The start of the year means high hopes for student success and achievement.
2019 has begun. Like most years, it is filled with high hopes and expectations for student success and achievement. It is a chance for renewal, because, no matter how much a student has struggled in the past, this is a new opportunity. This is the year it will finally come together! As a parent, you know this will happen; you feel it in your heart. Sometimes it does…students acquire those organizational skills, set higher standards for themselves and stay motivated throughout the entire school year.
Why does student motivation stop?
Often though, that motivation begins to erode, and those organizational skills and standards begin to slide. Why is this? What happens? Where does the motivation go? Let’s look to a true story for a clue.
Two Grade 5 classmates, Bobby and Steve, moved to a new school. Both were diligent students who got A’s in math. But soon after the school year began, it was obvious that these young men were behind in math – the standards at the new school were higher.
Bobby got angry and felt it was unfair that he had never been taught some of the skills he needed. Instead of quitting, he was motivated to try harder because of this injustice. He soon mastered the skills, caught up to his classmates, and was once again achieving his customary top grades.
Steve also thought it was unfair. However, he worried that he would not do well, that his classmates would think he was dumb and that his parents would be disappointed. His fear and lack of confidence robbed him of his motivation and he stopped trying. As a result, this former A student stayed behind the class and math became a problem for him. Two kids, both smart, both good math students, both apparently motivated to do well in math – what happened?
Kids must learn how to stay focused on a goal, despite negative feelings.
The only difference between these two young men was that one of them did not understand that he could act to reach his goals despite his feelings of fear, while the other simply ignored those feelings and forged ahead. This is one of the most common challenges students face: the challenge of holding on to their goals despite a flurry of negative feelings. Like most things in life, this is a skill that has to be learned.
This explains why a student who truly wants to do better in school, who wants higher marks and who starts in September determined to do all these things, suddenly seems to run out of gas and lose all that motivation. It can happen because of a careless or inadvertently negative remark made by a teacher (“Anyone who cares about his future would have studied and understood this unit!”) or a jeering taunt made by a fellow student (“You’re so dumb…”) or just an incorrect assumption made by the student (“I’m dumb. Everybody else in this whole class understands this math and I can’t get it at all.”).
That is how it begins. After the initial damage is done, our brain seems to work against us. It looks to verify the judgment suggested by the feeling and we tend to over-react and make wild assumptions about our inadequacies. The feelings that follow are usually negative (“Why bother to study, I’ll never get it anyway”, “School sucks. I can hardly wait until I get out”, “Who needs school anyway?”). This becomes a repetitive, subconscious conversation we have with ourselves, which serves to reinforce our feelings of failure. Motivation disappears, but it doesn’t have to. Students who learn how to distinguish the difference between thoughts and feelings and who learn how to set goals and how to construct plans of action will be able to act despite their negative and draining feelings. Learning to feel and understand one’s feelings without acting on them is possible.
Tips for Parents of Students in Elementary and Junior High
Did you know? Grades 1, 4 and 9 are especially important points at which to measure educational success. Here is an overview of common problems, along with some tips to help your children get off to the right start.
Grade 1 is an exciting experience, but it can also be overwhelming. It may be the first time that children are faced with scholastic performance expectations. They may also have a hard time learning how to focus and integrate information. At the same time, parents may have to cope with separation anxiety if their children do not feel confident and safe in their new environment.
Tips for Grade 1 Parents
- Build your children’s self-esteem and confidence by encouraging them to take “safe risks” and they will tackle Grade 1 with more enthusiasm and less anxiety.
- Read with your children at home and schedule family trips to the library. To positively introduce them to academic performance expectations and to help them master phonics, enroll them in a fun, interactive supplemental reading program.
Grade 4 is a huge adjustment year because students move from activity-oriented school experiences to independent study projects, tests, and stationary workspace. When children enter Grade 3, parents should look ahead and begin preparing their children for Grade 4. Specifically, parents must ensure that their children can read and write simple sentences; know their multiplication tables; and are capable of independent study, since it is assumed that they will know these skills when they enter Grade 4.
Tips for Grade 4 Parents
- Review your children’s work to ensure that they are reading well and are able to write simple sentences. Help them learn their multiplication tables. If they are having difficulty, seek expert help immediately.
- Create a private, quiet workspace for your children and encourage them to keep it neat and orderly. Give them “pretend homework.” Creative writing, art and science projects are fun, stimulating and require independent thought and discipline.
Grade 9 students must deal with brand new academic pressures and expectations that are compounded by the emotional and self-esteem crises of puberty. It is important that parents be supportive and involved in their children’s school and social lives. The volume of work increases dramatically in Grade 9. Students who have not learned effective time management and study skills may feel overwhelmed and lose their scholastic motivation. In turn, this will impact negatively on their high school performance in later years.
Tips for Grade 9 Parents
- Keep a family activity calendar and encourage children to record homework and assignments in a study planner or notebook.
- Chronically messy rooms and notebooks are signs that children have not learned to set priorities and feel their lives are out of control. Consider enrolling them in a Study Skills/Time Management program to rebuild their confidence, enhance their academic abilities and teach new skills and strategies. These skills will benefit them throughout high school, college, or university and into their adult careers.
- Review your children’s work to ensure their grammar and writing abilities are adequate. By Grade 8, students should be able to structure complex thoughts into well-organized stories and essays.
- Encourage critical thinking by asking your children to discuss and critique books, movies, and music.