progress, it can be seen in the reduction in prompting. For example, a student who once needed full physical prompting who now only needs a gestural or visual prompt IS progressing. That student now needs less support to be successful than before. 

Always look to see if the prompting levels have increased, decreased, or stayed the same. If the amount of prompting and level of prompting has decreased, then that alone shows progress even if the student hasn’t reached an independent level yet. 

If it has increased or remained constant, then I start to wonder if the student has become prompt dependent. Prompt dependency can really hinder a student’s progress, which is why it is so important that we have a plan for fading prompts with students. If a student can only count with 1:1 correspondence when an adult points to the objects, then the student cannot actually count items.

when students aren’t making progress

There are several questions and areas to look at if the data truly shows no progress. 

Structure: Perhaps the structure of the task needs to be more systematic or supportive. For example, graphic organizers, visuals for multiple-step tasks, etc. 

Visual supports: Visuals are a great way to add in structure and support, but are easy to fade. Use the visuals to cue students to be successful and then fade the visuals out as the student makes progress. 

Reinforcement: Use the most powerful reinforcers while practicing the skills students struggle with the most. Another option is to practice the challenging skill right before a highly motivating part of your schedule. For example, it can be really motivating to work hard on a task so you can go to recess afterward.

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create opportunities for extra practice

 Extra and varied practice throughout the school day is very important for a student who isn’t making progress. Students need repetition and practice to learn, so try to find times in their day to give them opportunities to practice a skill they are struggling with. 

Here’s an example of how to have a student practice making sets across his school day. 

Breakfast: have the student go get a certain number of paper towels for the class. 

Direct Instruction: have the student work on putting a given number of manipulatives into the cup or bowl. Have him count the number of manipulatives you give him. 

PT: have the student do a specific amount of exercises. For example, do 3 jumping jacks. 

OT: have the student stamp or cut and glue given amounts of items into a divided paper. 

Cooking group: have the student make sets of a snack, count out the number of needed ingredients, etc. 

Recess: have the student push a peer on the swig 5 times. 

Be sure to let your therapists and special area teachers know as well, so they can also give the student chances to practice.

evalulate the barriers to learning

There will be occasions when students just aren’t making the progress on a skill or goal that you thought they would. Step back and take a look at what you can do to get them headed in the right direction. Have they become prompt dependent, are they not motivated enough, do they need more structure or visual support, or maybe they just need more opportunities to practice the skill … any or all of those could be impacting their progress. With some small changes, you can get the student on track and making progress.

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