Teaching At Its Best
Getting to the Root of the Problem: Strategies to help students succeed.

Getting to the Root of the Problem: Strategies to help students succeed.


Although I recognize that this institute targets K-12 educators, I find that their content also relates to older students. I teach the final quarter of an associate degree nursing program. 

Many of the problems other educators face don’t really affect me much. (All my students can read well, they’ve all passed rigorous science courses, the weakest students don’t make it to the last quarter of the program, and they all desperately want to learn the content I’m presenting). That having been said – the content is very complicated and detailed. 

And even though I may be able to help them demonstrate they understand the subjects I teach, they also have to pass the National Licensing Exam for Nurses (NCLEX-RN) when they graduate. The nursing accreditation agencies require that nursing programs meet a specific pass rate.

We have to walk a fine line in our program. We have to make sure only students prepared for NCLEX pass our program. But, the accreditors also monitor completion rates. So, we also have to make sure an appropriate number of students complete the program in a reasonable length of time.

A few years ago, I had one student who was really struggling to pass my exams. In fact, going into the final, she hadn’t passed one test yet. In order to pass the course, she needed a 93% on the cumulative final. I was very concerned for her and asked her to meet with me to review her tests. So, in the privacy of my office, question by question, I asked her, “why did you select that answer?” Frequently, students tell me, “I know the content, but I just get nervous during tests.”  (In most cases, I find they may not understand the content as well as they think they do.) That was not the case with this student. In fact, she had written down the correct answers on the actual exam – but still selected the incorrect answer. I was dumbfounded. My only suggestion to her was to continue to answer each question as she had done and then individually compare her written answer to each multiple-choice option and pick the closest one. I was holding my breath while she took the final, but I didn’t need to. She earned the highest score on the final in the class (and a passing grade), easily passed NCLEX, and is practicing successfully as a nurse today.

This experience really opened my eyes. Now, I ask every student who fails a test to meet with me and develop strategies for success. I am usually surprised by what I find, and almost every problem is unique to that student. I’ll describe some of the things I’ve discovered.

As I mentioned above, some students believe they know the material. In general, I find that not to be the case. After I’ve determined they don’t know enough of the content to answer the questions I ask about their study habits. I record all my lectures in my course and upload them to our learning management system. Frequently students just listen and re-listen to the lectures. That’s great, but it’s not the same as studying and purposely storing information in the memory.

Another problem they encounter is using the jeopardy games and practice quizzes I provide as the study content for the exam. Those are nice tools to use to assess knowledge, but they don’t cover the breadth of the material covered in the tests. Creating an effective study plan has really helped these students.

I met with a student last quarter to review the exam she failed. (I always ask them to bring their notes with them).  She had the typical PowerPoint handout I provided, and it was literally covered with her handwritten notes. The good news was that she definitely wrote down everything I said in class. But the page was so crammed with writing (in multiple directions) that it would be impossible actually to study it in that format. I suggested she take those same notes, re-type them, arrange them in a linear, logical format, and then study from them. She did very well on every exam after that point, passed the course, and aced NCLEX.

Sadly, a lot of the problems students encounter aren’t strictly academic. Some have pathological relationships; some have to work an excessive amount to meet their living expenses; some have experienced losses in their families. And these are the hardest ones to help. Our school has some good counseling resources, and I frequently refer students to them. I am also happy to rearrange due dates to help them. (For me, the only reason due dates exist is to ensure the work is spread throughout the quarter in a manageable way). If a student can meet the course objectives because I modify the schedule – that’s fine with me.  

Unfortunately, students don’t always follow my suggestions. One student insisted she didn’t have time to meet with me to review her exams. (She also had failed every test and needed above 85% on the cumulative final). I told her it would take less time to meet with me than to repeat the entire quarter if she didn’t pass. But she wouldn’t relent........and she failed the final, the course and had to repeat it the following quarter. The good news was that the next quarter, she cut down on the number of shifts she worked, dedicated more time to her studies, and passed NCLEX on her first attempt.

This experience has really helped me improve students’ chances for success.  It’s ridiculous to think we can give students advice without really identifying the problem. During every meeting with a student, I feel like a detective; but in the end, I haven’t had a single instance where I couldn’t find a clear path to success. It’s just like the nursing process......assessment is the very first step.

This guest article was written by Annette Ward while taking the online continuing education course, Poverty & The Brain: Creating Emotional, Physical & Academic Success by THI instructor Brenda McKinney.



Find this useful? Share it with your friends.

You Might Also Like:

Technology in Elementary Art Class.

Technology in Elementary Art Class.

Read More
Revamping Seating Charts Promotes Community & Growth Amongst Students

Revamping Seating Charts Promotes Community & Growth Amongst Students

Read More
Compassionate Listening Skills.

Compassionate Listening Skills.

Read More

Return to Teaching at Its Best -- All Entries