Margaret is a 10th grader who’s feeling as if she just can’t keep up anymore. By late elementary school Margaret was beginning to feel overloaded by the demands of school, particularly in the reading required for language arts and social studies. She enjoyed math class though, and continued to do well in math throughout elementary school.

For several summers, Margaret’s dad tried to get her to participate in the summer reading contest held by her middle school. The school would provide a list of books that the student would read over the summer and then be quizzed about on a computer. Those students who read and were tested on the most books received prizes and certificates. Margaret told her dad it was a stupid contest and she had better things to do. Eventually, he gave up. What she didn’t tell him was that she was intimidated by the books on the list and thought they would be too hard for her.

Over time, Margaret’s test scores and course grades have declined. She began getting C’s in middle school, even in math class. She was getting more discouraged as well. Now Margaret is getting C’s or D’s in all classes except for music in which she has an A. Margaret loves music class, and has gotten quite good at her instrument, the clarinet. She also enjoys playing in the school band, and learning about composers and conductors. She’s quite good at remembering the composer’s name when she hears a piece of music.

Margaret’s dad thinks she ignores her other classes and only tries when it relates to music. He’s considering not allowing her to be in the band until her grades get better, or having her go to study hall during band practice time. Margaret doesn’t understand why her classes are so hard. She feels like she tries so hard to keep up, sometimes she even reads over things two or three times, but she still either doesn’t understand them or can’t remember them.


  • Has an A in music class
  • Proficient at clarinet
  • Good at remembering composers’ names when she hears their compositions


  • Loves music class
  • Enjoys playing in school band
  • Enjoys learning about composers and conductors

Areas in need of improvement:

  • Feels overloaded by demands of school
  • Intimidated by school reading activities
  • Getting C’s and D’s in most classes
  • Doesn’t understand why her efforts don’t pay off, e.g. reads things over and still doesn’t understand them or can’t remember them

Possible Management Plan:

The first step in management is a discussion with Margaret about the reasons behind some of her difficulties in reading, and the resulting academic struggles. It is important to make Margaret aware of her strengths and areas in need of improvement, as well as to instill a sense of optimism for improvement. Development of a management plan may include a balance of accommodations and interventions, as well as an integration of Margaret’s strengths and affinities.

Also, it may be important to incorporate Margaret’s dad into the management plan. There are indications that he has ‘given up’ on Margaret and she hasn’t been honest with him about her anxieties and difficulties with reading. As Margaret gains more insight into her own strengths and areas in need of improvement, her father can gain new perspective as well. His encouragement may be a powerful tool for instilling optimism in Margaret.

Leveraging Strengths and Affinities:

  • Use Margaret’s strengths in, and love of, music as a motivating factor for experiencing literature. Encourage a subscription to a music magazine; go on regular trips to the bookstore or library to browse novels about musicians, etc. 
  • Use music as a mode for helping Margaret build knowledge, learn content, and become exposed to sophisticated reading materials. Have her read about musical topics she is already familiar with as a way of reviewing or confirming her knowledge, while also building reading abilities. Introduce new content through this familiar medium.

Accommodations and Interventions:

  • Provide Margaret with some basic accommodations in reading assignments to help her experience some success in class and to improve her learning of the content. For example, give her outlines from text book chapters to guide her to important information, perhaps even using partially filled in outlines that she can complete;adjust the amount of reading she is required to do to a more manageable level until her reading abilities improve. 
  • Give Margaret specific guidance in what is expected of her on tests and assignments. For example, instead of just asking Margaret about the author’s intent in a story, provide instruction to her: ‘The next few questions will ask you about the author’s intentions in writing the story. Use what we learned about the author’s feelings about the subject to help you understand her intentions. Use facts in the story to back up your conclusions.’ 
  • Margaret is going to need direct instruction in active reading techniques. This may need to be in the context of one-on-one tutoring sessions to focus on teaching Margaret how to make better use of her reading time and effort. Strategies may include previewing, paraphrasing, differentiating fact from opinion, making inferences, drawing conclusions, factual recall, and using context for comprehending word meanings. 
  • Give Margaret practice following specific strategies when reading. For example, SQ3R (Survey-Question-Read-Recite-Review) is a strategy which applies well to reading and studying content textbooks, and RIDER (Read-Image (make a picture)-Describe-Evaluate (check to make sure image is complete and accurate)-Repeat (with next sentence/paragraph)) is a technique for visualization that may be applied to reading literature, thinking through math or science problems, memorizing historical events, etc. 
  • Provide Margaret with guided practice taking notes from different types of reading materials and in different content areas. For example, in history she may benefit from making timelines, creating cause-effect flow charts, and organizing facts under main ideas or themes; in mathematics, she may benefit from making reference cards with the technical vocabulary words of an upcoming lesson,etc.