Allen is a tall and lanky 11th grader. He is handsome, popular and athletic, but rather than play sports, would prefer to spend his leisure time with a few close friends with whom he enjoys mountain biking, camping and other less competitive outdoor activities. Allen is a good artist, yet has never explored formal instruction in the community or at school. His parents have kept a portfolio of his work since he was a child. In school, Allen enjoys literature and drama. He recently played a central role in a school theater production and received rave reviews from both faculty and fellow students.
Although he was looking forward to the 11th grade, Allen has had more difficulty than last year, especially in two of his academic courses – Biology and History. His mid-term progress reports indicate that he is failing Biology and has a ‘D’ average in History. His other grades range from A’s in Physical Education and Health to B’s in English and Math.
Reports from both his History and Biology teachers indicate that although Allen demonstrates excellent verbal skills and participates actively in class discussions, he has not used his in-class time to complete academic assignments. During these times – especially when students are working independently – his teachers say he seems “tuned out” and has difficulty staying focused and on-task. His history teacher says that although he is a good reader, and seems tuned-in to the topics that interest him, his performance is very inconsistent.
Allen received an A on a three-dimensional, project map he recently designed to illustrate colonial expansion. His parents and teachers were all surprised by the amount of effort he put into it. On other, less interesting academic assignments, however, he has often “procrastinated” and failed to complete much of the work.
The large number of lines he rapidly memorized in drama is a testament to Allen’s remarkable memory. He has impressed friends and teachers alike by demonstrating this impressive strength in a number of his classes when reviewing for tests and quizzes. Of course, this strength is also a source of frustration for those who feel Allen should be a top student with “his kind of ability.”
Homework is a real problem for Allen. He rarely completes assignments, and the work he turns in is usually sloppy and hastily done. His science teacher told his parents that Allen’s assignment calendar was “a mess.” Allen, in turn, has told his parents that he’s really bored in history and science classes, and can’t seem to get excited about the material they are covering. He also says he has a real problem focusing on all of the details in these classes. Although he has an excellent memory, he says he can’t stay tuned-in long enough to let all of the information “sink in.”
What baffles everyone is that Allen is performing much better in other classes. He enjoys math, says that it keeps him busy, and that it is always a challenge. Also, he finds it helpful to have time to complete his homework in class. He’s also extremely interested in English because students have the opportunity to role play, read aloud, and really get into their work. And, since Allen has always enjoyed reading, he doesn’t feel that English is as much work as history and biology. Allen’s English teacher also directs the school drama productions. Allen says that this teacher knows him better than anyone else, and helps him stay focused when he “fades out.”
Allen’s Physical Education teacher, also a head coach, has asked him to try out for football, but Allen is not interested in playing on the same team as his older brother who is one of the stars. To his friends, Allen has expressed the fact that he is really jealous of this brother – a twelfth grader at his school – who consistently makes the honor roll, yet seems to work half as hard as he does.
Despite his parents’ support and encouragement, Allen is beginning to be irritated by their involvement. He feels that they are always on his back about keeping up with his homework and projects. His reactions have led to some rather stressful confrontations.
- Memory: able to rapidly consolidate the large volumes of material in drama and other content subjects
- Excellent verbal skills
- Excellent social skills
- Drama and acting
- Biking, camping and outdoor recreation
Areas in Need of Improvement:
- Time management
- Staying focused and on task – especially in History and Biology, but also in other academic situations where the tasks are not inherently and consistently gratifying
- Completing and submitting assignments on time
Possible Management Plan:
Discuss with Allen the difficulty he is experiencing in History and Biology. Explain that the demands of these classes (e.g., the volume of information and the attention to detail) make them difficult courses for many students.
Encourage Allen to be honest and specific about which elements of these classes are hard for him. Discuss the fact that all students have a combination of skills (an individual profiles) that affect how well they perform both in and beyond school, making some tasks easy and some more difficult.
Discuss Allen’s strengths. Help him understand that there are many ways he can use his strengths to improve his performance in biology and history. Allen needs to know that he may also employ specific strategies to help him stay focused and engaged – even when he is not terribly excited about the content being covered.
It is important to help Allen understand that although he may be experiencing some difficulties in current situations, he has many attributes that will bring him success both in and beyond school. Remind him that his social skills, creativity and interests will always be greatly valued by others on a personal level.
Ask Allen about his plans beyond school, where he sees himself a year or two after graduation, and what he would like to be doing. Use his response as a means of framing his future. In an effort to give meaning to work that may seem meaningless now, reinforce the fact that his current activities in school may help him reach his goals.
Leveraging Strengths and Affinities:
- Suggest that Allen try to find ways to integrate some of his outside interests into his more difficult classes (e.g., by combining camping and biology, or by planning a cycling tour of an historically relevant site or region of the country).
- Explain that it is often difficult for high school teachers with heavy responsibilities and class loads to tune in to the needs of individual students. Encourage Allen to meet privately with his biology and history teachers to openly discuss his concerns, and to explore ways to improve his performance in their classes. Be sure he understands that this important step often leads to a much greater level of understanding between the student and teacher. Have Allen and his teachers brainstorm possible solutions to the problems he is experiencing, especially in the area of attention and maintaining his focus.
- Encourage Allen and his teachers to explore how he might use approaches that have worked in the past as guides for future work. For example, his past success with the history map and his interest in art and math might be used to help him plan possible approaches to future history and biology assignments. Again, Allen needs to understand the importance of discussing these potential options with his teachers, well in advance of upcoming projects.
Accommodations and Interventions:
- Help Allen exploit his memory and his artistic skills by showing him mapping and webbing techniques that can help organize details in both biology and history. Encourage him to design his own memory plans, and to think of ways to use his interests and creative talents to organize biology and history information.
- Take advantage of Allen’s interest in literature, reading, and drama by having him research, locate and read biographies, historical events, plays, and descriptions of scientific discoveries that appeal to him and also tie in with the content in his classes.
- Identify a third-party individual, such as a person who shares Allen’s interests and affinities, to help Allen review the progress he has made on his organizational plan (e.g., assignment calendar, notebook organization). Suggest that this review occur biweekly or more frequently. Having someone other than a parent play this support role might reduce some of the tension between Allen and his parents.
- Modify seating in history and biology so that Allen is sitting close to the action in class.
- Use agreed-upon teacher cues and prompts to signal Allen when he needs to re-engage with classroom activities.
- Create a checklist that Allen can use after each class to review how well he focused throughout the class. Have him discuss the findings of this checklist with his organizational manager.
- Suggest that Allen monitor his work at home, setting a timer or alarm clock/watch to sound at equal intervals during his homework time, so that Allen can continually check his attention status and make adjustments when necessary.