Common Reasons Students Struggle

Did you think of the following issues that might have made school difficult for Robert, Sara, or Efraim?

Mobility and emotional factors

Sara (scenario #1)

A common aspect of life in our settings is the many moves and transitions a child experiences — between his passport country and the country where his parents work, between different schooling systems, between one country and the next when his family’s assignment is changed… With frequent moves and with moves from one culture and/or schooling system to another, a child can become overwhelmed, never getting to the place where she feels ‘at home’ and comfortable in the setting. It is especially difficult for children of Sara’s age to leave behind friends and familiar ways of doing things and start over in a new place. Maybe school expectations were different in the new place — tests may have been different from what she was used to; grading systems may have been different. She may have missed out on some of the background learning that students in the new school were expected to have mastered. Maybe different vocabulary was used in explaining concepts or different procedures taught for solving math problems. Missing her old friends and teachers and lifestyle could have been part of her difficulty adjusting. Emotions such as sadness, loneliness and depression always hinder a person’s ability to concentrate and learn.

Language Issues and, maybe, homeschooling background

Efraim (scenario #2)

Often the school language is not the mother tongue of the students attending the school. Even though they may speak the school language fluently (like Efraim), they may not be as fluent in the academic aspects of that language. The vocabulary and forms of written language are typically different from spoken language. Also, academic vocabulary is often not used in normal everyday speech. Efraim may have missed out on some of the academic language related to subject areas he was studying in his new school. If his parents were not native speakers of the school language, they may have struggled with the language as they taught him at home. Though he worked hard with a tutor to understand the new concepts and vocabulary, there may have just been too much new language/terminology for him to retain for the exams.

Efraim’s experience of being educated at home may have also contributed to his difficulty in the school setting. He may not have taken many exams in his homeschooling situation, or he may not have taken the kinds of exams given by the school’s teachers. Having the one-on-one tutoring from his parents and needing to learn on his own, he may not have learned how to study in a classroom setting — for example, listening to lectures, taking notes, studying from textbooks, being responsible to do homework and turn in assignments at a particular time/place.

Learning Disabilities

Robert (scenario #3)

Robert is an example of a child who has obvious gifts for learning, but who has what are often called ‘learning disabilities’ that hinder his academic performance. The most common problem experienced by children with learning disabilities is difficulty with reading and writing (often referred to as ‘dyslexia’). Others struggle with math, with organizational skills, with attention, and with handwriting. Brain scans seem to indicate that most of these children’s brains are ‘wired’ differently than the brains of those who do not struggle in these areas. Brain weaknesses in language, sequencing, memory, motor control, and visual or auditory processing may be at the root of some academic struggles. But, with understanding of students’ strengths and weaknesses, and by adjusting teaching to their pace and needs, they can be successful in school.

Slow Learners or Children with Physical Disabilities

Obviously, children will struggle in school if they have visual problems, do not hear accurately, or have poor small muscle control. Also, you may have students born from malnourished mothers or whose brains have not developed strongly due to other factors. Usually, they will just be slower than normal to learn new things (in school and out of school) and need more time for practice and repetition.

See also these resources

Learning Issues Return to the main page to access other articles.

Books on Helping Struggling Learners

Links for Helping Struggling Children


Permission to copy but not for commercial use.