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Behavioral Strategies that Can Work with Struggling Students

Categories: Authors for Access, Education & Teaching, General, Student Centric Learning, The Digital Age

Terrence standing with studentChildren and teens in Denver, recognize Terrence Gordon. For years, they heard his distinctive voice and appreciated his unique ways of looking at the world. Terrence spent his early years working as a Program Instructor with kids from the inner city and county for Denver’s Division of Parks and Recreation. He was also a gym/field supervisor at the Schlessman Family YMCA

Terrence knew about diversity. He knew what bullying could do to a child. He knew that many behavioral issues were really about masking something – "a broken family," "living in poverty," walking through "run-down neighborhoods," not being able to read well.

Eventually, Terrence taught English/Language Arts and physical education for Denver Public Schools and DSST. He also became a Restorative Practices Coordinator, working with at-risk kids. His academic and behavior training brought him to an important mission -- to help more struggling kids get to the root of their emotional and academic challenges. 

In this blog, Terrence discusses facilitation methods of restorative practice interventions, and how he applied behavior management techniques around care, comfort, calm, clarity, learning challenges, and culture.


Be authentic. Kids want someone to trust. If you try to be something you’re not, your true self will reveal just at a time when kids don’t need people to change. That’s when relationships deteriorate. Show students that you experience a wide range of emotions, just like they do. This will allow them to view you as a real person rather than “the teacher” or another authority figure.

two boys in the libraryComfort

Create comfortable surroundings with bean-bag chairs and a 'cool down' area where students could safely go if they were upset, agitated, or simply too excited to participate in class. Play music – not what you would expect in a traditional learning environment. Students responded favorably to music. Children in my classes also craved structure and appreciated some forms of rituals and routines, like a unique handshake or a hug, special eye contact, individualized greetings, rewards, and open invitations to talk about their ideas and challenges to learning.


Struggling learners are accustomed to chaotic situations. When your environment is not turbulent, many students find themselves uncomfortable or apprehensive. That’s when behavior issues come into action. Sadly, students will act out in order to create chaos because that is what they are used to feeling at home or outside of school. I remained calm at all times, vowing that challenging situations would not dictate my mental or emotional state and derail my classroom. Once students realize they aren’t getting a reaction, they learn that being calm is a behavior they might find useful. It’s a teaching moment!

Group of middle school children on top of the mountain with a teacherClarity in Emotional Response and Positive Reinforcement

Struggling learners are often good at discovering loopholes and behaviors that teachers might have, but maybe don’t recognize them. I tried to be enthusiastic when students performed great work, but not show the emotion of surprise. I saved this emotion to show astonishment when kids acted out or had a misstep in class. It catches them off guard. I also made sure to give explicit instructions using multiple representations of materials attuned to students’ learning styles.

Challenges in Learning

Students learn in different ways, so we must deliver instructions and encourage students to complete their assignments in multiple mediums whenever possible. Some students respond to oral instructions. Others will want you to write things on the board, or write their own notes. Others may require a hands-on assignment or learning device. Struggling readers may require digital materials, and a reading accommodation. As educators, we must reinforce the message that "all kids learn differently, and that’s okay." This is the time to assure students they can be good learners, and provide resources, like audiobooks, and emotional reinforcement. 

Cultural Differences

Cultivating a students’ belief system that they can be good academic achievers was my number one goal! I wanted anyone who entered my classroom/office to feel calmness and a culture that welcomes all types of learners, learning styles, and cultural differences. I tried to introduce diverse literature to encourage class discussions on topics that are happening in the world, or to a certain subgroup of people, such as the book, The Hate U Give.  Building a culture of readers, including those who struggle, can be an extraordinary gift to this undeserved student population that unites kids and makes them more open to others and self-reflection.

Special thanks to Terrence Gordon who writes for Consumers Advocate.

Learning Ally's human-narrated audiobooks and powerful teacher resources can help educators make a big difference in the learning experience and lives of struggling readers. Schedule a quick demo to learn how your school or district can transform more struggling readers into grade-level achievers or call 800-221-1098.


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