Conferences should occur at least once a week for 15-20 minutes. The purpose of the individual conference is to help the student to clarify his/her goals and to develop greater task value for math/language arts class. Conferences should be held in a private setting. Don’t try to have student conferences when all of his/her classmates are present.
An individual conference approach to help underachievers (From Mandel & Marcus, 1988, 1995).
- Have student set his or her own stated goal. Be supportive.
- With the student, explore and document how the student actually prepares for and executes academic responsibilities.
- Focus on specific problem areas. Have student describe in detail what is going on in school from his or her own perspective.
- When student offers excuses for poor performance, isolate each those excuses and explore them further with the student.
- Once an excuse has been clarified, link each excuse to its natural future consequence. Explicitly help the students make the elementary connection between effort and achievement.
- Ask the student to develop specific solutions for each stumbling block or hindrance that he or she might face along the way.
- Ask the student to develop an action plan for him/herself. Understand that the student may or may not follow-through on the self-developed action plan. Be careful not to demand or pressure the student. This could create a student shut-down or a power struggle. The student needs to feel as if he or she has developed the action plan him or herself.
- Follow-up on whether student completes the proposed actions. If he/she does not, ask for specific reasons why not. He/she “can no longer use the last excuse because to do so would mean recognizing that the underachievement has been a choice.” (Mandel & Marcus, 1988, p. 293)
- Keep repeating steps 3-7 with another excuse each time. Focus on details rather than generalities, and avoid interpreting the student’s motivation or affect. Eventually, the underachiever should find it more and more difficult to avoid the perception that he/she is responsible for what happens.
- Shift to a nondirective approach… Shift from “excuse-buster” to supportive, non-judgmental listener.
In the individual conferences we encourage you to make use of a technique called constructive confrontation. (Mandel & Marcus, 1995; Egan, 1969)
Constructive Confrontation is a face to face challenge in which you address a discrepancy in the thoughts, feelings, or actions of another person. Constructive confrontations force the confronted person to clarify the inconsistencies in his/her behavior, and results in a closer bond between the confronter and the confrontee. Constructive confrontation is NOT blaming or negative confrontation. It’s important to maintain a very objective tone, and to not be hostile or to seem too personally invested when using constructive confrontation techniques. Your goal is to point out inconsistencies, not to judge or to get emotional. Your tone should be inviting, not accusational. You should give the impression that you are there to help the student to solve his own problems because you want to help, but NOT because his problems are somehow also your problems.
Important advice: Don’t take a student’s dislike of your class or your teaching style personally. It’s easy to feel hurt when you listen to a student say that he doesn’t like your class. Remember, you are working with a student who has a serious achievement problem. His dislike of your class is a symptom of a greater problem. Your goal is to help him conquer his problem, NOT to convince him that your class is great. As you work through this process, the student should develop a better attitude toward your class as a by-product of his developing more task values.
Examples of constructive confrontation:
(In a calm, matter of fact manner) “You say that you want to get a good grade in math class, but you never hand in your math homework or study for math exams. Can you explain this discrepancy to me?”
Secrets of constructive confrontation: (From Mandel & Marcus, 1995)
- First, be ABSOLUTELY SURE that your motive is constructive.
- Focus on the facts.
Example: “Tell me more about what happened, specifically.”
- Use active listening techniques. Click here to learn more about active listening techniques.
- Invite the student to solve the problem.
“How can you solve that problem?”
“How can you avoid making the same mistake next time?”
“How can you ensure that you remember to take your books home?”
- Confront Problems when they occur.
Don’t let tensions build. Stick with the facts now or in the immediate past. Don’t dwell on things that happened last year. Also, confront problems as they occur, and when they are small enough to be more easily fixable.
- Confront strengths, not weaknesses.
Focusing on strengths that are NOT being used is a much more effective motivator than focusing on the student’s weaknesses. The importance of focusing on psychological strengths cannot be overstated. Children who are constantly criticized start to really believe that there is something wrong with them. On the other hand, children who are praised for their accomplishments start to feel good about themselves and believe in their potential.
- Be selective about when and how often you confront.
Confrontation should be used judiciously to call attention to the discrepancies between the underachiever’s words and his actions or to call attention to discrepancies within his statements. However, the 15 minute individual meetings should not be one big confrontation.
- Be clear about who owns the problem (And it’s NOT YOU!)
Don’t let the underachieving student shift the responsibility for his work onto your shoulders!
- Don’t accept pat answers at face value—keep probing!
- Don’t accept vague statements. Pursue facts by asking specific questions.
- Approach every school problem by asking a systematic list of problem solving questions.
Here are some sample questions:
- What are your academic goals for this semester?
- Are you meeting your stated goals?
- If you’re not happy with your grades or academic performance, what in particular are you not happy with?
- Do you want to do anything about it?
- What’s happening in the course that you want to change?
- What specifically do you need to do to meet your goals?
- What could go wrong with your plans?
- Given your stated goals, how can you counteract negative forces standing in the way of your academic success?