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How Students Can Talk To Teachers To Get Effective Help | Study Tools By Jules

Have you ever asked a teacher for help and they repeat the instructions that they had just given to the entire class? You didn't need a repeat. What you needed was a brand new explanation or a clarification of a specific point. Getting the exact help we need often lies in asking a well-crafted question.

Identify the confusion in the assignment

Before we can ask the teacher a question we should identify what we need. Think beyond, "I need help" or "I don't understand."

What exactly is confusing about the directions?

Do you understand part of the project instructions but not all of them?

Do you feel that part of the directions are incomplete are more information is needed?

Ask yourself these specific questions to narrow down where you need help.

Do you need accommodations to complete the task?

Many students have classroom accommodations documented in a 504 Plan. These could include being allowed to type a report instead of writing it or being given extra time for assignments.

If you have documented accommodations and you think they apply to the current assignment, then please mention this to the teacher. The teacher should already be providing the accommodations for you but sometimes they forget.

You can talk to the teacher one-on-one or send them an email, asking them for the support in your accommodation.

But if you don't have formal accommodations you can still ask for the assignment to be tweaked in a way that fits your learning style. There is no harm in asking - you don't know the answer if you don't ask.

For example, so much schoolwork is on a computer nowadays, but you may prefer doing math problems on paper. You may have a certain way of writing the problems and laying-out your work to create a flow that makes sense for you. Then, you could ask the teacher if you could turn in the work on paper instead of online.

Craft a specific question to ask the teacher

Now that you've thought about where you are stuck and what kind of support you need, you should wrap it all into a question.

"Can I have math problems on paper instead of on the computer? Writing the steps helps me keep track of the work."

"I like creating a story by talking out loud. Writing is hard for you. Can I record my story for you?"

"I understand concepts best when I watch videos about them. Can you send me links of videos to watch on this topic?"

You may have noticed that these were questions combined with some statements. The purpose of the statements is to give context. You are telling the teacher why you need a certain aspect of support in order to be successful. You are demonstrating that you are self-aware and determined to do the work.

How to re-ask the question if the teacher still isn't understanding your perspective

So you've gone through all of the preparation and asked (or emailed) your request for support. And the response from the teacher is not what you expected. Maybe the teacher is still not quite understanding what you need.

This happens to everyone and it's no reflection on you. Miscommunications are a part of daily life. We must not take it personally and try again with a rephrased question or explanation.

For example, it is difficult for you to switch between listening to a lecture and taking notes. You'll need the notes later to study for a test, but when you are in class, your energy is spent on listening to the teacher. You email the teacher later that day and tell him that you like the lecture but that you were not able to take notes. You explain that it's too much for your brain to listen and write but that you do want to study and do well on the test. You ask if the teacher can email you a copy of their lecture notes.

The teacher replies by saying that you should try harder and that taking notes is simple. You may be annoyed or offended but stay focused on what you want - teacher's notes.

Reply and say that for many people that could be true but for you and how your brain works switching your focus rapidly from notes to teacher is inefficient and doesn't allow you to focus on either part well. You end up hearing and understanding 100% of nothing. Explain that your want to understand the material, and it is stored best in your memory by listening to the teacher with all of your focus. Taking notes only gets in the way of that goal, but you recognize that you need the notes to study at home.

By approaching the conversation from this angle you are advocating for yourself, acknowledging how you learn best, and demonstrating that you want to learn and be a successful student.

Enlist the help of parents/caregivers if you're still not getting through to the teacher

Confident and self-aware students can be very successful advocating for their learning needs with teachers. But every once in a while we come across a teacher that thinks their way is best, and they cannot understand why a student needs something different. When this obstacle is encountered I think it's very helpful to enlist the help of your parent, guardian, caregiver, or another teacher whom you trust.

Sometimes having another adult advocate for you is effective. It provides another voice for the teacher to hear - a voice that is diplomatically and factually explaining what you need to succeed as a student.

Finding an advocate other than yourself is not that uncommon. Even adults need advocates and allies in the workplace. The important part is that you and your advocate are united and consistent in your message. The goal is not to win and "be right" but to be understood and gain the tools you need to learn and grow as a student.

Believe in yourself and what you need to drive effective communication. Do not give up but you can take a break if it's exhausting and try again later.

With gratitude,


For more school and study ideas you can find Julie at I have a free copy of Kids Talk to Teachers images (jpeg) that you can download under my Printables section and save for inspiration in asking your own questions.

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