What to Do if Your Child is Failing in School

Each year, the demands in your child’s classroom increase significantly. The reading level and load are getting heavier, subject concepts are becoming more complex, and homework volume is growing markedly. For kids who are struggling to keep up, this increased burden can cause confidence and mood to fall, fast.

One of the first things to look at is your child’s reading speed. Reading speed? Yes, reading speed. For many kids, it’s not that they can’t read at grade level, but that they read far too slowly for their grade level. Slow reading is a burden in two significant ways:

  1. Their slow reading pace makes it harder to understand what their reading. Your child may be able to read the material, but the speed at which they read is so slow that they struggle to track with the author. The information is coming in too slowly to keep it in their heads and make the associations and inferences need to comprehend the passage. For example, a child in 6th grade should be reading at least 128 words per minute (wpm). Say you check and see they’re reading at 102 wpm. That’s about 20% slower than what’s needed to make comprehension possible.
  1. There is a lot of material to read in the upper grades. And it takes them far too long with way too much effort to complete the reading⎼let alone answer the questions or write a response to the text.

Certainly, there are other areas to consider, but a slow, not-at-grade-level rate is a good first place to look as this is a common reason for school failure. Other concerns include weak working memory, an inability to think and speak at grade level because of weak vocabulary, and slow processing (thinking) speed.

It’s important to figure out what their roadblocks are. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. Talk to your child. What do they see as the roadblocks? Older kids in particular often know where the barrier is. They’re deeply embarrassed by their struggle, and they haven’t shared it with you because of shame, not ignorance. So be gentle but persistent and start this conversation. We all struggle with learning to some degree. Share your struggles and see if they’re willing to open up about theirs.
  1. Check your child’s reading speed. This Quick-Test will show you how to use the material you have to see if your child is reading speed (word per minute rate) is at grade level. The recommended numbers in the chart are only at the 40th percentile. Consider this the bare minimum level of speed. If they are at or slightly above the benchmark speed, you will still want to help them improve it, especially if they hope to attend college someday.
  1. Talk to your child’s teacher. What do they see as the main obstacle for your child’s learning struggle? Is it possible to have additional testing done to pinpoint the areas that are weak and blocking your child’s success? Has your child been struggling for a while or is this a more recent issue?

Just the fact that you see and are willing to address your child’s learning issues is the best first step. Good! You’ve done this. But, don’t stop here. Help your child move forward. You’re their biggest fan, and they depend on you to help them through this challenging spot. Don’t count on the school to do it. This is your job.

These few steps are just a start. Subscribe to our blog for more ways to build your child’s brain...better.


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