How is the school year going for you and your family so far? It’s around this time of year that assignments can pile up, calendars can fill up, and stress can build for the entire family. Add a child’s disorganization or poor time management to the mix, and things quickly go from bad to worse.
That’s why I wanted to take some time today to offer some simple executive function hacks that can help your child get organized and stay focused for a successful, stress-free year. Of course, every child is different, so first I’ll help you identify your child’s “homework personality.” Then, I’ll share a tip that will work best for your child!
Read on to discover four homework personalities and a simple but powerful executive function hack to help each one.
Download Focus Apps for Tick Tock Tommy
Have you ever checked in on your child who is quietly doing homework in their room… only to discover he hasn’t actually begun? “What have you been doing in here? You still haven’t started your homework?!”
If so, you may have a Tick Tock Tommy. This is a child who simply has a quieter internal clock. He can take a break to check his phone or wander into the kitchen for a snack, and before he knows it, a full hour has passed!
Instead of policing little Tommy every minute, try downloading an app designed to help him focus. For example, SelfControl (an app for Macs) and StayFocused (a Google Chrome plugin) allow you to block distracting websites for just a set period of time.
If the phone’s a distraction, download the Forest app. Your child will be able to set a timer for the exact amount of time he needs to focus. If he leaves his phone alone for the entire countdown, a virtual tree will grow, but if he stops the timer early, the tree will die. Kids love using this app over time to grow an entire forest of trees!
Plan Ahead with Last Minute Lucy
Has your child ever put off a major project until the night before it’s due—only to plunge your entire family into a frenzy as you try to knock it out together into the wee hours of the morning?
If so, you may have a Last Minute Lucy. And you need to hear this: It’s very unlikely that your child is putting off work because she’s lazy. Instead, she’s probably overwhelmed. Unsure of how to break long-term assignments into manageable steps, she simply puts things off and puts things off until everything comes to a head at the last possible minute.
Little time management hacks can make a big difference for your Last Minute Lucy. For example, work with your child to plan ahead on a whiteboard divided into the days of the week. When a big assignment is due, help her break the tasks down into individual steps, estimate how long they will take, and schedule them out on her weekly whiteboard “planner” (or, for high schoolers with even bigger projects, a paper planner or calendar app).
Have Weekly Check-Ins with Hot Headed Harry
Homework time starts easily enough. But as soon as you try to ask your child how he’s doing or offer to help, your well-intentioned efforts quickly escalate into huge arguments. Tempers rise. He yells. You yell. All peace is lost in the house, and guilt and frustration quickly set in.
Sound familiar? If your attempts to help always seem to push your child’s buttons, you might have a Hot Headed Harry. But that doesn’t mean you have to check out and leave your child to figure things out on his own!
Instead, tell your child you’re going to have a check-in every single week to simply talk. This shouldn’t be during homework time, when there’s pressure to complete an assignment or figure out a solution that very second. Instead, maybe it’s a walk around the neighborhood on Sunday evenings or while going out for pizza on Fridays.
Use this time to ask your child how things are going—and how they feel about how things are going. Kids may resist your questions at first, but as they get used to the routine, they can come to see this as a low-pressure opportunity to talk things through with you. And you can use this as an opportunity to gauge what kind of help your child might need to succeed in the classroom and beyond.
Schedule Clean Sweeps with Backpack Bonnie
Your child’s teacher reaches out to ask why she hasn’t turned in her assignment. Perplexed, you ask your daughter if she has the rubric. She digs to the bottom of her backpack… un-crumples and re-crumples papers… and finally unearths the important piece of paper that’s been wedged beneath her books for weeks.
It sounds like you have a Backpack Bonnie. The mess is getting out of control, and if nothing changes, her grades will soon suffer. One simple way to set her on the right path is to implement weekly, family-wide clean sweeps. At a set time each and every week, everyone in your family will drop what they’re doing and take 15 minutes to do a “clean sweep” of the papers that have accumulated in the past week.
While Bonnie tackles her backpack, you can tackle your kitchen counter or home office to demonstrate that you’re all in this together. All papers can be organized into three piles: Keep (for papers that you need on hand for now), Archive (for papers to file away that same day), and Toss (for papers that can be thrown away). Make this simple, weekly practice part of your routine to keep the whole family organized and on track for a successful week.
Need More Help? We’re Here for You!
I remember trying to share some of these hacks with my own child when he was in school. No matter how patient and clear I tried to be, my advice always fell on deaf ears. When I finally got a tutor for my child—a tutor who shared the exact same techniques I’d tried to show him—he came home all excited to show me his new systems. Go figure.
If your child resists your efforts to help, know you’re not alone. I’ve been there! And that’s why I’ve created a special Executive Function Coaching program to connect your child with an expert tutor who can coach her to find and implement systems that will work for her… without any work on your part! Just click below to learn more and request your Executive Function Coach today.
Speaking of focusing on results over learning, this week I want to share a short excerpt from Getting Past Procrastination that addresses how you can work with your child to create a better learning environment.
Whenever our kids think we only care about grades or a completed assignment, they will be tempted to take shortcuts. For example, they may fill in random answers or write sloppy sentences just to get credit for an assignment that’s being graded for completion. But once they leave school, no one will ever give them credit for doing something at a low standard just because it’s done…
Even kids who do not take shortcuts (or escalate into cheating) may rely too much on friends to help them get their work done or take other shortcuts-like cramming-that will prevent them from learning and growing the way they should. We want our kids to know that we care a lot more about the learning process than we care about every little grade. There are many pursuits in life that don’t always lead to the precise results we might have hoped for, but that doesn’t mean the process isn’t worthwhile.
So what does this mean in practice?
One way to create that “ideal” learning environment at home is to ask the right questions.
Unless our kids are ready and willing to make changes to their homework and study habits, no matter how hard you push, nothing meaningful is going improve until they take it upon themselves to do those things independently.
Instead, we recommend asking questions.
Asking questions to spark thinking is far more effective than “telling” someone what they need to do, but they need to be framed in the right way.
Here are a few ways to do that:
You can find more on this “powerful questions” process here.
“The purpose of education is not to sort kids-it’s to grow kids. Teachers need to coach and mentor, but with grades, teachers turn into judges.”
That’s a quote from this Edutopia piece, which questions the value of letter grades as we look towards how we might assess students differently in the future.
Although it’s unlikely your child will be bringing home a letter-grade-less report card at the end of the quarter, the authors bring up some important questions about where our focus should lie with our kids’ education.
Some highlights from the article:
- “The old models of student assessment are out of step with the needs of the 21st-century workplace and society, with their emphasis on hard-to-measure skills such as creativity, problem solving, persistence, and collaboration.”
- “More than 70 U.S. institutions of higher learning have weighed in, signing formal statements asserting that competency-based transcripts will not hurt students in the admissions process.”
- “The new [competency-based] transcripts get kids focused on doing their personal best on meeting or exceeding standards rather than getting a better grade than the kid next to them… There is no longer a ‘gentleman’s C’.'”
Now, these ideas have not been widely put into practice as of yet. However, right here in Fairfax and surrounding counties, elementary kids no longer get letter grades (they get 1, 2, 3, 4, etc.).
One counterpoint to this movement: paired with very little homework and not much work coming home, parents don’t always know how their kids are doing. A common theme we see is that they assume all is well until theirchild reaches middle school, where they’re often surprised by the increased workload and long assignments. This makes the transition much more difficult.
More practically though, it may be worth thinking about your child’s relationship with grades along similar lines.
Are they motivated by the expectations of grades to achieve high marks?
Or do you feel like they’re led away from productive learning?
I’m curious to hear your perspective.
We all know that an “A” is outstanding and an “F” means failure…
But what do you do if your child gets a “C”?
Well, it used to be, back in the good ole’ days when we were growing up (and used to walk to and from school in the snow… uphill both ways) that a “C” was “average.”
Clearly, that’s no longer the case.
As we’ve covered before, because of grade inflation an “A” is the most awarded grade in the United States. To recap, as of 2016, among high school students who have a C or higher GPA:
- 47% of students receive “A”s
- 44% of students receive “B”s
- And only about 9% of students receive “Cs”
That means that on average, a “C” means your child is struggling in class. They do not have mastery of the material, and are likely falling further and further behind their classmates.
Additionally, if the “C” is in a cumulative class like math, a math-based science, or a foreign language, where one skill builds upon another, it’s especially hard for your child to dig him or herself out of a hole.
So here’s a quick breakdown of how to interpret your child’s grades:
- If they received an “A” chances are they’re in good shape in that class, unless you have reason to assume otherwise.
- If they received a “B” take some time to ask them about it. It’s worth digging a bit deeper into how they did on specific tests and assignments. For example, if they did exceptionally well on assignments, but poorly on exams, it may be an indication that they haven’t fully mastered the material, despite their diligence.
- If they received a “C” or below, action needs to be taken. We give some tips below on how to handle this, but it’s safe to assume that they’re behind and need to improve.
Now on to the “hard” part – The Do’s and Don’ts of report card reactions
Back-to-school Day Two is in the books, and whether or not your kids are still stuck in the “Holiday Haze,” classes are right back up to speed with 2nd quarter quizzes, tests, and project due dates right around the corner…
Now, before we left off in December we talked about how January can become an “issue,” especially if your child’s backpack has collected dust for the full 16 days since they left class before break.
Now, instead of just outlining our recommendations, we took it a step further and asked 3 of our top tutors (with an elementary, middle [read it here!], and high school focus [read it here]) about their tips for handling January in the best way possible.
Let’s jump in!
First, we asked one of our top Elementary tutors, Marla Merrill about her recommendations for getting younger students back into “school mode” after the long break.
What’s so hard for elementary school kids about January?
Marla: After having a two-week break from school, it’s often difficult for elementary students to get back in the swing of things knowing that they still have half of the year ahead of them.
How do you approach this with your students?
Marla: My approach for this is to do engaging activities, bring in creativity and fun, play a few more games just to make it as engaging as I possibly can. I also like to remind them that spring break is only a few months away and that they just need to hang in there.
What are some things that you’re doing now with your kids to make January less overwhelming?
Marla: I’m helping my kids by making a short-term plan of attack with their workload, listening to their goals, and focusing on the immediate, not the long-term. When they get too involved in worrying about what’s happening later on, then a lot of times they lose focus on what’s really important, which is what’s happening right now.
What can parents of elementary schoolers do to help?
Marla: I think the best thing that parents can do is be encouraging and understanding. Be cognizant of the pressures on your child and the potential for getting overwhelmed or burnt out.
Spending extra time with them reading books, playing cards, and doing things that can still be educational but are more focused on fun, is a great way to spend more time with your kids, take off some of the stress, and also bond together.
Need some extra help getting your elementary schooler up to speed this month?
Click the link below and send us a message, and we’d be happy to help.
In previous posts, I’ve outlined a few trends we’re seeing with grades and testing. And all indications point to the fact that otherwise smart and hard-working kids just aren’t testing as well as they used to.
Additionally, as much as we want things like Test Optional to continue to catch on so that standardized tests are de-emphasized on college applications, we’re still left with the fact that test scores are a big part of what get kids in the door.
So what can we do about it?
One problem we see with the students we work with is not how much time they spend preparing (which can be significant), but what they’re doing with that study time.
In short: they may be studying hard, but they’re forgetting what they study.
This is because of a particular fact about how memory works that most students aren’t aware of.
This is what’s represented in the Forgetting Curve, and it illustrates how information is lost over time if no effort is made to retrieve it.
Image via qz.com
If you’ve ever wondered why back before we had smartphones you could remember the phone number of every one of your close friends and family members… but now have to search through your contact list to make sure you have your parent’s phone number right, this is why.
Fortunately, there’s a strategy your kids can employ to avoid this issue and put their study time to better use.
It’s called Spaced Repetition, and it helps students remember more by re-introducing the information already learned at an interval that coincides with the Forgetting Curve (just before you’re about to forget).
If you’re having a hard time remembering something, you may need to review it daily at first.
But then as you get better, that interval increases to every few days… then weekly… then once a month, and so on.
Here’s a great video on how to put this strategy to good use, along with some apps and tools your child can use to put all of that hard work to better use and start improving their test performance.
It’s about this time of year when subject struggles (issues with one or two classes despite good performance elsewhere) start to really set in for kids who have fallen behind.
We see this all the time with the students we work with, but I also know from personal experience!
Back when I was in school, it was smooth sailing until I hit eighth-grade algebra, when I discovered what it meant to be a “Swiss Cheese Kid.”
I had holes in my knowledge because I couldn’t consistently focus on what the teacher was saying. In a cumulative subject like math, this meant I began to fall further and further behind.
You may find that your child’s “Swiss Cheese” isn’t all that porous and he’s just missing a few pieces of the puzzle. Maybe he just had a minor clash with a topic or a teacher and simply needs to spend some time revisiting that unit or assignment. Or maybe he’s just encountered some difficult material that he’s avoiding because he’s not sure how to approach it.
In these cases, a quick intervention (help them get started, ask questions, direct them to helpful websites) from Mom or Dad may be just what the doctor ordered.
When a child’s struggle with content goes beyond the short term issues described above, it is important to intervene as soon as possible.
The first option is to provide this extra help yourself. Start by assessing where the gaps are in her knowledge and begin offering extra practice to fill them in.
But keep in mind it is very common for kids to push back against receiving help from their parents, so you will need to be prepared for resistance to your efforts. Kids, like all of us, don’t like being told what to do, especially by their parents.
The other option is to bring in outside help (like what our subject tutors focus on at Educational Connections). So whether it’s with us, or another form of outside help, don’t hesitate to get the ball rolling.
Do, however, talk through it with your child first and look for someone experienced not just in the subject in question, but also at identifying gaps in learning and putting together a workable plan.
Whether it’s reading comprehension, speed with basic math, or frustration with more advanced classes, our hand-selected subject experts quickly target the biggest problem areas and work with your child to close the gap in understanding.
We get them back on track to improve confidence and decrease anxiety. Tackle those subject struggles before they snowball into a less-than-stellar post-winter break test grade. Click the button below and see if EC is right for you?
“I wanted you to know how pleased we have been with your services! Our daughter has improved her grade so much in Algebra. Karen has been really good for her and our daughter has been able to understand the materials.”~ Sally, EC Subject Tutoring Parent
Along with the test grades your child’s teachers have passed back over the last few weeks, may have come the following opportunity:
To retake those tests and try to improve the second time around.
On the face of it, this seems like an excellent policy.
It gives kids who might not be the best test takers the opportunity to accurately demonstrate what they know.
And to the extent that retakes serve that purpose, I’m all for them.
In practice though, I believe retakes have had negative consequences on both our student’s study skills and their preparedness for standardized tests.
First, they inflate grades… and our student’s perception of how well they know the material they’ve learned.
The most awarded grade in high school and in college continues to hold steady at an “A,” three times more common than it was in 1960.
This on its own wouldn’t be a problem, if we also saw the same trend with SAT scores. Unfortunately, that’s not the case (average SAT scores fell over the last decade).
While retake policies vary, most allow an averaging of the first and second test scores, with some allowing a complete replacement.
That means kids who would originally have received a 60 (and maybe take a hard look at their study routine) can retake and end up with a B or an A.
Second, they affect our student’s ability to take standardized tests.
We receive calls from parents almost every day with stories of students who have amazing grades (sometimes well above a 4.0 with advanced credits), yet unexpectedly low SAT or ACT scores.
These are diligent, hard working kids who care deeply about their grades.
They’re doing the homework, they’re participating in class, they’re working hard on group projects, but they’re not always doing well on tests.
So they retake the test and bring up their grades, but don’t address the core problem: they weren’t ready when the test was given.
As the author of this Washington Post piece puts it:
“When my son told me he’d just retake his math test if he did poorly, we had a long discussion about what it means to be organized… If he studies and does poorly, that is one thing. But falling back on a retake… isn’t going to cut it.”
So is the answer abolishing the retake policy?
No, but I do think we have to make sure we’re preparing kids in the first place with the study skills they need.