While this month marks spring break for many of our students across the area, for us at Educational Connections, it marks our 23rd year in business. In 1998, I never in my wildest dreams would have imagined that we’d have such a positive impact on our students. From bright but disorganized kids to the child who wants to perform at a higher level, and everything in between – we are committed to overcoming every child’s challenges. My team and I are forever grateful for our families who chose to be a part of this journey with us and have become a member of our Educational Connections family.
Over the years, my tutors and I have homed in on many strategies to help kids in school, no matter the area. In math, we’ve taught tricks to learn the multiplication tables and games to master the Pythagorean Theorem. For our reluctant writers, we’ve developed color-coded graphic organizers and used cool software like Rev. But I can tell you from my many years of experience, there is no better strategy to help kids develop self-awareness, responsibility, and independence than ‘powerful questions.’
Powerful questions are prompts we use to ask kids how they might best tackle some of the common yet tricky obstacles they encounter. These types of questions get kids to buy in and engage far more than telling them what to do.
Now let’s take a step back for a moment. Because you’re here, we can already tell you’re committed to helping your child improve their attitude towards school, homework and study habits, and academic performance. Chances are you also picked up some ideas along the way on how you may help them get organized, overcome procrastination, or study smarter. While these ideas may morph and grow with hybrid learning, the core strategies remain the same.
Click below to get more strategies like Powerful Questions and other resources that you can use to help your child!
You, as “Mom” or “Dad,” may know what to do, but your son or daughter may have other ideas…
Anyone who’s tried to feed broccoli to a toddler, or get a teenager to stop watching YouTube videos and do their math homework, knows that no matter how much “sense” it makes, or how much logic is involved, there’s not much arguing with “I don’t want to do it that way.”
And this couldn’t be more true when it comes to schoolwork. 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 to improve until they take it upon themselves to do those things independently.
So how do we do that?
This is where Powerful Questions come in.
What are Powerful Questions?
Now looking back, Socrates figured this out loooong before any of us did:
Asking questions to spark thinking is far more effective than “telling” someone what they need to do.
Apply that idea to your kids and their approach towards homework and studying, and you find that if you can frame your questions in the right way, you’ll actually facilitate the self-awareness, empowerment, and independence they need to become self-starters and take on the behaviors you’ve been encouraging them to.
But the way these questions are framed is a key point. Here’s an example of a typical conversation you might have with your child:
Mom:“Jimmy, do you have homework today?” Jimmy:“Yeah.” Mom:“Well, you better start it now because you have soccer at 6:00 and I don’t want you staying up late again tonight because you started your work too late!” Jimmy:“Ugghhhhggg…”
The problem here may seem like it’s as simple as: Jimmy just doesn’t feel like doing his homework.
But it actually starts off on the wrong foot because the question Mom asked is a non-starter: it doesn’t get Jimmy thinking about the things he needs to do to get started on his homework.
This is what we refer to as a Yes/No/Why Question, and Powerful Questions are the opposite. They are instead:
Open-ended and non-judgmental
Not intended to give advice or to solve the problem for the student
Intended to get them thinking in the right direction that will provide a much higher chance of a solution they come to themselves
Here’s a side-by-side comparison of some common Yes/No/Why Questions you might naturally ask, and some powerful alternatives you could replace them with to encourage independent thinking.
Do you have homework?
What are your priorities today?
Did you study for that science test?
What’s the one thing you might do to study for your science test?
Are you ready for your big English exam?
On a scale of 1-10, how prepared do you feel for the English exam?
Why didn’t you study?
Going forward, what’s the one thing you might do differently?
Why didn’t you turn that in?
Did something get in your way of getting that assignment done?
And here’s the process to go through when you do go to re-frame that conversation:
Ask an initial powerful question to spark thinking
Listen to responses without passing judgment
Restate or paraphrase what the student is saying
Give positive acknowledgments along the way
Okay so now with that in mind, let’s reframe our conversation with Jimmy using Powerful Questions instead:
Mom:“Jimmy, what are your priorities today for homework?” Jimmy:“I have to science test tomorrow and some math homework.” Mom:“Oh, okay, a science test and math homework. What might you do first?” Jimmy:“Probably study for science.” Mom:“Okay, that sounds like a good plan to study for science first. I can tell you want to get that out of the way. Great idea. How will you know you’re ready for the test?” Jimmy:“I’m going to work through the study guide again and practice the vocab words on Quizlet.” Mom:“Sounds like you have a good plan. You’re going to work through the study guide and Quizlet before soccer. Let’s leave by 5:30. Sound okay?”
Now, let’s not pretend that this is how your conversation will go the first time you try this.
More likely you may encounter:
Mom:“Jimmy, what are your priorities today for homework?” Jimmy:“Huh??”
Mom:“Jimmy, what are your priorities today for homework?” Jimmy:“I don’t think I have any…” as you stand there with his math assignment in your hand.
So if this happens don’t get discouraged, this process takes some getting used to on both sides. The important thing is to keep trying, and to gently lead and prod them in the right direction, trying your best not to outright tell them what they need to do.
Why Powerful Questions work
Powerful questions work well with kids, even the resistant ones, for two reasons:
First: By asking the right questions, you’re not telling kids what to do
And no child (or adult for that matter) likes to be told what to do. It puts people on the defensive… and when they’re on the defensive, they’re far less likely to engage in conversation.
When kids feel defensive or judged, they can begin to shut down. However, when you ask open-ended questions more out of curiosity, kids are much more likely to listen and to talk to you.
Second: They foster executive functioning skills (EF)
When it comes to schoolwork, EF skills have to do with getting started (being a self-starter), focusing well enough to get the work done, and then moving on to the next assignment. The problem is that at times, parents can end up being the Homework Police, by nagging, prodding, and negotiating to get their kids to do three things: get started, focus and finish.
By asking the right questions, you’re encouraging kids to think ahead about how they might get started on their own, what’s important to get done, and how they’ll go about doing it.
For many years, our executive function coaches have found that this approach works incredibly well for all kids, even during online or hybrid school, and it can work in your home, too.
So give it a shot!
If you found this strategy helpful, go here to get access to even more!
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!
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:
Inhibition is the ability to inhibit or stop distractions and impulses that can derail focus.
Initiation is the ability to get started, especially when you don’t want to or when a task feels overwhelming.
Shifting is the ability to “go with the flow” and recognize when things are out of one’s control.
Emotional Control is the ability to process big feelings realistically and effectively.
Working Memory is the ability to use visuals to track what one needs to remember or complete.
Planning and Organization is the ability to think beyond one day and plan out long-term assignments.
Materials Organization is the ability to keep digital files and paperwork organized and accessible.
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.
Studying for an AP exam can be a daunting task. The tests are long, in-depth, and cover a year’s worth of material. Especially as “spring fever” sets in, your child may be tempted to study a few times here and there or cram at the last minute, then wing it on test day. But there are three good reasons to study well for your AP Exams. Discuss these with your child and ask how they plan to prepare for test day. Then, click below to match with an AP coach who can help your student study and perform their very best.
#1. Passing an AP Exam Can Save You Thousands of Dollars
You probably already know that passing an AP exam gives your child college credit, but have you thought about the amount of money that could save your family? In Virginia, in-state students spend an average of $500-800 per credit hour on college courses. Passing just one AP Exam could allow a student to test out of a 3-credit class, saving you between $1500 and $2400! If they attend an out-of-state university or private college, the savings can be even higher.
#2: They Can Kiss That Frustrating Subject Goodbye
If your child dislikes the subject of their AP course and doesn’t plan to use it in their career, they have another compelling reason to study hard! If they don’t pass, they’ll likely have to take a similar course all over again just to fulfill general education requirements in college. Don’t let all that hard work from this year go to waste! Any frustration with the class should drive students to put in the extra effort now so they can say goodbye to memorizing dates or practicing quadratic equations once and for all.
#3: They’ll Have More Opportunities in College
The more credits a student can get through AP exams, the fewer requirements they’ll have to fulfill in college. This frees up their schedule to double major, do an internship, hold a part-time job, take random classes that sound interesting, or even graduate early! College is an exciting time to explore, learn, and prepare for the future. Passing AP exams now will give your child more opportunities later.
Will Your Child Be Taking AP Exams? Here’s What You Need to Know
Now that you know studying for AP Exams is well worth the effort, what’s the best way to prepare for test day? Here are a few tips from our leading AP Coaches:
Start preparing now. AP exams cover a LOT of material. Last-minute studying is stressful and ineffective. We offer 8-hour AP Tutoring programs spread out across the semester to help students prepare.
Devote study time to every subject. If your student is taking multiple AP exams, we recommend a unique AP Tutor and 8-hour plan for each one. Remember, each test could potentially save you thousands of dollars, so every subject is worth the effort!
Get a coach. AP Exams are different from any other exams your child has encountered thus far. They will have to go beyond memorizing facts and learn how to connect big concepts in a new way. Knowing how to identify the Big Idea for the science exam or answer Document Based Questions (DBQs) for the history exam requires a new approach to studying and practice. Plus, students will need to develop strategic study guides to use on the exam and practice answering free-response essays in timed settings. Our coaches help students review the materials, create a study guide, and practice with the new testing style so they can achieve their best possible score.
Don’t rely too much on the open-notes concept. AP Exams have allowed for open notes for years, and they still require a lot of studying. Having an open-notes exam makes creating a good study guide all the more critical. If the guide is too long, the student will struggle to find what they need in a timed setting. If the guide is too short, they may leave out important concepts they’ll need to reference in the test. That’s why our AP Coaches help students compile a study guide that will be most helpful on the test.
Don’t let spring fever, distance learning fatigue, or subject frustrations cost your child thousands of dollars in college credits or missed opportunities available to those with more freedom in their schedule. We’re here to help your student prepare and perform their very best!
Just click here to request an AP Coach or hit reply to email us directly with any additional questions. We’re here for you!
Even if you’ve been out of school for decades, it’s easy to remember that gut-punch feeling of sitting in class and suddenly remembering you forgot your homework. It’s happened to all of us—even though the systems were pretty straightforward when we were in school. Your teachers likely sent home a piece of paper with a list of assignments or wrote them on the whiteboard and waited for everyone to carefully copy them into personal planners.
Times have, of course, changed. Assignments are given, organized, completed, and submitted digitally. Systems and platforms differ from one teacher to the next. Add in the chaos of virtual or hybrid schooling, and it’s no wonder so many assignments skip through the cracks. Without as much in-person instruction, schools are forced to be more lenient, leaving it up to parents to ensure children complete their work and stay on track.
So how can you help your child stay on top of assignments without feeling like the homework police? That’s what today’s blog is all about. Read on for three simple steps to keep your child organized in this digital age. And why stop there? Get more of our homework tips here!
Step 1: Create a Site Map Together
If your parents were closely involved in your schooling, you might remember them checking your folder for homework assignments to ensure you completed everything and stayed on track. That parental support is helpful, especially with younger students, but the process is now a bit more complicated than quickly checking a folder. Especially when your child has multiple teachers, you may find that the platforms and procedures can vary slightly from one to the next. It can be scattered and confusing, but a site map can help.
A site map is a guide you create to keep track of where assignments are posted for each class so nothing gets missed. Sit down with your child and go through each class to review the systems for finding and submitting assignments. Take note of where everything is and any logins you may need, then compile the information in one handy guide.
Your child can then refer to this site map (with or without your help, depending on their age and executive functioning skills) every week to systematically check assignments for every class and teacher.
Step 2: Create a System That Works for You
If your child has only one teacher, he or she may have a straightforward system that works for your family. If so, great! Follow that one. But if you find your child is regularly missing assignments, work together to create a unified system that fits your family best.
Maybe your child can pick out an “old-school” paper planner to track assignments on a weekly and monthly basis. (This can be especially helpful as students get older and big projects have multiple milestones spread out over time!) Or perhaps you both prefer to use Google Calendar or another online calendar that you can both access from any device at any time.
You may also decide to get a whiteboard, where your child can write out their assignments at the start of each week and strike through them as they go. This process keeps students organized and inspires a feeling of accomplishment that motivates them to stay focused and finish everything on their to-do list.
Whatever you decide, start with the site map from step one to ensure no assignments are missed, then transfer them weekly into the system you create together for a more unified task-tracker that works for you.
Step 3: Focus on Completion over Perfection
As the parent, it’s not on you to ensure every homework assignment is perfect and error-free. This level of oversight will leave your child discouraged and resentful of your input. Instead, focus on helping your child track and complete the assignments. Celebrate their efforts and growing independence as their executive functioning skills improve. This encouragement will pay off much more in the long run than ensuring every math problem they complete is correct!
Plus, letting your child complete their homework without your correction can help the teacher better gauge your child’s mastery of a topic. When every homework assignment is reviewed and revised by a parent, it’s harder for the teacher and student to recognize when a little extra support or further clarification would be helpful.
Focus on completion over perfection, and you’ll build your child’s confidence, preserve your relationship, and get a much better idea of how your child is progressing with each subject.
Bonus Tip: How to Know When Your Child Needs Extra Help
Managing time, tasks, and assignments requires executive functioning skills. These skills take time to develop and come more naturally to some children than others. If you follow the above steps and your child is still struggling to manage deadlines and keep track of assignments, don’t lose hope. He or she can still learn these important skills but might need some extra support to get there.
If your child responds well to your help with tracking and organizing assignments, that’s great! Help them with their systems and look for opportunities to encourage more independence over time. However, many kids balk at their parents’ efforts to help. Don’t take it personally—this is a normal part of growing up! In most cases, students are often much more open to the input of another adult, like an Executive Function Tutor.
Our Executive Function Tutors are highly skilled in helping children develop systems and habits that work for them. They can help your child get their homework organized and completed now while also instilling the skills they’ll need to manage tasks and time independently in future grades and into adulthood. If you’re tired of your child’s assignments going “missing in action” and want to see your child strengthen these life-long skills, we can help! Click below to get started with a free consultation.
One last thing to keep in mind: If your child is only struggling to complete assignments in one class, he or she may need extra help in that subject. When students feel confused by a topic, they often put off their assignments because they dread feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. Of course, delaying assignments until the last minute only makes things worse!
In this case, you may decide to combine subject tutoring with executive functioning tutoring to build your child’s confidence and skills. To learn more, click below to schedule a free consultation. We’ll help you explore your options so you can identify the best course of action for your child.
We even provide more homework and study tips that we didn’t get the chance to cover fully in this blog. Click below so you don’t miss out on new strategies to help your child stay on top of his or her assignments!
Do you ever look around at other parents and think, “Why does everyone else seem to have it all together? Am I the only one figuring this out as I go?”
The truth is every parent is making educated guesses on what’s best for their child, and every parent second guesses themselves from time to time! And, as parents, where do we turn for answers? The internet!
Over the past year, some of the posts on our website have attracted tens of thousands of readers like you. Today, I want to share with you our three most popular posts from 2019 so you can see what questions your fellow parents are asking—and get the advice we’ve shared with them!
Check out the posts below, then forward this email to a fellow parent as a reminder that we’re all in this together… and no one has it all figured out!
No parent wants to see a bad grade on their child’s report card. If it does happen to your child, it can be really hard to know how to respond. Perhaps that’s why this post has been our most-read post of the year with over 31,000 views.
Check it out for helpful tips concerning…
What to do if your child comes home with bad grades (and how to talk to them about it)
Whether to punish your child for bad grades or reward them for good grades
How to investigate why your child got the grade and what to do about it moving forward
With report cards coming up after the break, this is a great piece to read now or bookmark for later. Here’s to hoping you won’t ever need it… but being prepared just in case!
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.
Read our post to learn about...
Focus Apps for Tick Tock Tommy
Planning Ahead with Last Minute Lucy
Weekly Check-ins with Hot Headed Harry
Clean Sweeps with Backpack Bonnie
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!
The countdown is on to a new school year! If there’s one thing you can do to set up for success, it’s to start the year organized.
In fact, we’ve found that organization isthe key differentiator between students who excel and students who underperform in school. And it doesn’t have to be difficult to get organized and stay that way!
Watch this short video or read on to discover 3 stress-free ways absolutely anyone can use to stay organized this year.
#1: Set up a launching pad.
School mornings can be rushed and stressful… but they don’t have to be! Eliminate the stress by setting up a “launching pad” by your front door before the school year begins.
This can be a basket, box, or other designated spot to store everything that has to go out the door on a school morning. (Think backpacks, lunch boxes, sports gear…)
Bonus Tip: Get everything in the launching pad the night before to ensure your morning is organized and stress-free! This will allow the entire family to start each day confident, prepared, and ready for success.
#2: Swap binders for accordion folders.
If traditional three-ring binders work for your child, that’s great. Don’t fix what isn’t broken!
But many students struggle to keep those binders organized. That’s why we recommend using accordion folders instead.
These are faster and easier to use (no need to hunt down a hole punch) and still make it easy to label each section for particular subjects’ notes, homework assignments, study materials, and more.
#3: Schedule a weekly clean sweep.
On busy school days, even the most organized students can accumulate cluttered paperwork over time. It’s normal! But with a weekly clean sweep, it’s easy to get back on track before things get out of control.
Simply schedule a 20-minute session each week where everyone in the house drops what they’re doing to clean and get organized. This way, your child can take time to organize their backpack, folders, and launch pad without feeling singled out or criticized. They’ll know the whole family is in this thing together!
We hope these tips help you start the new year off strong, but we also understand that some kids benefit from extra coaching to master the organizational skills they need to succeed in school. And we’re here to help!
Click below to learn more about our unique Executive Function Coaching program.
Or call us today to pair your child with a personal coach who will teach them everything they need to know to take ownership of their schoolwork and excel this year (and for years to come)!
There are some kids who are completely self-motivated and drive themselves to high levels of academic achievement without any pressure from their parents. But most kids aren’t like that.
Self-motivated kids are the exception, not the rule, so it’s pretty safe to say that most of us will fight with at least one of our kids about grades at some point.
So how do we prevent our relationships with our kids from becoming dominated by academics?
Here are a few places to look:
Problem: Conflicting time horizons.
You offer your son the reward of a Disney vacation to motivate him to work harder in school. It works… for about 24 hours. Then it’s back to the same old habits. The nine weeks of hard work and focus it would take to accomplish the goal is too much for him to manage.
Solution: Start smaller. Simple tasks (like completing 30 minutes of studying) followed by simple rewards (praise, a short break) work best.
Problem:Conflicting priorities (and your anxiety about their future).
Almost every parent has walked into a kid’s messy bedroom and asked, “How can anyone live like this?” To most adults (and a select number of children) a certain level of disorder is just intolerable. But for most kids, it’s really no big deal. These differing priorities are bound to lead to conflict, which won’t be completely resolved until the child matures.
The same kind of conflicting priorities can cause arguments in our discussions of schoolwork and grades. Most parents consider success in school important, while many kids are more concerned with making friends and having fun. Parents naturally think about the long-term importance of school, while kids often assume that everything will just work out somehow.
Solution: Focus on the process, not the outcome. Work with your child to build the habits they need to keep their rooms clean, and excel in school, without expecting them to be self-motivated enough to do it on their own.
Problem: Vague or unreasonable standards and communciation.
Kids need their parents to set standards for both their behavior and their performance at school. And there is absolutely nothing unreasonable about expecting your child to go to class, do the work that is assigned, and get reasonable grades in coursework that is appropriate for his or her abilities and interests.
But sometimes parents have expectations regarding grades or academic achievement that are simply beyond what their kids are willing or able to achieve.
In other cases, parents will say that they don’t care about grades, as long as their children “try their best.” But what is “their best”? Most kids don’t know, and most parents, if they are honest, don’t necessarily know how to clarify what they mean.
There’s an undercurrent that runs through most conversations we have with our kids about school.
With some families it’s more explicit:
“We expect you to do well, and come home with A’s and B’s on your report card.”
With other families it’s less so, but still implied:
“We expect you to go into school each day and give it your best effort, no matter what.”
Regardless, when report cards come home, and the results are less than stellar, it’s always a challenge to figure out how to react as a parent.
On the one hand, bad grades represent a failure. They’re the one objective measure we have of how well our children are progressing through school. If they really understood the material, studied for the exams, and stayed organized and diligent, it would be pretty hard not to earn at least a B in most elementary, middle, and high school classes.
On the other hand, bad grades are not always a fair indication of how hard your child is trying, how much they’re learning, or what their potential for success later on in life is. From that angle, we shouldn’t overreact to a C or D, especially because your son or daughter probably feels guilty about it already. But we should put stock into a C or D because that tells us they don’t have mastery over the content that counts.
In this post we’ll explore:
What to do if your child comes home with bad grades and how to talk to them about it
Whether you should punish your child for bad grades (or reward them for good grades)
And how to investigate why it’s happening and what to do about it moving forward
Read on to find out and click here to receive more tips and strategies to help boost your child’s grades!
What do I do if my child gets a bad grade?
You may have high expectations for your child’s grades, or you may be a bit more laissez faire about the whole thing. Regardless, the answer to “How should parents react to a bad report card?” pretty clear: there is a right and wrong way to approach it.
Here are a few initial tips on how to deal with a bad report card when it first comes home.
Step 1: Give it some distance
The first thing you want to do is to make sure you do not react in the moment.
It’s tempting to want to express your frustration (believe me, I’ve been there!), especially if this isn’t a new issue.
Step 2: Schedule a time to talk
Instead, wait until you’ve calmed down a little bit and schedule a time to talk. Say to your child, “let’s sit down after dinner to talk about this.”
This will help to avoid a screaming match, which is the quickest way to guarantee nothing productive will come out of the situation.
Step 3: Create an open discussion, and state the feeling
Now that you have a time on the books, the next question is:
How do I talk to my kids about a bad grade?
First off, you’re going to want to start the conversation off with the phrase, “I noticed” and avoid saying, “you.” Often this will alleviate any feelings of blame and allow for a more open discussion.
For example, you might say, “I noticed that your math grade is a lot lower than we both thought it would be. Help me understand what happened,” rather than, “You did not do well in math. This is unacceptable.”
The phrase, “help me understand,” will give your child a chance to explain himself and explain what went wrong. Listen to what your child has to say and state the feeling.
Try saying, “it sounds like you’re having a hard time with algebra and it’s making you frustrated.” By stating the feeling (but not dwelling on it), you’ve shown your child that you’re on their team.
From there you’ll want to ask questions like, “what do you think you can do to get the grade up?” This will create a sense of accountability and also make your child come up with a solution. Because your child helped to create the solution, he or she will be more invested and more likely to follow through.
Punishments and Rewards for Bad Grades: Do they work?
The instant you see a less-than-stellar report card grade, it’s probably your immediate reaction to punish and restrict activities.
Either that, or it’s probably to offer some form of reward for turning it around. You’ll want to fight those urges. Here’s what to do instead.
Should I punish my child for a bad grade?
The short answer is: the punishment should be appropriate. Many parents threaten to take their child out of sports or extracurricular activities, but this isn’t an effective solution.
The research says that parents should avoid taking away activities that boost their child’s confidence, such as sports or clubs. With that being said, it is recommended to tie privileges (like video game time, or time out with friends) to academic processes.
For example, you may say to your child, “when you show me that your homework is completed with a respectful attitude, then you can play video games for 30 minutes.” Try using a “when/then” phrase to boost accountability and tie actions to rewards.
Should I reward for grades?
Here, the answer is a little less clear, but in general avoid external rewards if you can. I’ve talked to parents who have tried offering their child just about anything and everything for straight A’s from money to a new car to a trip to Disney World.
But unfortunately, no matter how grandiose the reward, the straight A’s never come. Research tells us that rewarding for grades doesn’t work because it’s too long-term and students lose steam pretty quickly. Students also need to feel an intrinsic motivation for studying, and providing external rewards tends to extinguish their internal drive (especially when they encounter difficulty).
How To Improve: Tips for turning bad grades around
Okay so now that you’ve taken a step back, and assessed your initial response to your child’s poor performance, not it’s time to talk about how to proceed.
Why is my child getting a bad grade?
Before doing anything else, this is the question to answer, because then we can determine the best steps to take to address the underlying cause.
Students often bring home bad grades for one of two reasons: they don’t understand the content or they don’t have the ‘soft skills’ necessary to succeed.
If it is a contextual issue, then it is usually isolated to one subject (often math/science or English/history). However, if the student is struggling with “soft skills,” things such as organization, time management, and study skills (also known as executive functioning skills), it will probably affect every subject.
Discuss the issue with your child’s teacher, consider enrolling the child in a homework club after school, or seek out a tutor who can focus on your child’s areas of concern.
Turn the lens inward
The research is in: authoritative parenting (warm but firm) is ideal when it comes to academic performance.
In fact, a study by Laurence Steinberg, Julie Elmen, and Nina Mounts, found that students who are raised in homes with parents using an authoritative approach earn higher grades in schools than their peers.
The problem is, a lot of times when good-intentioned authoritative parents become excessively frustrated or worried, they can slip into helicopter (excessively involved) parenting mode. This can give the wrong message to your child. According to Cathi Cohen, LCSW and president of InStep PC:
“If it goes too far it becomes an issue where you’re not helping your child develop resilience or become autonomous. You’re giving them the message through helicopter parenting that they can’t do it without your help. It undermines the child’s natural need to be independent.”
Her advice: take a step back.
“A child has to be allowed to fail and flounder… Helicopter parents are always trying to do their best to help their child succeed, but sometimes it’s okay to let go of the handle bars and its okay if your child falls.”
How do you do that? How do you let go without having your child fall apart?
“You have to treat letting go kind of like a game of Jenga. When you take it out of the box, it is very safe with scaffolding supports in place, and has a lot of structure. As you go through the game, you pull out little pieces and see if it still stands. In a lot of ways, this is how our kids are and they initially need these scaffolding supports. But as they get older, you want to slowly take out pieces from the Jenga tower. You don’t want to remove eight blocks at a time, just one. Start with something small, like a homework routine; then teach the skill, and remove the support. See if they are successful and steady for three weeks and then move onto the next skill. Don’t move on until they’ve been successful for 3 weeks.”
Bottom line: check your parenting style and make sure you’re not slipping into helicopter mode. And then ask yourself what you can do to tackle the grades issue while still allowing your child to figure it out independently.
Address organization habits
You may have heard the expression, “a cluttered desk represents a cluttered mind;” the same principle could be said about backpacks, binders, and lockers. Often times if a student is struggling with school, disorganization may be playing a part. Luckily, the end of the quarter is the perfect time to get organized.
Some things you can try include:
Set up a regular school “check in” time to talk about school each week.
Figure out a homework routine that doesn’t involve constant reminders.
Get backpacks and assignments organized and ready to go the night before.
Schedule a 20 minute “clean sweep” session each week where everyone in the house drops what they’re doing to clean
We hear this all the time at Educational Connections: students are spending hours studying, but just not seeing the results. As it turns out, most children haven’t actually developed optimal study skills. For example, 84% of kids study by re-reading content, which is actually the most inefficient way of learning. Determine whether study skills may be a potential culprit.
Setting aside study time before starting homework.
Having your child use study guides to test themselves rather than just simply reviewing.
Set up an optimal study environment that minimizes distractions (this can include distraction-blocking apps as well).
Next Steps For Parents: Be proactive with bad grades
Most importantly, as a parent you want to be proactive about your approach, whatever you end up deciding to do. If you can get ahead of the curve and have a plan of attack, your chances of successfully navigating the dangerous emotional waters of a bad report card go up dramatically.
For more tips and strategies on how to boost your child’s grades, click below!
When our children start to struggle in school, it’s tempting to think that something significant is wrong:
Maybe they aren’t cut out for the advanced classes they’re enrolled in
Maybe their friends are a bad influence and affecting their grades
Maybe we need to drop everything, get them a tutor and double down on study time
But many times the story isn’t quite so dramatic.
When we work with kids we often find that it’s not that they hate learning, don’t want to try because it’s not “cool,” or have some fundamental deficiency in a particular subject. Instead, most of the time it’s a few small things that have gone wrong, and have started to accumulate over time. Things like:
Missing a key concept in geometry class, which then causes them to not fully grasp the next concept, and they start to fall further and further behind.
Not using their agenda book to keep track of assignments because they simply forget to bring it to class, or grab it from their backpacks when they get home.
Doing poorly on exams because they don’t think to plan ahead and incorporate a little bit of studying each day rather than cramming it all in at the last minute.
In this post, we cover 12 habits of successful students, and how you can use these small, manageable actions to create some big wins for you and your child in 2018.
To get more tips on how to help your child have success in the classroom, click here!
These aren’t the grandiose commitments you’ll see attached to most people’s New Year’s resolutions this year, that in their wild ambition are almost always doomed to failure. But instead reasonable tweaks you can make to the routines and strategies your family already has in place to start to turn things around.
If there’s a specific section you’d like to tackle first, here’s a quick reference table of contents that will take you there:
1. Successful students have a basic handle on time management and planning ahead
As we’ve covered before, time management is a struggle for a lot of students, especially as assignments become more complex.
But they don’t have to be planning experts to be successful. If we break it down into the simplest time management habits of successful students, there are a few things almost all of them do:
They use a planner.
The simple act of writing down their assignments is the cornerstone of staying on top of their schoolwork, having a better sense of when things need to be done, and making the best use of their time after school. Often just the act of getting something down on paper is enough to set of a chain of events that leads to homework getting done on time, and projects getting started on earlier than the day before they’re due.
They set small goals.
They use their agenda book or planner to write out what they’re going to do, but not in big general terms like “study for math test.” Rather, they break it down into smaller goals like: “spend 15 minutes working on fractions worksheet.” This makes it easier to get started, and easier to see progress as well.
They learn to pay attention to a watch or clock.
This is one of those “duh” type habits, but it’s one that a lot of kids don’t develop. Without learning a sense of time from paying attention to how time actually passes, many students have a hard time estimating how long things will take, as well as how much time they’re spending on unproductive activities. Encourage them to check the clock or wear a watch on a regular basis.
2. They don’t just get organized, they stay organized
At this point it’s no secret, we’re BIG on organization here at Educational Connections, because it’s one of the most effective tools you can use with your student to help them improve their performance in school. Often times academic or behavioral issues are merely symptoms of disorganization and lack of routine.
Here are some of the top organizational habits of successful students (covered here in more detail):
Set up a homework routine at a consistent time each day
Get everything ready in the backpack the night before
Color code and label folders and binders
Schedule a weekly family “Clean Sweep” to get ready for the week ahead of time
Now it’s all well and good to put new habits in place, but the difficult part is getting them to stick. How many times have you reminded your son or daughter to write down their homework, only to find missed assignments a week later?
So not only do successful students work on their organization habits, they also work together with their families to monitor and revisit them to make sure they’re working. Here are some ways you might do that:
Discuss their responsibilities with them at dinnertime.
Make sure you’re not nagging, but just check in: “Hey I know you said you liked the way we set up your homework folders for your classes. How’s that going? Is it helping you organize your assignments?”
Set aside time on Sundays to check in.
You can even pair this with your Clean Sweep so that you’re uncovering all of the “mess” that may have accumulated as a result of failed organizational habits.
Lead by example.
Get your closet organized. Set your things for work out the night before. Spend time planning out your week, visibly, so your child can observe you in action. This is the most powerful way you can demonstrate the importance of organization habits for your kids.
3. They distribute their practice (a.k.a. they don’t cram)
If you’re lucky, maybe your son or daughter takes to studying like a diligent professional – planning ahead, setting aside time each day, and cruising into their quizzes and tests without so much as a hiccup to their usual bedtime.
Well, I can confidently say: most of us aren’t lucky.
Instead, most of us have kids who, although maybe they aren’t chronic “Crammers,” definitely have their moments where they wait until the last minute to study for their tests.
Why cramming doesn’t work
Because they don’t tend to have a strong sense of urgency until they are right up against a deadline, if they have a test on Thursday, they start getting ready on Wednesday night. This type of cramming can pay off in the immediate term, but when they need to learn information on a deeper level, it backfires.
Cramming only puts information into short-term memory, whereas learning it over many nights and sleeping on it (by the way, sleep is a fantastic study tool) stores it into long-term memory.
This is because of a concept called Distributed Practice.
Why distributed practice is so effective
Distributed practice (also known as “spaced repetition”), is just a fancy way of saying: study a little bit each day rather than cramming it all in the night before the test.
Studies show that when students use a concept called Distributed Practice, they are far more likely to do better on tests. For example, if your child has a test on Friday, he could study for an hour on Thursday night, but he would actually get a better grade if he took the same amount of time and distributed it over multiple days — 20 minutes Tuesday, 20 on Wednesday, and 20 on Thursday. The reason he’ll get a better grade is not because he’s reviewed the material multiple times; it’s that he’s slept on it.
When you learn information and then sleep on it, you’re consolidating that information into long-term memory. However, when you cram for a test, that information is learned at a superficial level, really for regurgitation the next day. It’s going into short-term memory. Long-term memory is more beneficial, because when you have a test later on, say a month later, you’re much more likely to be able to retrieve it.
Okay so how do we get our child to study in this way?
First, they have to want to change. In order for a different way of studying to work, he or she must recognize the problem and be willing to make modifications. If it’s not seen as an issue, all the parental suggestions in the world won’t work.
So have a chat with them. As difficult and exhausting as it is to stay up with a kid cramming for a math test last-minute, you can bet that they don’t like it either, even if they claim they work better under pressure (a “tell” that they’re justifying their behavior).
I’ve found that kids who tend to cram are willing to plan ahead if they don’t feel like they have to do any more work than necessary and if they see the changes result in better grades (and they almost always do). The good news is that they often don’t have to put in more time, they just need to use it more efficiently.
Crammers also respond well to the suggestion of using “weird windows“. Sometimes, students think they need lengthy, dedicated time in which to study. And if they don’t have the perfect time and if they’re not in the ideal mood, they won’t do it. In actuality, they can use any chunk of time to get studying done. An example of a ”weird window” is the 15 minutes he or she’s waiting at a doctor’s office or that 20 minutes right before lacrosse practice starts. Those are weird windows, and you can chunk time for studying by getting a lot done in short periods of time.
4. They know how to take notes in class
There are definitely some students who get into class, pull out their notebooks and a pencil, and start transcribing everything the teacher says like an efficient note-taking robot.
There are other kids who will plop down at their desk and sit… comfortably listening (or not) to what the teacher has to say, until he or she notices said kid is doing nothing, and tells them to get out a piece of paper and write down what they’re saying.
The proper balance is somewhere in the middle, and there are any number of different note taking methods successful students use. Here are a few you can introduce your child to if they don’t already have a good note-taking habit:
The Outline Method
Exactly as it sounds, the outline method is probably the most straightforward. Chances are if the teacher is organized they’ll present the material in an outline format already. Here the student’s job is to recognize when the teacher has moved onto a new topic, and keep their notes relatively organized underneath each topic (although it’s not an exact science).
The Free-Form Method
Let your child express their inner creative by taking notes as they see fit. Drawing diagrams, linking notes together with a mind map… the danger here is if they take too many liberties and miss key information. But if your child is a bit more “outside the box” this may be something to explore.
The Cornell Method
The Cornell Method is a more advanced method probably best reserved for high school students. You record your notes during class in the right-hand column, and then formulate questions and terms on the left-hand side as soon after class as you can. You can then use these notes as a study guide, covering the right hand side and trying to remember what each question or term means.
When it’s all said and done though, even just a rudimentary copying of what the teacher has on the board is a start, and you can build from there.
5. They study using active recall
Whether through an app like Quizlet or through old-fashioned physical note cards, students who practice recalling key information from memory almost always do better on quizzes and tests.
The official name for this practice is Active Recall and the method is pretty straightforward.
Step 1: Write down the term, concept, or problem to solve.
Step 2: Write down or recite the definition, explanation, or answer without looking at any notes or information.
Step 3: Check your answer against your notes, and correct your mistakes.
In direct contrast to passively reading the textbook, or leafing through notes, this technique has been shown be the research to dramatically improve exam performance, and is one of the lesser known habits of successful students that people talk about.
6. They approach their mistakes correctly
Speaking of mistakes, the most successful students don’t dwell (and don’t avoid either). Many times I’ve seen students who get down on themselves due to a missed question on an exam. Unfortunately, by viewing their mistakes in this way, they almost always ensure they won’t learn from them and improve the next time around.
So it’s important to help foster a growth mindset: the idea that your child’s skills and abilities aren’t fixed (e.g. they’re not “smart”) but can be improved over time with practice and effort (e.g. they’re hard workers and can become “smarter”).
With this type of self-talk (and encouragement from mom and dad), kids are much more likely to dig into their mistakes and work hard to correct them so that they learn what to do correctly the next time.
7. They make friends they can study with
Some kids are extroverts and have a vast network of friends they can reach out to at a moment’s notice. For others, making friends in class can feel like climbing Mt. Everest.
Regardless of your child’s natural temperament, having at least a few other classmates your son or daughter can reach out to in each class is critical.
Even with just one or two friends in class to text, your child can quickly clarify assignments, ask questions if they’re not sure about something from class, or set up a meeting time to study for an upcoming test. All of these will serve as a buffer against forgetting to write something down, missing a class due to absence, or just simply having some material go over their heads.
Even better, if they schedule a regular time to meet up over Skype or FaceTime, it can be a great accountability tool to make sure they’re staying on top of assignments and exams.
8. Successful students have morning and evening routines
First, having a solid morning routine established not only for your son or daughter, but for the whole family, ensures that when they get up in the morning, they know exactly what they need to do to get ready for school. There’s no (well… let’s say less) negotiating, and less likelihood that they forget something critical like a homework assignment, an instrument, or their lunch.
And often the tone that gets set at the beginning of the day determines the success of the remainder of the day: so a smooth low-stress start to the school day gives your child the best chance at successful learning for the six or so hours they’re at school.
A solid evening routine ensures organization and rest
Second, having a clear and timely evening routine further facilitates organization, proper sleep, and preparedness for the following day. It’s tempting to let TV, the computer, or last minute assignments throw a wrench into your plans – but unless your son or daughter find themselves in a critical circumstance the bedtime routine should rarely be deviated from.
Both in combination provide a consistent sleep schedule
Third, both consistent evening and morning routines facilitate a consistent sleep schedule. It cannot be overstated the magnitude of the negative impact lack of sleep, or even and inconsistent sleep schedule can have on a student’s ability to learn, ability to regulate their emotions, and the overall quality of their interactions with you, teachers, and other students each day. Having a set bedtime and wake up time each morning dramatically increases the probability that they’ll get the rest they need, when they need it.
9. Their parents give them the tools they need, but don’t “do it for them”
I know, it’s tough to see your child struggle. Especially when you can see exactly what they’re doing wrong and you know you could just step in for a split second and help them correct the problem.
Unfortunately, while it’s absolutely critical to be loving and supporting to your child, helping them with their homework or studying when they could do it on their own does them a big disservice.
The more a student can expand their abilities and level of competence independently, the better – because not only does it set the stage for success in higher level classes in high school and college when mom and dad aren’t around (or don’t understand what they’re learning!), but for success in life when it’s time for them to experience the difficulties of navigating in the real world.
But that doesn’t mean we have to sit and observe from the sidelines. In fact, the language you use as a parent to guide and encourage your child can actually make or break their success as a student.
We already talked about the importance of fostering a “growth mindset” above, but what you can also do is use questions to facilitate thinking and planning ahead. We call these Powerful Questions.
For example, you could ask questions like:
What are your priorities today?
What’s the one thing you might do to study for your science test?
Going forward, what’s the one thing you might do differently?
The benefit of framing your conversations with your child about school in this way is that you spark thinking instead of telling them what to do. You give them the tools to figure out what to do, without actually doing it for them. This is the balance the parents of the most successful students strike.
10. They know how to ask for help, but try to find the answer themselves first
On the flip side, one of the most consistent habits of successful students we observe is their comfort and ability to ask for help when they need it.
These students are much less concerned with what their teachers and classmates will think when they ask a question about something they don’t understand, and a lot of this comes from the growth vs. fixed mindset distinction we discussed earlier. They know that in order to learn they’re going to have to ask questions when they don’t understand something because they aren’t expected to know everything right off the bat.
That all being said, these students also know that they need to put in the effort to try to find the answer themselves first. Whether that’s looking back through their class notes, reviewing the textbook for explanations and examples, or using Google to try to find what they need. If they’ve done their best to try to figure it out, but still are stumped, they don’t hesitate to ask the teacher, mom and dad, or a friend for help.
Note: Age is a factor here. Elementary age students aren’t going to have the self-direction to find the answer themselves as readily as middle or high school students, so they’re going to require a bit more help. However, as a parent you should encourage them to do as much as they can independently as early as they can to foster those independent learning skills.
11. Their parents aren’t focused on motivation, they’re focused on behavior
Motivation comes and goes in waves, and if your son or daughter depends on these waves to get their work done, it’s going to be difficult for them to make consistent progress.
As a parent then, it’s your job to help your child understand that even if they’re feeling down or tired, they can still do their work, even if they have to go back and fix it later. Having something down on paper is better than nothing, and often once they start to make a little bit of progress on an assignment, that motivation all a sudden reappears to help them continue to work through it.
To do this, prioritize behaviors over motivation. We all know the cliche of “going through the motions” but for developing habits, this is actually preferred. Change your language to fit this concept: you don’t have to feel good to get your work done, you just have to try. And in fact, when parents stop focusing on motivation (e.g. “You need to care more about school!”), students are often left with the space they need to find their own self-motivation to learn and succeed.
12. They know school isn’t everything
And their parents aren’t only focused on their academic success.
It can be easy to focus in on the marks that show up on a graded exam or on report cards because that’s an easy measurement to look at and keep track of. But there are plenty of other ways that our kids can develop and succeed, and acknowledging those wins outside of school actually goes a long way towards helping them be successful in school.
Contrary to what you would think, the most successful students don’t tie their whole identity to their school performance. It’s just one facet of what makes them who they are, and this relieves the pressure to succeed in one area that can often be devastating when they encounter challenges and failure.
Think about it this way: if your son feels that his value as a person is highly tied up in how well he does at the end of the quarter in his biology class… then if he has a bad day and does poorly on an exam, it can have severe consequences psychologically. In that way, putting such a high importance on doing well academically is actually preventing him from continuing to learn, because taking an inevitable “loss” isn’t as easy to overcome and learn from.
If instead he also knows that he’s valued for his sportsmanship on the basketball court, his success in building his own gaming computer, and his ability to make his brothers and sisters laugh at the dinner table, that failed bio exam is less of a blow, and more easy to brush off and try again.
Habits of Successful Students You Can Implement Today
Now like we said at the outset of this post: small behavioral changes are what lead to big long-term results. So trying to help your child uproot their academic habits all at once is a recipe for failure.
To get the most out of the changes you could make this year, read through the list above, and choose 1-3 changes you can implement this week.
How are you going to introduce those changes to your child or your family?
What will you do to ensure you succeed?
And what will you use as your criteria for success to know if they’re fruitful or not?
Choose the habits you want to work on, answer those questions, and then give it a try.
At Educational Connections, we are always learning new tips and strategies to help families like you. We hope you found this article useful and click here to stay up to date with more tips for your child’s academic journey!
And let us know in the comments what you’re going to work on and why. We love hearing from parents like you. Have a wonderful 2018!