Frequently, I get a phone call from a concerned parent that sounds something like this: My child did so well in elementary/middle school. At that time, the work was easy. They rarely had homework and always made good grades. Now that they are in middle/high school/college, the work has gotten harder; they have stopped trying; and their grades are really suffering! They used to love school but now they seem to have lost all interest! What is going on here?
The short answer is that often these students believe that their performance is a reflection of their intelligence and that intelligence is a fixed trait. So therefore they assume, if they are making bad grades, then they must be stupid, and as the expression goes: you can’t fix stupid! As adults, we know this is not true!
Interestingly, students who continue to thrive during times of challenge often have a different way of thinking about and approaching learning. They have what Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset. They believe that anything can be accomplished through hard work and increased effort. I know, it sounds like the premise of every motivational poster, in every classroom, everywhere. But it’s true; success in school primarily comes from hard work, motivation and resilience, not just innate ability.
Here are five things you can do to help your child become a better student in 2016:
1. Teach them that sustained effort over time is the key to achievement.
The single most important contributing factor for achievement, according to psychologists who study creative geniuses, is the willingness to put in huge amounts of effort, to be able to maintain this effort in the face of obstacles, and to bounce back from failure by continuing to try new things.
2. Teach them to seek out and pursue new challenges.
Emphasize that easy tasks are not fun and encourage them to challenge themselves to do work and learn material that will be new and interesting.
3. Teach them that intelligence is not simply a fixed thing you are born with but something that can also be developed through effort.
Anyone can learn new things, thus changing their level of intelligence. Challenge your children to expand their intelligence by confronting challenges, working hard, reading, studying, and examining times that they did not do well to figure out what they need to learn in order to do better next time.
4. Teach them to value learning over grades or test scores.
Help your children understand that their current performance, grade, or test score reflects their current level of skill and effort, not their worth or level of intelligence. If they are disappointed in their performance or not satisfied with their grades, tell them that they need to: work harder, find new learning opportunities, study more or more efficiently, or seek out help. Obviously grades are important, but this should be a balance. Set goals that are learning-oriented as well as setting performance-oriented goals, and make sure that students are not sacrificing learning opportunities or playing it safe in order to guarantee good grades!
Athletes often understand this well. You should be performance-oriented during a test or graded assignment, much like you would be in a game. Then you should use the feedback from that performance, like athletes use game tapes, to learn from mistakes and improve. The teacher, much like a coach, is there to help you improve by showing you what to focus on, giving feedback, and helping to learn new skills.
5. Teach them study skills that will put them in charge of their own learning.
Students who have had an easy time in school often have not developed the tools that they need to confront and deal with learning challenges in order to improve. Study skills like setting goals, time-management, allocating study time, reading a textbook, and note-taking are often not taught in schools but are very necessary to becoming a successful learner as a student and in the workplace.
When a student who has had an easy time in school confronts a new learning challenge, they often do not know how to handle that challenge. By emphasizing a growth mindset, hard work, and study skills, parents can equip their child to take control of their own learning and face challenges with confidence and determination.
-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.