Spring Fever Solutions: Overcoming Low Motivation and Missed Assignments

Spring is in the air. Flowers are blooming, birds are chirping…and students are losing all motivation at the end of a long school year! If your child is losing track of assignments or forgetting to do them in the first place, you’re not alone. In fact, we’re having parents left and right ask us how they can get their kids over the finish line.

In this blog, we’re going to look at why spring fever is at an all-time high this year. (Of course, it’s not a surprise after the year we’ve had, but the last reason might really surprise you.) Then we’re going to share a simple solution you can use to get your child back on track without causing any more tension in your relationship. 

5 Reasons Spring Fever Is at an All-Time High

Every year, we see students struggle to stay organized and on track as the weather warms and summer vacation comes into view. And whether or not a child has good grades typically has very little to do with it. That’s because missed assignments and low motivation are more often rooted in executive functioning challenges than academic struggles. 

Let’s look at five reasons spring fever is at an all-time high this year:

  1. Virtual Learning Burnout – Kids (and their parents) are just plain “zoomed” out. After more than a year of virtual learning and little to no in-person contact with teachers, many students feel unmotivated.
  2. Isolation and Grief – We’ve lost a lot this year. Some students have lost loved ones to COVID-19. All students have been grieving their previously normal social lives. It’s a lot to manage as a young child.
  3. Mental Health Challenges – Depression and anxiety are at an all-time high in young people. This can make it hard for even the best and brightest students to stay motivated and complete assignments.
  4. Distractions at Home – Whether it’s siblings on their own Zoom calls or the draw of their favorite video game, there are a lot of distractions at home that don’t exist in the traditional classroom. This puts kids’ executive functioning skills to the test in a very challenging way.
  5. Executive Functioning Weaknesses – Executive functioning refers to the soft skills required to manage time, organize assignments, track progress, and so on. These skills don’t come naturally to most students, but they can be taught and learned. No matter how strong of a student your child may be, executive functioning becomes more important with each passing year (and into adulthood!) as the demands of school increase.

We don’t want to gloss over how overwhelming and difficult this list feels. Parenting is never easy, but parenting isolated kids in a pandemic is an especially heavy burden. If your child is struggling with mental health or isolation, we don’t want to over-simplify the solution. He or she may need extra help from a caring professional.

But if your child mostly is doing well but simply can’t seem to stay organized and keeps forgetting assignments – strengthening their executive functioning skills can go a long way. That’s where our simple “one thing” solution can come in handy.

The “One Thing” Solution

As an adult, when you have a lot on your mind, you probably create a to-do list. Whether you have a favorite app or simply scribble notes-to-self on a napkin, to-do lists are the go-to solution for many adults. They’re not, however, the best option for a student with spring fever. When kids are facing the challenges outlined above, a to-do list can feel more overwhelming than helpful.

That’s why we recommend the “one thing” solution instead. We simply ask kids, “What’s the one subject that’s most important to you right now?” Then we can say, “Ok, looking at that one subject, what’s the one assignment that, if you completed it, your grade would improve and you’d feel a whole let better?”

For most kids, taking this “one thing” approach feels far more doable than a laundry list of items to check off. And it can be applied to many different responsibilities. For example, many students find the college application process to be intimidating. You can break it down by asking, “Looking at the common app, what’s the one thing that, if we got this done, you’d feel very accomplished this week?”

Identifying and completing one valuable task can give students a feeling of accomplishment and build a sense of momentum that carries them through other tasks, too. For kids who feel tired and overwhelmed, this “one thing” approach gives a sense of control and relief while still helping them tackle some tasks.

Make Strides This Summer

Have you ever had your car battery die in a parking lot? Oftentimes, you get someone to kickstart your car so you can get to your next destination, but you still may need a new battery to keep your car running into the future. The “one thing” solution is kind of like a kickstart. It can help you get your child across the finish line of this long year, but they may need more support to strengthen their executive functioning skills.

Right now, many schools and teachers are more lax about kids completing assignments because they understand how trying this year has been. In the fall, however, we expect standards to raise once more and kids who struggle with executive functioning may find the transition difficult—unless they prepare over the summer.

No matter how strong your child’s grades are, they need to master executive functioning. If they struggle with organization, time management, and self-motivation, this summer is the ideal time to improve without all the pressure of normal schoolwork. Better executive functioning skills will not only serve them well next year but for the rest of their lives.

This summer, we’re offering executive functioning coaching for all ages. As always, we’ll cater each one-on-one tutoring session to your child. If they have summer assignments, we can use those as a framework for practicing important skills. If not, we’ll create fun science projects with them as a no-stress way to learn those skills. Either way, we make it fun and easy for your child to make strides this summer. 

To learn more about how our summer programs can help your family, click here or schedule a free consultation with us here. We’re here for you!

Back to School After COVID-19: 3 Tips for Hybrid Learning

It’s been twelve months since COVID-19 shut down our schools and pushed us all to virtual learning. After a very, very long year, it looks like Fairfax County Public Schools are finally heading back to school this month! Students are excited to see their friends, interact with their teachers face-to-face, and reclaim some sense of normalcy. While we’re all looking forward to this big step in that direction, hybrid learning will in many ways represent another “new normal” with its own set of challenges.

In today’s blog, I want to help you set your family up for success with hybrid schooling. Check out these three tips to go “back to school” the right way, then share this blog with a fellow parent who is counting down the days until that first school drop-off!

#1: Review Your Systems

No matter how your child learns—in-person, virtual, or hybrid—there are always due dates, assignments, and resources to keep organized. For many of us, the switch from in-person to virtual schooling last year required new systems for keeping things straight. The transition to hybrid learning will likely require further adjustments to your routine.

Take some time now to review your child’s systems for keeping track of assignments and due dates. When information is communicated both in-person and online, students will need a plan for keeping everything organized. Tools like Google Calendar, the DayBoard app, or even an old-school whiteboard can help your child track assignments and due dates in this new season. Once hybrid schooling begins, you may make additional tweaks as you figure out what works for your child and family, but go ahead and get some sort of systems in place as a starting point now.

#2: Have a Launching Pad

Before we went to online learning, we often recommended families create a “launching pad” for each child. This is a place, often a basket or cubby by the front door, where kids can put everything they need for school. The night before school, your child can place their school supplies, sports gear, and musical instruments in their launching pad. This cuts down on those early-morning frantic searches and the inevitable texts about forgotten “must-haves” as soon as you get to work.

When families stopped leaving the house for school (or much of anything else, really), there wasn’t as much need for a launching pad. With the move to hybrid schooling, however, it’s time to bring this routine back! Each night, encourage your child to gather everything they’ll need for the next day and put it in a designated “launching pad.” Doing this daily, regardless of whether the next day is virtual or in-person, will help your child stay organized and cut down on the back-and-forth confusion of a hybrid schedule.

#3: Work Ahead of Due Dates

Working ahead of due dates is a good practice no matter what, but it’s especially wise if your child is on block scheduling for hybrid school. We recommend students start assignments the day they’re assigned rather than the night before they’re due. That way, if there’s a question, your child has time to ask it in-person at school—especially if they only see their teacher in person once a week!

Working ahead like this can cut down on late-night homework stress, last-minute emails to the teacher, and incomplete or incorrect assignments. But we know this is easier said than done, especially if your child is a procrastinator by nature! Remember, we’re here to help.

Extra Support with Hybrid Schooling

Hybrid schooling requires strong executive functioning skills like time management and organization. These skills are critical to succeeding in school and life, but they must be learned! Of course, many students push back at their parents’ attempts to help in this key area. That’s where our expert coaches come in.

Our Executive Functioning coaches can help your child work independently and master those important skills. Click here to learn more and take our simple yes/no quiz to see if this program is right for your family!

Register Now!

The Real Reason Your Child Procrastinates

They procrastinate getting ready, then walk out the door without their soccer cleats. They procrastinate studying, and no one knows they need help until the bad grade comes back on a big test. They procrastinate on a project, and the whole family suffers through a stressful late night before the due date.

As a parent, you’d love to help your child conquer their procrastination tendencies, but you can’t do that until you understand the underlying causes that drive the bad habit. In today’s blog, I want to help you understand why kids really procrastinate. This information will equip you to instill a sense of responsibility in your child—and regain some order and peace in your home along the way!

The Real Reason Kids Procrastinate

Before we dive into why kids struggle with procrastination and disorganization, let’s debunk some myths. No, you haven’t failed them as a parent. No, they don’t have insurmountable personality flaws. No, they’re not necessarily lazy or bored or overwhelmed. The problem isn’t a reflection of their character or your parenting. It’s simply a sign that their executive functioning skills need further development.

Harvard University defines executive functioning skills as “the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. Just as an air traffic control system at a busy airport safely manages the arrivals and departures of many aircraft on multiple runways, the brain needs this skill set to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and control impulses.”

The good news is that these processes and skills can be taught and learned. Your child, who is continually forgetting everything from homework assignments to marching band instruments, can grow and improve. Don’t lose hope!

The Eight Executive Functioning Skills

Experts have identified eight executive functioning skills students need in order to succeed in school, work, and life. Understanding these key skills is the first step in helping your child improve their ability to manage their time, assignments, and goals independently:

  1. Inhibition is the ability to inhibit or stop distractions and impulses that can derail focus.
  2. Initiation is the ability to get started, especially when you don’t want to or when a task feels overwhelming.
  3. Shifting is the ability to “go with the flow” and recognize when things are out of one’s control.
  4. Emotional Control is the ability to process big feelings realistically and effectively.
  5. Working Memory is the ability to use visuals to track what one needs to remember or complete.
  6. Planning and Organization is the ability to think beyond one day and plan out long-term assignments.
  7. Materials Organization is the ability to keep digital files and paperwork organized and accessible.
  8. Self-Monitoring is the ability to accurately assess one’s performance and status.

As you read through that list, you may be able to identify some skills as harder or easier for your child. Recognizing areas of difficulty will help you know which skills your child needs to strengthen to improve their overall executive functioning.

How to Strengthen Executive Functioning Skills

Executive functioning skills are just that: skills. They can be learned, just like dribbling a basketball or solving math problems with long division. Yes, some of these abilities will come more naturally to some children than others, but nearly everyone can learn and strengthen these skills with guidance.

At Educational Connections, our executive functioning coaches help students learn and grow with…

  • Tools and Strategies – Students can use many different systems and strategies to stay organized, manage their time, and track their assignments. Our executive functioning coaches help students learn to identify, customize, or develop systems that fit their personality and needs.
  • Routines and Practice – Executive functioning skills take practice! Our coaches help students get into a rhythm of practicing critical skills daily and weekly so they can grow in confidence and independence.
  • Outside Support – Many students need outside support and accountability while strengthening these skills. Children often balk at their parents’ attempts to help but embrace the guidance of other adults. (Don’t take it personally—their resistance to you is a normal part of growing up!) Our coaches can provide that third-party support as students gain independence.

If your child struggles with executive functioning, we can help!

Our executive functioning coaches are trained experts who can help your child grow in these critical areas. With the help of our coaches and convenient online tutoring options, your child can grow in confidence, independence, and responsibility. (And your entire family can enjoy a more predictable and organized routine!) Click below to get started with a free consultation today.

Schedule a Consult

FCPS Special Education Conference 2019

In case you’re interested, I’ll be presenting at the FCPS Special Education Conference at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, VA next Saturday, April 6th. Among the lineup of other great topics and speakers, my presentation will cover:

Executive Functioning Strategies Children and Teens Need During the Pivotal Transition Years

(Session 1 from 10:10am-11:10am)

For many students, executive function skills such as organization, focus, and planning ahead are a real challenge. In this interactive workshop, learn how parents can boost EF SKILLS, instill study habits to spark motivation and most importantly, open the lines of communication.

You can register to attend through the FCPS website here if you’re interested.

Hope to see you there!

The Do’s and Don’ts of report card reactions

Now that we have a perspective on how to interpret the grades that your child comes home with, the next question is:

How should you react?

If your child comes home with good grades…

…it’s often a parent’s natural reaction to say things like: “Wow, that’s awesome! You’re just so smart. I always knew you were a natural at math.”

Nice Work!

However, this type of praise may do more harm than good. Instead, focus on praising effort, because it’s something kids feel like they can control (unlike their intelligence or natural abilities). Also, though it is indeed time to celebrate good grades as a victory, keep in mind that it’s possible to go overboard with rewards and incentives.

If your child comes home with a bad grade…

First things first, spend the time to figure out what’s going on. There are usually one of two reasons for bad grades.

Reason One: They don’t have mastery of the content.

This means that even though they do the homework, they do extra credit, and they turn things in on time, they’re not “getting” the material. They’re very organized, but they don’t do well on tests, especially unit tests and midterms

tests that cover material over a longer period of time.

If this is the case, your child may not be absorbing the class content

appropriately, and might need to work on their study skills.

Alternatively, despite their best efforts, they may need some one-on-one help from you, a teacher, or a subject tutor who can help bring them up to speed.

Reason Two: They have difficulty with organization and executive functions.

These are usually the kids that get great test scores, but don’t turn in their homework. Their projects are often late. They seem disorganized. They don’t know when things are due.

For students who fall into this category, it’s usually difficulty with executive functions and/or lack of organization skills that’s causing their low grade, not content mastery.

If this is the case, your child may need some work on their routines and habits both in school and at home, and could benefit from working with an Educational Coach.

Once you’ve determined which camp your child is a part of, it’s time to start looking forward rather than dwelling on what happened in the past.

It can be tough

Our natural reaction as a parent is to say:

“Well, what could you have done differently?”

or

“You know, you should’ve done this or you should have done that.”

Instead of looking back, look forward and say:

“You know what? I can tell that you’re disappointed. Now that you know what material is covered and you know how your teacher teaches, what might you do going forward?”

That’s a better question.

Finally, if you’re looking for a comprehensive guide to handling poor grades, I highly recommend you give our full post on this subject a read:

Read the Full Practical Guide to Grades for Parents

Adopting The Principle of Practice

Would you prepare for a road race just by studying a map of the course you had to run?

What about getting ready for a violin recital by just looking at the sheet music?

Of course not!

But that’s exactly what kids are doing when they study for tests by rereading.

At the root of the problem, far too many kids think about test preparation in very vague terms, rather than seeing it as a concrete set of tasks. This makes studying seem complicated and overly-difficult.

Instead, how would you actually prepare for the race I just mentioned?

You might run several times a week to build up your endurance. You might mix in some sprinting to build up your speed. You might walk the course ahead of time so that you didn’t have to think too much about where to turn, or what path to follow on race day.

And for the violin recital?

As it turns out, that’s exactly the kind of preparation that our kids need for tests. They need a defined practice regimen that goes beyond just familiarizing them with the information.

They need to practice actually doing what the test will ask them to do.

Once kids are in the mindset of practicing for a test rather than just looking over class materials, the steps they need to prepare become much clearer.

This is an excerpt adapted from my new book Getting Past Procrastination.

Why Is Math So Hard? School Subjects Where Falling Behind Spells Real Trouble

why is math so hard image 1The question “why is math so hard?” is one we come across so often with the parents and students we work with, it’s become almost a given. We hear things like:

“My son just doesn’t seem to ‘take’ to math. He’s just like his mom.”

“Why is it that even when my daughter really ‘buckles down’ and tries to catch up in Algebra, she still does poorly on quizzes and exams? But then she can turn around, spend a weekend with her history textbook, and ace her essays and tests?”

“It seems like ever since they started algebra, he’s been struggling and hasn’t been able to ‘get it’ no matter how hard he tries.”

But what most people don’t realize is, although math may present some specific difficulties for some children, most of these questions aren’t actually about math at all, but rather any of the school subjects that build on each other cumulatively.

With these types of classes, because each topic builds on the last (like layering bricks), they’re very unforgiving if your child starts to fall behind. And if you’re not on top of it, a “C” on a quiz or two can quickly snowball into a string of C’s on their next report card, or more importantly, a lack of understanding of those topics and a permanent aversion towards them for the rest of their time in school.

Now don’t worry, it’s not all gloom and doom if your child finds themselves behind in these subjects. In this post we’ll cover exactly which subjects you do need to watch out for, how to know when your child is truly struggling, and when you should step in to get them some extra help.

Why is math so hard? What most people think the problem is (and what’s really going on)

When a student continues to struggle in a complex, cumulative topic like math, language, or some of the more advanced sciences (physics, chemistry), we tend to think a few things right off the bat:

  • Maybe they just don’t have the “math gene,” I certainly didn’t
  • Maybe their teacher is just going too fast for them
  • Maybe they’re just more “right-brained” and don’t find math or science interesting

And to some extent, those things can be true.

why is math so hard image 2

In 2005, Gallup conducted a poll that showed math as the subject students found the least interesting and most challenging across the board. These students found math to be the least intrinsically motivating, either because they never found it interesting to begin with, or because they developed that attitude over time.

But apart from genetic pre-dispositions, which may preclude students from pursuing a career as a mathematician or PhD chemist, most likely this lack of interest and motivation is coming from somewhere else. Let’s dig a little deeper.

The Swiss Cheese Problem

It was 1983, and there I was sitting in my 8th grade algebra class at Hoover Middle School in Indialantic, Florida. I look up at the board and I see yet another equation, and my neck starts to get stiff, and my shoulders get tense, and I thought to myself:

“I’m never going to learn this”

But I really wanted to. I was sitting in the front row of the class, talking myself into learning. However, inevitably within a few minutes I was off daydreaming about something else as my teacher droned on and on and on.

And when I would go home to do my homework, I didn’t really know what I was doing. It started off where I would do most of it, but maybe leave a few questions blank. But then slowly but surely that turned into: I only did about half of the homework questions. And then after a few weeks, not much of it at all.

And what happens when you aren’t really doing the homework?

(1) You don’t get any of the extra practice, which means
(2) You don’t know what’s going on in class the next day when you move on to more complicated problems, which means
(3) You’re even further behind when you go to do the next set of homework problems…

And on, and on, until that unit test grade smacks you in the face with a C or a D, and your motivation continues to dwindle.

This was all a complete surprise to my parents and teachers, because for all intents and purposes I was the model student. I always came to class, sat in the front, and acted as though I was paying attention.

why is math so hard image 3

But behind the scenes, my understanding of what was going on in these cumulative classes looked more like “Swiss Cheese:” I had some of the pieces put together, enough to struggle through at first. But there were holes in my learning and those accumulate over time.

This was my issue with math, and it’s the same issue we see over and over with the students that we help.

School subjects that are cumulative are like building a brick wall

Math, the languages, and many of the sciences are cumulative: if you don’t learn the fundamentals, you’ll continue to be more and more confused, and fall further and further behind as the class progresses forward.

This was my problem in algebra class. But you can see this problem happening with far earlier than that. Take fractions, for example.

If your child has difficulty understanding fractions, they may be able to remember a few simple concepts like:

1/4 = 2/8 or 1/6 + 5/6 = 1

But if when it comes to adding fractions with different denominator (e.g. 1/4 + 2/7) they don’t grasp the method, then what happens when they get to more complicated arithmetic problems like this:

102/7 + 25/4

A gap in understanding appears.

As these gaps accumulate, it becomes harder and harder to fill them in, and more unlikely that you will be able to fully grasp algebra or calculus later on. If a student becomes discouraged at an early age and it is not remediated quickly, then it is probably that the student will become disillusioned with the subject entirely.

why is math so hard image 4

It’s like building a brick wall: if your foundation is weak, whatever you stack on top of it is going to be unstable, and quickly be reduced to rubble if put under scrutiny.

Cumulative vs. non-cumulative school subjects

Now the story can be much different for subjects like english and history. If your son or daughter struggles with the “Hamlet” unit in english class, or misses class during “Roman Empire” unit in world history, they may end up with a few poor grades on some essays and a unit test, but beyond that it’s relatively straightforward to recover.

You figure out what they did wrong, why they missed what they missed, and approach the next topic with a renewed study strategy. These non-cumulative subjects are much less “dangerous” to fall behind in, because a short-term concerted effort can recover much of what was lost during the period they missed.

Here’s a quick breakdown of which subjects fit into which category:

Subject Type Subjects If they fall behind…

Non-cumulative

English, Reading, Social Studies/History, Earth Science, Biology

Pay attention, use questions and reminders to guide them in the right direction, but no need to immediately step in. Unless they repeatedly struggle, or show aversion to multiple different topics, books, or units some gentle guidance and suggestions should be enough to ensure they get back on track.

Cumulative

All Math classes (Arithmetic, Geometry, Pre-Algebra, Algebra, Calculus, Statistics, etc.), All Foreign Languages (Spanish, French, German, Latin, etc.), Chemistry, Physics

If they show any signs of multiple poor grades in a row, uncharacteristically low grades, a big unit test failure, or an aversion to the subject, take action now to either step in yourself or hire a tutor to help them catch up as quickly as possible.

Other potential signs include: when they don’t want to show you the homework portal or say they don’t have homework in that class, or you suggest they go see the teacher and they refuse to.

Now the real question becomes: what do we do about it?

Step 1: Are they really falling behind, or just temporarily struggling?

Now how do we know whether our kids are actually starting to slip in class, or whether they just had a bad week or two that led to some uncharacteristic grades? When do we need to think about stepping in?

why is math so hard image 5

The good thing is, like we briefly summarized in the table above, there are some telltale signs that indicate whether or not your child is falling behind in one of these cumulative subjects.

You probably DON’T need to step in yet if they:

  • Had one or two low homework or quiz grades, but then quickly recovered (still pay attention though)
  • Came home with an out-of-the-ordinary test grade with a clear cause you can point to unrelated to their understanding of the material (e.g. a stupid mistake, were sick when they took the test, etc.)
  • Are having trouble with one or two specific concepts, but are open to help and willing to work through it

You probably DO need to step in a get some extra help if they:

  • Come home with a string of low grades on quizzes and assignments
  • Bomb a unit test or come home with a highly uncharacteristic grade
  • Are spending an inordinate amount of time studying each night with no improvement in grades
  • Seem “down” about the subject or aversive to studying it
  • Say they don’t have homework or studying for that class
  • Don’t want to go see the teacher if you suggest it

You know your kid best, so use these guidelines and your best judgement to evaluate whether they’re having real trouble or are just going through a temporary sticking point. And if you do suspect something is up, it may be worthwhile to have a brief dialogue with their teacher to see what they say about their performance in class.

Step 2: How to help them “catch up” in cumulative school subjects

Once you have recognized that your child is struggling, there are two paths you can take: either (1) step in to help yourself and work with them and their teacher to get them back on track, or (2) hire a tutor to help them “fill in the gaps,” rebuild their foundation in that course, and get them confident and motivated to keep up during class again.

Steps you can take as a parent

The first thing you can do in the case of a poor test grade, is to help them take advantage of the retake policy if the teacher has one. If your child isn’t making test corrections or letting you know about a chance to retake the test, it’s a good sign they’re feeling defeating. So take this opportunity to discuss options with their teacher and see if there’s still a chance for kid to retake test.

why is math so hard image 6

Second, kids are usually afraid of rejection and typically won’t be willing to write the teacher an email with a question or an ask for help. So sit with them and help them write out an email to their teacher:

“Hi Mrs. Smith,
I’m working on my homework due this Tuesday and I’m really not understanding how to use the Pythagorean Theorem. Can I stop by after class tomorrow to ask you about it?”

Most of the time just writing and sending that one email will lift a huge load off of their shoulders, especially when they realize their teacher is most likely going to be very receptive to helping them out.

Third, see if they can attend study hall after school and sit in the classroom with their teacher while they do their homework. Inevitably they’ll end up asking for help with problems they’re stuck on and feel more comfortable doing so with their teacher in the room without the pressure of their classmates present. This will help them get in the routine of asking for help when they need it without feeling embarrassed.

Steps you can take with a tutor

Although many parents are fully equipped to help their children with homework and studying, a tutor is, in the large majority of cases, are more effective means for getting your child back up to speed in a subject like math or foreign language if for no other reason than: they’re a new face and an outside voice with less “stake” in the game.

why is math so hard image 7
Photo: US Department of Education

Additionally, if a tutor really knows what they’re doing, they’ll be able to diagnose where your child is struggling, and take progressive steps to close those subject gaps, catch them up, and build up their ability to keep up with the new material. Here’s for example, what our tutors will generally do:

  1. Assess where the student is right now, and identify any gaps in the fundamentals that will need to be addressed right off the bat.
  2. Build an execute a plan to fill those holes in understanding and re-teach that material expediently so that the child still has time left over to work on the current work going on in class.
  3. Spend additional time helping them through their homework, and helping them prepare for upcoming quizzes and tests. Because the worst thing that can happen is to have them continue to lose ground and lose confidence as they go back to the basics and try to re-learn older material.
  4. Once the student has started to master the old material they missed out on, then ideally the tutor will have them start to preview what they’ll see next so that they feel more motivated and focused by the time they get to school and take on that topic during class. This is much more powerful than remediation alone, and will improve grades and confidence more than simply reviewing and correcting material after the fact.
  5. Work with the student to take practice tests ahead of their actual exams. In general, kids who perform poorly in specific subjects like math tend to have a very inaccurate idea of how much they actually know. Tutors can create and administer practice tests to both help students identify where they still need work, and also to prepare for the pressures of solving problems within the testing format and timeframe.

Take Action

Whether you decide to step in yourself first, or move forward with a subject tutor for your child, the most important thing is to work quickly to get them moving in the right direction.

If you’ve done the work to identify that they’re really struggling, further delay will only make things worse. So put together a plan, and start working towards stopping the cumulative snowball effect from progressing any farther.

If you think tutoring may be the best option to get your child back on track, and you live in the DC/Virginia/Maryland area, you can contact us here or call (703) 934-8282 and we’ll be happy to walk you through some options we have available.

If you’re not local to us, a quick Google search for “Algebra tutor” or “Spanish tutor” within your area should yield some good options to choose from. Feel free to use our math or foreign language tutoring overviews to give you a sense of what to look for.

And finally, if you have any comments, questions, or feedback for us, leave a comment below! We love hearing from you and would be happy to help where we can.

Academic Anxiety: How To Help Kids Build Confidence In Their Schoolwork

academic anxiety image 1Sometimes stress can manifest itself in unexpected ways.

Have you ever had a flash of anger come over you as someone cuts you off in traffic… only to realize that you just weren’t paying attention as they changed lanes because you were busy thinking about a fire you were going to have to put out as soon as you got into work?

Or maybe you come home to find that the dog has chewed the corner of the couch, and get uncharacteristically upset… only to realize you’re actually just stressed about having the house ready for your in-laws coming into town that weekend.

Well the same thing can hold true for our kids.

They may misbehave, or procrastinate, or act withdrawn, citing boredom or disinterest, when in reality they’re actually stressed about their schoolwork under the surface.

This is the phenomenon of academic anxiety, and unfortunately it’s on the rise.

In this post we’ll cover exactly what academic anxiety is, what some of its underlying causes are, and some ways to tackle it so that your kids feel more prepared, and less stressed about the rigors of their schoolwork.

Is academic anxiety on the rise?

Yes. Anxiety among kids is significant, especially in areas where there’s a lot of pressure and competition for kids to perform well. Whether it’s preparing for college exams, book reports, or other homework, students are spending hours studying and trying to perfect their academic work.

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Photo: woodleywonderworks

About 8% of kids have a diagnosed anxiety disorder, but many more have the symptoms associate with anxiety like rapid heartbeat, clammy palms, upset stomach and constant worry.

Sometimes, this anxiety results in perfectionism, where kids want their school work to be perfect. So instead of writing an essay just once, if it’s not good enough, they’ll crumple their paper up and write it four more times.

Other times, anxiety will cause them to shut off: either ignoring their schoolwork entirely, or simply putting it off as long as possible through procrastination.

Either way, when kids become overly worried about school work, they don’t have time for being a kid.

The link between ADHD and anxiety

Now although, anxiety can be a problem for any student, it can especially be a problem for students who have ADHD, or who already have tendencies towards problems with focus.

For instance, in some students ADHD can trigger anxiety, and as students get older and move through school their symptoms will worsen.

This is because as they become more aware of their executive functioning struggles, they will begin to realize their work and homework takes them longer. This can then lead to missing assignments or not giving themselves time to complete projects and homework. And it’s a vicious cycle that leads to stress and anxiety from falling behind and not performing to their ability.

Some students may even avoid schoolwork all together and it is not because they are lazy or unmotivated. It may even be a subconscious decision to avoid school work or certain assignments. They may also make a decision to focus on one larger, or seemingly more important assignment and let the others fall to the wayside. This behavior, however, will just lead to increased anxiety and negative feelings about themselves.

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Photo: tinkerbrad

Because there has been an increase in students with both anxiety and ADHD, if you think your child is struggling with anxiety, whether it is related to ADHD or not, it may be helpful to consult a professional and determine if you should intervene.

Some signs you should be aware of for are:

  • Changes in your child’s eating or sleeping
  • Constant negative statements about themselves or any self-harming behavior
  • Displaying physical signs of anxiety such as headaches or stomachaches
  • Withdrawal from friends or family

That being said, there are things we can do as parents, if you think anxiety may be an issue for your child.

How to approach academic anxiety as parents

I recently spoke with WTOP on this topic and laid out a few ways in which we can help our students cope with anxiety.

First, accept how your child is feeling

Accept how your child is feeling, and also know that you can’t be dismissive. What you don’t want to say is “stop worrying” or “it’s not a big deal.” Instead you want to ask questions that will help your child solve problems.

By acknowledging them first, they’ll feel more like you understand what they’re going through and be more receptive to help. It’ll also give them a chance to get their worries out and into the open without worrying about being judged.

Second, guide them towards better time management with questions

So, when you’re talking about homework, you don’t want to say “Do you have homework today?” Instead, ask:

“What are your priorities for today?” or…

“How long do you think it will take you to finish that math assignment?”

Kids that worry a lot about school sometimes have poor time management skills, and if a task should take a half hour, they may spend 90 minutes on it.

By asking “How long will this take you?”, you’re helping them to better estimate their time before they start, which will then reduce the pressure they feel to get it completed quickly, or do more than they are capable of.

Third, help them sort and prioritize their assignments to avoid overwhelm

Sometimes kids stay up late because they start their homework late, often because they’re feeling overwhelmed and under-prepared. When kids are overwhelmed, their assignment load can seem daunting.

In these cases, we encourage kids to sort their assignments into three categories: “must do”, “should do”, “could do”.

The work that absolutely has to be done first goes into the “must do” category. If it should be done, but not necessarily at that time, put it in the “should do” category, like a math assignment that’s not due for a couple of days. And then the work that isn’t required – for example, recommended reading and not required reading it goes into the “could do” category.

Having kids think about their assignments this way can help prioritize what absolutely needs to be done versus what’s simply a nice to have, and get them back into the position of feeling in control of their work, rather than overwhelmed.

Test Anxiety: It’s about more than studying

Now there’s also another variable we haven’t yet touched on, which is also tied to anxiety about school: taking tests.

Test anxiety is definitely real and very common. When students are anxious about tests, they are not using the frontal lobe of their brain as effectively. This part of the brain is responsible for focusing, reasoning, and planning. When you are worried and anxious, your frontal lobe capacity diminishes by about 30%.

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For example, a University of Chicago study had students write down all their fears and worries in a journal before taking a test, and found that when kids jotted down their worries right before the test, they performed almost an entire grade point higher on average.

When kids worry, their performance suffers. So below we’ve outlined four main reasons students become anxious before exams, and some methods we can use to alleviate some of this stress.

Problem 1: They don’t know what the test is going to be like

The best way to reduce nerves about what is going to be on an exam is to use all of the real test material you can get your hands on. Whether they are provided from the teacher or through a test prep book, the more your student can familiarize himself with the wording and style of the questions the easier it will be to comprehend when test time comes.

Along with repeated and consistent practice with this material it is shown that taking 5 full length practice tests drastically reduces nerves. I know, it sounds repetitive but trust us on this one they’ll be thankful when they step into the testing room feeling confident and prepared.

Problem 2: They don’t know what will be on the test

Most students have anxiety about the material on their exams because they do not focus on their deficiencies when they’re studying, or better yet they don’t even know what those weaknesses are! When a student understands what skills he is lacking it makes it way easier to study, he’ll understand exactly what he needs to focus on. In turn, he will stop being so uncertain which will relieve this anxiety.

However, sometimes there are still holes in our learning and a student will come across a question on a test that they didn’t study and panic will set in. Sometimes this is because of time constraints in studying but a tutor can be beneficial in this situation. They will help set goals and teach test taking strategies that will help guide them when they are deciding what questions to answer and how to pace themselves if they come across and concepts they are not familiar with.

Problem 3: They don’t know what the testing experience itself will be like

Again, the best way to ease testing anxiety is practice, practice, practice. Especially when it comes to preparing for standardized testing such as the SAT or ACT being sure to take all the practice tests that are assigned under the proper time constraints is vital to a productive test prep plan.

It is the best way to ebb anxiety that is related to taking the real test. Be sure to treat practice tests as if they were the real thing, set up in a quiet area and have all of the materials that will be allowed on test day so they will know exactly what to expect.

Problem 4: They’re worried about what grade they’ll get

As your student takes practice diagnostic tests make sure to track the progress. The more they take the better idea of how they will score on the real thing. If all measures are taken to reduce anxiety on test day they should score in that ballpark. Knowing this information will help to put their mind at ease and boost confidence in their abilities as they prepare.

Next steps for tackling anxiety

The pressures put on kids to do well in school is alive and well. And this means we need to counterbalance this pressure with constructive strategies to help them cope and navigate through their learning experience positively.

So first, if you think your child may be anxious about school, sit down and talk through the situation, giving them the space to air out there concerns.

Then use some of the strategies outlined here (or others you’ve implemented on your own) to help work through the stressors they’re feeling and build a more healthy and productive relationship with school.

And then let us know in the comments:

How have you dealt with academic anxiety in your household?

Do you have any questions or feedback for us on other situations we might not have covered here?

We’d love to hear from you.

Why Your Child Doesn’t Organize or Plan Ahead (And What You Can Do About It)

Time management. Organization. Studying. Planning ahead.

Do these ideas give your child a sense of excitement? Or fear of the unknown? If your child seems uninterested or even afraid of these ideas, it may be more than just a feeling of being overwhelmed and a dislike for school. They may have executive functioning deficits.

 

I hear the phrase “executive functioning” more and more these days, and whether or not students have it. What exactly is executive functioning?

Executive functioning skills are cognitive processes in the frontal lobe of the brain, the area behind the forehead. These are skills that are really important for kids when it comes to school. Executive functioning skills are important for focus, self-control, planning, sustaining focus and resisting distractions. These skills allow people to juggle multiple things in their mind at one time. For example, when writing an essay, can you remember to capitalize the letters and use proper punctuation, spell the words correctly and also make sure you’re writing makes sense? If you can, you probably have good executive functioning skills.

Executive functioning skills also have to do with a thought process: finishing something, starting something new, planning ahead, and staying organized along the way. Executive functioning skills get better as kids age, but even at a young age, the skills are important for school success.

 

Executive functioning sounds a lot like ADD or ADHD. How exactly are they related?

Issues with a child’s executive functioning skills are actually very closely related to ADD or ADHD. Professions no longer use the term “ADD”; it was replaced in the mid-1980s by Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or AD/HD. The slash actually represents with or without. A child could have ADD and not the hyperactive part, but they still have an ADHD diagnosis. ADHD has to do with things like focusing and sustaining focus for a period of time and also being able to regulate attention.

Many parents say, “Well, my kid doesn’t have a problem with attention. He can play X-box for 3 hours. But when it comes to homework, it’s much harder for him to regulate attention!” That’s really where ADHD comes in. It’s not about paying attention to any one thing, it’s about making yourself pay attention when things are difficult and there is trouble regulating attention.

When it comes to executive functions, sometimes people can have poor executive functioning skills but they may not meet the criteria for ADHD. However, everybody with ADHD does have poor executive functioning skills.

 

I think my child is showing some symptoms that he has issues with executive functioning. What are some signs that might help parents see this?

Kids who have executive functioning difficulties often have a hard time staying organized. It’s not just in subjects, but also time management. If your child might have a messy backpack, forgets to write their assignments down, and doesn’t always bring the right materials home from school, he might be struggling with executive functioning skills.

Help your child create a mental to-do list for what he has to do for homework that day or even plan ahead. Long-term planning is often really difficult for these students. If something is due two weeks from now, they have a hard time breaking that assignment down into smaller, manageable chunks. In addition, kids with weak executive functioning skills might have a hard time focusing and putting effort into homework, especially when it’s really not interesting to them. They might even be able to just focus for 5 or 10 minutes before they lose track. For these kids, they need to have breaks on a regular basis and have assignments broken into smaller pieces so these chunks are much more attainable than a single, massive, intimidating project.

 

What is the first step in helping my child improve his executive functioning skills?

If you suspect your child has some executive functioning deficits, the first step is to realize that tasks like focusing and planning ahead are just going to be harder than for other kids. It’s not that your kid wakes up one morning and says, “You know what? I’m just going to really aggravate my mom.” or “I’m going to frustrate my dad.” It’s not like that at all. Kids want to please! They want to do a good job, but things like staying organized and focusing and planning ahead are just innately difficult for them.

It’s really important to acknowledge the fact that your child is going to need much more structure than the typical kid. You might not see a plan to start homework from your child the minute they come home from school each day. You might need to engage in a dialogue with your child to make sure they know what they’re going to do first, second or third. You’re also going to have to provide a distraction-free area for him to do homework. If left to his own devices, he’ll often do homework in places like his bedroom, which is really distracting! A child with executive functioning deficits just needs a little more external structure than the average student.

 

What do I do if my kid doesn’t want to listen to me?

A low frustration tolerance is typical for kids who struggle with attention. It’s not uncommon for these kids to really push back towards their parents’ overtures, even when they know they need the help. If your help has gone on deaf ears by your child, consider getting someone else to do the heavy lifting. Often, kids are much more willing to listen to someone who doesn’t have an emotional attachment to them, like a tutor or someone who has training in Educational Coaching.

Educational Coaches have the ability to work on three specific things with kids. One is organization, both with materials and time. The second is time management of short and long-term assignments, and the third is study skills. Kids with executive functioning issues get by because they’re really smart, but when the work becomes harder and there’s a lot more of it, they really have a hard time.

 

Having somebody who can work in these three areas, in addition to helping with subject areas, is really the key. Give us a call at 703-934-8282 or fill out a Get a Tutor form and we would be happy to help.

The Five Most Popular Questions When It Comes to Reading

3 kids - featheredLet’s face it, getting our kids to do things they don’t want to do is tiresome. It can end up in a handful of ways: tears, arguments, or yelling. We often just throw our hands up and admit defeat. Although this can happen with just about any academic subject, we see it frequently with reading and refusing to pick up books. Kids would rather play on their phone or watch TV than grab a novel and settle down to read.

If this sounds like your household, don’t worry, because you’re not alone. But before you hand back the iPad or tablet, read these five questions from parents about kids being reluctant to read and advice on how to tackle the issue.

 

How do I get my child to read on a nightly basis?

This is perhaps the question on every parent’s mind, especially given that 20-30 minutes of reading each night is often required for elementary school kids.

Avoid frustration and resentment towards reading and don’t make it part of the homework time. This only adds to the homework burden.

Instead, make reading a part of the evening routine. Schedule it after dinner and before bed, when your child is winding down for the night. When kids can equate reading to relaxation, it makes it all that easier.

Be careful to avoid saying, “Okay, it’s time to get ready for bed, go up in your room and read,” because it may not go well. Reluctant readers often have a hard time getting started independently. Instead, consider paired reading – you read a page, your child reads a page, or for a very reluctant reader – you read two pages, he reads one page. This actually takes two thirds of the burden of reading away from your child, and often when things seem easier to kids, they’re more likely to do it.

 

When we read together, how much should I correct?

As you read with your child, you may find that it’s your natural tendency to correct her mistakes, but this creates frustration.

If she skips over a word, or replaces a small word that doesn’t affect the meaning, leave it alone. Don’t correct her. However, if she replaces a word like, “grill” for “girl”, and it impacts the entire meaning of the sentence, you should probably draw attention to that.

But, before you shout, “That’s wrong!”, correct them sparingly. Your goal as a parent is just simply to be there to read with your child, not to make corrections. When kids are corrected too much they feel judged, and that’s when they avoid certain tasks like reading.

 

How can I get my kid to read independently?

Research shows when kids listen to an audio book and read along in the book at the same time, their reading skills soar.

What does this mean? Get your child an audio version of the book they’re reading and have him follow along in the book while he listens. It doesn’t mean that your child’s just staring off into space and listening halfheartedly.

If your child’s listening and following along, studies show that their reading fluency and comprehension improves so much faster than if they read independently. This can happen when kids pick books that are a little out of their reading level. Kids don’t get enjoyment from the book because it’s too difficult for them!  A simple solution is having them follow along to an audio version. They’ll benefit from both listening to fluent reading and meaning, thereby improving their own fluency and comprehension.

 

My son will only read graphic novels. How can I get him to move to another book? Do I force him to read something that has more content?

I get this question a lot from moms of boys. The answer is no. Kids will gravitate to other books on their own time. In fact, when teachers assign books for reading, they’re not usually assigning graphic novels. Instead, they’re assigning books that probably don’t have too many pictures. If we remember that reading should equate with relaxation, allow your child to continue reading graphic novels. At least he’s reading and finding pleasure from it.

Sometimes parents will ask about E-Readers. Are they good, or are they bad? Is this some new-age technology we know nothing about?! Parents will often report that their kids had really good intentions about reading a book on their Kindle Fire, but when parents go check on them, four different internet browsers are open and the book is nowhere on the screen.

Do you take the Kindle away? Do you make them read it in front of you?

What I can tell you is this: while Kindle Fires seem like the cool gadget to be seen with, it also has internet access. And having internet access means the reading comes second. Kids just become too distracted and they can’t control their own impulses to go online. A Kindle Paper White could be a better option. The Paper White has very limited internet options, and your kid can only go on Wikipedia and Amazon to buy books. With the Paper White, there are a lot fewer distractions during reading time.

 

What about online versus print reading, is there a difference?

Surprisingly, there is a large difference between online and print reading. A study of high school students found that when kids read a novel online vs. in print, they actually had better comprehension when sequencing events when reading in print.  Grasping the book in their hand made a huge difference over holding a square tablet.

When the book has lots of events, you are able to know “At this point in the book they were getting on a raft. That was about two thirds of the way through the book. I know that was kind of near the height of the story.” When you hold a book in your hand you have a sense of where you are in the book, where you are in the sequence of events. Although there’s not a huge difference in the impact of comprehension with online versus print reading, it does seem to be most effective when reading novels and sequencing events.

 

Remember, the most important thing you can do to help your child read is to encourage them and celebrate when they pick up a book! Hopefully, these questions help solve your child’s hesitancy to read, but if they haven’t, give us a call. A reading tutor may be what’s best for them.