April 1, 2014

Invitations for Interventions

I had a crowd of students after school today. So many, in fact, that some looked around the room and decided they would come back another day. I've decided there are two important ingredients to getting kids to stay after. First, they need to be invited. Second, they need to see that it matters. A third, bonus ingredient, is follow through.


I invite students to stay for what our school calls "dayback" in a variety of ways. The most basic is a calendar in my classroom that shows when I am available after school. It is near the door so hopefully students look at it on the way out and remember to come back at the end of the day.

Whenever a student asks if I'm staying after today I refer them to the calendar, but if it's at the end of the period I will also announce to the whole class which days I am available. It never hurts to hear an extra reminder.

Throughout the quarter I communicate to students what they need to do to be successful in class. A week or two before a report is sent home, I print a progress report for every student. At mid-quarter the list of assignments isn't overwhelming so I print the whole report. By the end of the quarter there are too many assignments for it to be helpful for most kids. My grade system has a feature where you can print just the category averages which helps kids get a sense of what they need to focus on (projects or tests since those are 80% of their grade combined) so near the end of the quarter I print those (then kids can ask me what they need to fix/hand in after school if they don't have a record of it).

At other points I invite particular students to stay after based on particular criteria. Today I gave this note to every kid who was completely missing something (either they were absent or never handed it in). Other times I use this note to tell students (sometimes all, sometimes below a cutoff) where they stand. This quarter the 10th grade team talked about starting mandatory dayback for kids who are failing. I think I'm the only one who followed through, but I decided to start with kids who had a failing average for the year (the goal is to start this much earlier next year so kids will keep up rather than need to catch up) and they would 'graduate' from staying after weekly when their average is over a 65%. Ideally by then they would see that staying after helps them and continue! Once kids received their initial notification I asked them every Monday which day they would stay as a reminder that they needed to continue staying weekly until I said otherwise.

Staying After Matters:

Once you get a kid to show up after school, you need to convince them it's worth their while or they won't come back again. Frequently you need to convince them of this before they even show up. But after sitting down with me to work on something and finally understanding for the first time, they're convinced. The jump in their grade is an added bonus. My grading system allows students to retake any quiz or test and the new grade replaces the old one. They can also correct any project to get full credit. When I explain this to a kid (sometimes for the 50th time in a class) they are somewhat skeptical that doing one assignment will make a big difference. These are often the same kids who decided to go back and make up homework assignments - homework is 10% of the grade and they can only earn half credit for late homework because we go over it. Is is worth doing? Yes. Not because it will impact your grade, but because it will prepare you to retake the quiz and test on that topic. Weighted averages appear to be beyond even my advanced students. Something about attention to detail is missing for many of them.

To keep track of what they need to do, but more importantly to have a visual reminder of what they have accomplished, I have kids on mandatory dayback fill out a form. This form has been awesome for streamlining. When a kid first shows up we make a list of everything they can correct/retake/do (for Fundamentals of Geometry kids there's a stamp chart they can look at, for PreCalc kids they are supposed to track their own assignments but I'll cross reference with the online gradebook). Then each time they show up they work on the next item on the list and I don't need to tell them what to do. The forms stay in a folder on my desk so kids can grab them when they come, but also so that I can see who has been in each week (all forms are on the left on Monday, when a kid stays after they return the form on the right).

Follow Through:

If a student says they will stay after and then don't, I try my best to ask them what happened the next class. It's hard to do though. That's why I started a spreadsheet for the kids with mandatory dayback. At the end of the week (once kids have had a chance to show up on Friday) I go through the folder and mark who stayed this week. I email the deans a list of the kids who didn't show up (which is why they're divided by grade, we have a dean for grade 9, grade 10 and grade 11/12). Then if the deans see the kids during the week they reinforce the importance of coming to see me.

(the blanks are kids who were not notified yet, either because they are chronically absent or they didn't fall below the cutoff until a later week)

I wish students realized from the start that struggling isn't a sign of failure, but a sign of needing extra support. I wish that they knew staying after school is something good students do, not students who are 'in trouble.' But most students don't come to me knowing these things. I don't chase kids and I know I won't remember to talk to students in the middle of class, but I can hand a kid a note that says "I want to see you, I care about you, we can work together and you will improve." 


  1. If you are requiring it, what is the consequence when they don't stay?

    About how long after school do they stay with you? At my school, we are rural and if they stay then they have to wait until 5:00 to catch the bus home. I think that is the biggest reason kids wouldn't stay. Two extra hours seems like a looong time to spend with your math teacher. Especially when I can't even get them to come in during the day to retake something.

    What do they do to prepare for the retakes?

    1. The consequence is mostly that they're still failing, but also that they have a conversation with the dean. I really should contact parents, but I'm awful at that...

      Kids can stay for anything from 5 minutes to ask a question to over an hour. Our late bus comes at 3:20 and school ends at 2. I tell kids that they can stay with me for 20 minutes and then go see another teacher or play basketball in the gym or hang out in the library until the bus comes.

      Frequently the kids who need to retake are the same kids who don't do homework, so they can do the relevant homework to prepare. They also do test corrections.

    2. I am also terrible at parent contact!

      Our school is really strict about being supervised after school so I just don't know how I could make that work. How do you do homework?

    3. Homework is in the book and they have a few problems due every class (5-10). I walk around the room and check off anyone who has made a good attempt. Then I project the solutions and we discuss (Honors PreCalc) or we do out the problems as a class (Fundamentals of Geometry). That's why they can only get half credit for late homework.