Written by Jenifer Reichardt

With many schools opting for e-learning this year, many parents of struggling learners have questions. How do I keep a struggling learner working? What RTI strategies and interventions can be done at home?

What teaching and learning strategies are the most helpful for struggling and slow learners?

Dealing with a struggling and slow learner seems daunting and may seem like wine is a requirement. Take a deep breath, and read on. Help is on the way!

Strategy 1– Communicate With Your Child’s Teacher

Contact your child’s teacher and ask how RTI will be working this year. The teacher should tell you what program your child will be using and what skills they will be working on. Ask the teacher how you can support your struggling learner at home.

Strategy 2–Work Space

Set up a workspace. If possible, this workspace should not be in a bedroom or family room. The kitchen table, home office, basement, or living room are great options.

The area should be free of distractions. Consider creating a movable workstation using a trifold science board.

Strategy 3–Executive Functioning

Struggling learners may have deficits in executive functioning such as planning, task initiation, and organization. Within your child’s workstation, place a daily schedule with subjects, times, and user names/passwords.

Before starting a task or assignment, ask your child what he needs to do. Ask him what the end goal of the homework or assignment is. Finally, use a color-coded system for each subject.

Try to match folders and notebooks to the color of the textbook. For example, if the math book is green, then the math folder and notebook should also be green. This system provides a quick and easy visual for your child.

Strategy 4–Breaks

Struggling learners need more breaks. When learning is difficult, the learner gets frustrated, and they may shut down.

Statements such as: “This is dumb!”, “I am stupid!” or “Why do I have to do this?” are a clear indication that a break is needed. Try providing brain breaks before the learner gets to this point.

A rule of thumb is a multiple your child’s age by 2-5 minutes to find their attention span for learning. If your child is 8, their attention span will range from 16-40 minutes. A break can range from 8-30 minutes.

A break should involve a movement and a change of scenery. A walk around the block, a race up and down the stairs, or a short bike ride are all enjoyable breaks for children.

If the weather is lousy, try Go Noodle For Families. This website provides videos for movement breaks, as well as mindfulness videos.

The Go Noodle Families website

Strategy 5–Forced Choices for a Struggling Learner

This little gem is used by teachers all the time. What should you do if your child refuses to work? Use the forced choices strategy. Here is how it works?

Sally states that she doesn’t want to do her spelling sentences. First, affirm her statement and then give her two choices.

Sally, I hear you, and I understand that you don’t want to do your spelling sentences. But this is a required assignment.

You have two choices.

You can write your sentences on the computer using any font and color you want, or you can write your sentences on paper using colored pencils. What choice are you going to pick?

This strategy is successful because the child knows that you have heard and affirmed their feelings. You have also given them control of the situation because you have given them a choice.

Sometimes, that is all that a child wants to have. Both options result in a completed assignment. The adult has not given into the child, and the desired goal has been reached.

By the way, forced-choice works with household chores too! Sally, I need you to do one chore today. Would you like to take out the trash or dust? Whatever chore you don’t choose, I will do.

By the way, forced-choice works with household chores too! Sally, I need you to do one chore today. Would you like to take out the trash or dust? Whatever chore you don’t choose, I will do.

Jennifer Reichardt, Teacher

Strategy 6–Break Up the Assignment

Sometimes, the sheer length of the assignment is overwhelming to a struggling learner. They may feel defeated even before they begin. Struggling learners don’t know how to break up an assignment into smaller, more manageable parts.

The easiest way to break up an assignment is to cover up part of the worksheet and only show a few problems at a time. Another option is to complete a certain number of questions and then take a movement break.

Sally, let’s plan on doing 5 of these math problems and then take a ride around the block.

For longer assignments with a due date, break the assignment up by days.

For example, if spelling sentences are assigned on Monday but are due on the following Monday, divide the number of sentences by the number of days.

Writing ten spelling sentences in one night might be overwhelming, but two a night is totally doable for your struggling learner.

Strategy 7–Supporting Writing

Writing is a subject that many struggling students wrestle with. Remember that writing and spelling are two different subjects. Focus on getting your learner to write down their ideas first.

If your child is struggling with starting out, provide a topic sentence for them. Next, don’t worry about spelling. Spelling occurs in the editing phase of writing. Instruct your child to just circle the words that she thinks are spelled incorrectly.

NOTE: Do not ask your child to look up the word in the dictionary. Poor spellers will find this frustrating as their spelling is usually not close to the actual spelling.

A great option is to use the microphone feature on Google and ask how to spell the word. Use open-ended questions as positive feedback

Strategy 8–Supporting Math

Fact fluency is a necessary skill in math. Many struggling learners have not mastered their facts. Flashcards will not work with Generation Z. Instead, try ReflexMath.

This game-based platform yields excellent results when a student spends 15 minutes a day on the program. Don’t worry; most students will want to work on this longer.

Word problems are also tricky for struggling learners.

Highlight the question and circle keywords. For younger learners, use manipulatives such as cereal or Legos™ to solve addition and subtraction problems.

Finally, if you want support with the Common Core Math strategies, head over to Khan Academy, linked in the image below. This site provides excellent videos that help both parents and children.

Khan Academy website

Strategy 9–Supporting Readling Fluency

Reading fluency is tied to reading comprehension. If a child reads too slowly, it will impact their understanding of the text’s ideas. For beginning readers, focus on sight words.

These are words that are commonly used and do not follow phonetic rules. Memorize common sight words. Flashcards and games are a great way to practice these rules. Reread favorite books together.

Model fluent reading for your child by using different voices and the appropriate speed. Read together! Mary Ann Hoberman has a great series of books for this. When practicing fluency, use the same text several times.

Strategy 10–Reading Comprehension

For struggling learners, grade-level textbooks may be above their current reading level. If an audio version of the text is available, allow your learner to listen to the content.

If it isn’t available, read the text aloud and have your child follow along with you. If the passage is at their current reading level, break up the text by paragraph or page.

Use the STP strategy by Jan Richardson. Stop at the end of the paragraph or page. Think about what you read. Paraphrase the reading section. If your learner cannot paraphrase the section, ask them to reread it.

Frequently Asked Quetsions

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) Relating to a Struggling Learner

What does RTI mean?

RTI stands for Response to Intervention. Some districts may refer to RTI as  Responsiveness to Intervention or Multi-Tier System of Support (MTSS).

What is RTI?

First of all, it is not a book or a program. It is a way to identify struggling students and help them succeed in one of three areas. The areas are reading, math, and behavior.

The interventions that are used in RTI are all research-based programs. This means that programs have been developed and researched by educators. Based on the research, the programs have been successful.

RTI Intervention for Struggling Learner

What are RTI Tiers?

The graphic on the left comes from Grandview Elementary School, in Bloomington, Indiana. Click the image or the school name link to go to their intervention website page. They have several useful resources and helpful parent information.

RTI has three tiers.

All students are taught at Tier 1 by their teachers using a scientific, research-based curriculum.

Tier 2 is for students struggling with classwork and have tested in the lowest percentile on state and national tests. Tier 2 students work with a classroom teacher or a specialist in a small group setting for 20-30 minutes per day. 

Tier 3 is for students that have not been successful in Tier 2. The time is increased to 60 minutes a day. Students are taught individually or in a small group by a specialist.

How does a struggling learner get into an RTI program?

There are two ways that students get into an RTI program. First, student data from state and national tests are used. Most school districts use NWEA MAP and aimswebPlus.

Students who test in the lowest percentile are discussed at a data team meeting. Teacher input is given at this meeting. A teacher will share their classroom observations and student work with the data team.

The team uses the testing results, classroom observations, and student work to choose a program for each student in RTI.

My child is in RTI. What happens next?

The goal of RTI is to identify the students who are at risk of failing and help them become successful learners. Students are enrolled in a research-based program, and a measurable goal is set.

They will participate in this program for 20-60 minutes a day. This may happen in a regular classroom, or a specialist may pull them out. Student progress is monitored weekly or bi-monthly using assessments.

Teachers refer to this as progress monitoring. The results are recorded and analyzed to see if the student is making progress. If progress is not seen, teachers may use a different program.

Once a student completes their goal, they are dismissed from RTI. If a student is not making progress, they may participate in a Tier 3 program.

What if my child is not successful in Tier 3?

If your struggling learner is not successful in Tier 3, a special education evaluation may be suggested. Once your grant permission for the evaluation, your child will be tested.

The results will then be shared at a parent meeting to determine eligibility for special education. If special education is recommended, an IEP or Individualized Education Plan will be presented.

The parents or guardians can choose to agree with the plan or decline the plan. If they agree with the plan, papers are signed, and the student begins receiving additional educational services.

If the plan is declined, the student will not get additional educational services.

However, they can remain in Tier 3. It is essential to know that parents can request a special education evaluation at any tier level. The district must complete this evaluation within 60 school days.