Wow are your kids lucky to have you as their teacher! I think your story rings bells for all who read your posting, and I'm sure we've all tried to find ways to bring those struggling kids along (both academically and emotionally). Using the model of action research to try to reach these kids makes a lot of sense. I can't think of anything to add to your list of strategies to try (sorry) but I'm very interested in hearing about how things are going in your classroom. I'm currently taking a course through Boston College on action research and we're beginning an investigation on Monday in the area of reading. From what I've read so far, I'm convinced that action research is the best way to bring about meaningful and positive change in our classrooms. Any data you gather would be helpful for all of us math teachers out there as well as those of us looking for ways to help kids learn in general. I wish I could have been more help, but you sound like you've really got some promising ideas to try. Good luck!