There are several vital ways instructors can help prevent students from becoming “at-risk” – set early expectations for your class, offering study tips for your class and material, schedule accessible office hours, and empathetic listening to students.

Despite these measures, you may find some students that are still at-risk for not completing the course successfully. One of the most critical ways you can quickly identify and help your more at-risk students is to be keen in your observation of student behavior. No matter if you’re teaching a section of fifteen or three hundred students here are three key areas to watch for potentially struggling students.

  1. Attendance

Don’t immediately jump to conclusions about a missed class. At first, give the student the benefit of the doubt, and hopefully, it will be resolved. However, we all know that there are students who will consistently skip class. If the student offers a reason, pay attention. There could be outside factors affecting attendance; there may be health problems or psychological stresses affecting them. Listen and acknowledge what is going on in their lives. Sometimes there may be a way to help them overcome the obstacle, or you can direct them to a resource that can.

If you are aware of a student missing class and it seems out of character for them, do not hesitate to reach out and check on them. College can at times be isolating, particularly for freshman and first-generation college students who maybe be more likely to make up the “at-risk” population. Reaching out to show that someone cares can be the difference in helping someone get back on track.

  1. Grades

A sudden and dramatic change in grades can be an indicator of a student facing obstacles. Generally, this will be one of several factors. It may be that the current unit of work was more intense, or the material more difficult and the student struggling with comprehension. Outside factors such as work, family, additional class projections, etc. could also be putting on strain on the student. No matter the origin, reaching out when you notice a grade drop is critical to helping a student. Catching this sign early enough, when the results are noticeable but before the results are too far gone to be made up, can be tricky. Make sure to set up some type of system for yourself – compare your grades weekly, utilize your online system, like McGraw-Hill Connect, at-risk reports, or schedule 1:1 office hours with any students who perform poorly on exams/tests. Remember the first exam is sometimes a challenge and learning how to test in your class; subsequent exams are where instructors should be the most aware. No matter the system, this early intervention can be the difference between a student passing or dropping a course.

  1. Student feedback

Some courses have writing assignments, other online discussion boards, and many have participation as a requirement of the class. Regardless of the form of communication, listening to students and acknowledging their feedback is crucial to gauge where they stand with the material. This communication provides critical insight into where students stand in your class. Listening to your students can be the most helpful tool in identifying those who are struggling. This can be challenging at times, especially if your class is large. However, whether it is just reviewing the subject or topic before a test or project, or an informal classroom discussion, try to solicit as much feedback from your students as possible. The insights and support you gain can make all the difference to your at-risk and struggling students.