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What to consider when they say...

Book mark this page... new question and answer every month

“She needs to try harder.” 


What exactly does try harder mean?  How does the teacher know how hard the child is trying?  How does the teacher know when the child should try even harder?  What is the objective measurement for trying harder?  What if the child is trying harder but trying “wrong”?  Will that make things worse? 


When a child is told to try harder, and believes she is already trying as hard as she can, it can be a very frustrating and self-defeating experience.  The awful “Catch 22” is that she doesn’t have a clue about what trying harder means.  Instead, a child will tend to look inward to blame herself.  In most instances, telling a child to try harder is really about questioning the child’s intent and self-worth creating frustration, anxiety, and stress.


It is really not a case of trying harder, but of trying different.  Is there a processing deficit?  Is there a need for a related service?  Is there a need for a specific accommodation or modification that is appropriately and consistently applied?  Is there a need for assistive technology?  The team has to deconstruct the process to find out why the child can’t comprehend what she is reading even when she is told to try harder.  Why the child can’t write legibly even when she is told to try harder.  Why the child can’t sit still even when she is told to try harder.  Once we understand what is going on for the child we will then understand how futile it is to tell her to try harder.  The goal is to help her to try different until she experiences success and mastery of the material or task.


So when you are told, “She needs to try harder.”

 your response could be, “I believe we need to help her to try different.  So let’s figure out what she is not getting, what she needs, and then write an appropriate IEP or 504 plan based on those unique needs.”



“Let him fail.  Once he sees the consequences, he’ll be motivated to improve.”


So how can this possibly make sense?!!  Usually a child is referred for special education or Section 504 because they have been failing.  They have failed more than once.  In fact, it is usually a succession of failures.  So is it really an issue of motivation?  Or is it a lack of appropriate specially designed instruction?  What is the school’s definition of specially designed instruction?  Let’s hope it’s not “let him fail”.


Letting a child fail will not magically induce him to perform.  It would seem that a statement such as this demonstrates an extreme lack of understanding and knowledge about the child’s disability and the express purpose of Section 504 and IDEA.  The child is failing because there is a specific and unique need that is not being met or addressed.  There may be a processing deficit, a need for assistive technology, or a need for an educational strategy to help the child compensate and utilize his strengths.  And consider the fact that due to the disability, the child may not fully comprehend the consequences of failing anyway. 


Letting a child fail without deconstructing the process will only serve to exacerbate the disability, trigger secondary disabilities, lower self-confidence and self-esteem, and inhibit the desire and ability to ask for help.  A child may decide that is it better to figure it out on their own rather then risk the “pain” of asking for help.  Asking for help, to many of these children means being labeled “unmotivated”, “lazy”, “disruptive”.  Their request for help may be continually met with agitated or frustrated responses.  Our children do not need a higher level of anxiety that prevents them from learning and succeeding in school.  The level of stress can be overwhelming for some and is certainly not conducive to successful learning.


The child has an IEP or 504 plan for a reason.  A valid reason.  Schools will take this “let him fail” approach because it points the “finger of accountability” at the child rather than themselves.  You can thank the school for their opinion, however, you’d like the team to explore the specific reasons why the child is still failing.  If the child is getting F’s or 0’s on assignments, but A’s and B’s on tests, then the team has to deconstruct the process to discover the reasons why.  Once the IEP or 504 team does this they are in a better position to offer a viable solution rather than letting the child fail so he can magically acquire motivation. 


It is also of value to ask the team to discuss the definition of specially designed instruction (as per IDEA) and motivation so everyone is on the same page.  The child has an IEP or 504 plan for a reason and needs supports and strategies to succeed.  If experiencing failure was the answer the child would have gotten it the first or second time he failed.



Special education-

specially designed instruction, at no cost to parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability



        Student Motivation To Learn                        

          Motivation to Learn: An Overview




So when you are told, “Let him fail.  Once he sees the consequences, he’ll be motivated to improve.” your response could be, “I believe we need to sit down and deconstruct the reasons why he is continuing to fail with an IEP or 504 plan.  Then we can write and implement an appropriate IEP or 504 plan that really meets his unique needs.”



“Children do well if the can.”  Ross Greene

(c) 2005  Claudia Lowe, B.S.L.J.D.  all rights reserved

Information provided on this site and all other communications produced by Claudia Lowe, J.D., SENC is for educational purposes only and not to be considered legal or medical advice or recommendations.