Use grades to identify trends; missed learning
Dear Dr. Fournier:
Every semester we start school and every semester our son promises that things will be different. He says he is really going to put forth the effort and make good grades. Unfortunately, year after year we believe him. He does actually start each semester with enthusiasm and tries hard. Yet every semester, we see the same pattern. He starts strong but can’t keep it up.
By the time we are aware of what is happening, he is either failing or close to it. We are always forced to bail him out, help him ourselves and get tutors who help him pull out passing grades. The next semester, we start the same song and dance.
How do we stop this never-ending story?
Most children who say they want to do well truly do want to do well – but that doesn’t mean that they know how to do well. Being a student is a job, and unless your son understands how to do this job correctly, then the cycle of optimism and frustration your family experiences at home is destined to continue. It is natural for your well-intentioned son to promise both himself and you to “try harder,” or “do better,” but unless he has a plan, he will be frustrated by what he perceives as failure. This is inevitable if he is going about solving the problem in the same way that he always has, yet expecting different results.
So, what is the problem? Take heart, it is not unique to your son. The problem is that children do not innately know how to keep track of their own progress and therefore usually see their final grades as the only measure of their success or failure. (Parents may be guilty of this, too.) What this means is that the student will allow the full six/nine weeks (or even a semester) to pass before they know how they are doing. By then, they often believe it’s too late to turn their performance around.
Children need to be taught how to track their progress by tracking their grades, and they need to understand that success or failure depends on a variety of factors – not just on a test grade. Test grades are reflections of both how well the teacher has taught the material, and what your child still has left to learn.
Help your son build a process by identifying, step-by-step, exactly what he needs to do to be successful in school. This will give you both the opportunity to be consistently proactive instead of reacting to the lifestyle you’ve become accustomed to.
WHAT TO DO
Work with your son to develop a detailed checklist that will help you keep track of his progress throughout the grading period.
Remember that grades are not the only criteria for success. They are important, to be sure, but more important is ensuring that your child is learning. Give yourself plenty of time to come up with a complete checklist, and be sure to think of things that may have caused setbacks in the past.
You may divide a checklist into the activities that your child must complete at school and those he must be responsible for at home. Here is just one example:
These are just a few of the items that you may choose to include on your own checklist. Be sure to put it in a place where you and your son can review it daily.
Help your son understand that a good grade is the product of a lot of tasks that are monitored and improved over a period of time. By concentrating on the process to get a good grade, your child will learn to focus not just on tests but on building a lifestyle that results in the sustained success that has eluded him.
CONTACT DR. FOURNIER