Please don’t tell my daughter, but I do think she has it kinda tough. Not like working-in-a-salt-mine tough or climbing-Mt. Everest tough, but your-mother-is-the-school-librarian plus she-writes-a blog-about-raising-capable-students tough.
I know what it takes for a student to get excellent grades at school. For me, knowing what is needed isn’t the hard part. The hard part is getting my 13-year-old to do it. I don’t like nagging, and I don’t like losing my temper, although I’ve done both. What has worked beautifully, though, is stepping back and allowing her to figure out some things on her own. Sometimes the natural consequences have been bad, but not always. Either way, allowing her to experience the consequences of her actions has resulted in some positive changes to her study habits.
Below are three simple tweaks my daughter has made to her study routine that have had a significant impact on her grades so far this year.
I hate seeing a failure coming, biting my tongue, and watching the inevitable happen. But my daughter learns by experience, which means sometimes I have to let her flop. I hate it, but this is actually a thing – there’s an entire sub-genre of parenting books about how great it is for our kids when we let them fail at stuff. I remind myself of that when I see doom on the horizon.
This year, the bane of my daughter’s existence is a digital math program called Aleks. Aleks is relentless, it’s due every single week, and it’s all or nothing – the grade is either a 100% or a zero. You either completed 15 topics and got 100% or you didn’t – it’s just that simple. Of course, simple isn’t always easy, and 2ndmarking period, my daughter let a few of those Aleks weeks slip. No surprise, it hurt her math grade – by a whole letter grade.
Ouch. But, it was also good, because after experiencing that kind of pain, she was ready for an intervention.
I suggested that each week she should show me her completed Aleks, and after I saw it, she would put a sticker on the big family calendar. The stickers would be visual proof of her completed assignment, which meant that I wouldn’t need to ask her a million times if she finished her Aleks this week. I could simply glance at the calendar.
It has worked beautifully. We got fun stickers on Etsy, and honestly, I think she is relieved to have the outside accountability. When I thought about it, I realized that many of us need that kind of accountability. According to author Gretchen Rubin, there is an entire personality type composed of people who thrive on outside accountability. Many groups – exercise buddies, writer’s groups, AA – exist because sometimes we all need a little outside accountability from our friends…or mothers. There isn’t any shame in needing to put a sticker on the calendar to motivate you to do Aleks.
Note Cards and Write it Down
In the law of natural consequences, sometimes it’s a good consequence that results in a changed behavior. That has definitely been the case with using the classic 3×5 note card for studying. The first time my daughter listened to me and made study cards for her science test, she scored 100% on the test. She was happy, and I was happy because after that 100, I knew she was convinced of the benefits of note cards.
Every few days or on the weekend, she looks at her class notes and creates a study card for each individual fact or theory she must know. So one card might ask for a simple definition, but the next card might ask for the application of the fact. The question goes on one side of the card, and the answer goes on the back. Also, I nag lovingly remind her that just looking at the note cards isn’t really studying. The best way to study is to stack the cards on the desk question side up, then write the answer down on paper, then flip the card over, check your answer, and move on to the next card. It’s old-school, but it works.
My favorite part of this system is that the night before the test she brings me a glass of wine and her note cards and asks me to quiz her. I love that part, but I think I’ve figured out that the size of my wine glass is inversely proportional to how well she thinks she knows the material.
Read the Directions
This is the simplest tweak of all, but I have to remind my daughter to do it, and my students to do it, ALL THE TIME. Before you start working on a project, read the instructions! Know what your teacher is asking you to do, and then do it. Before you turn in an assignment, check it against the rubric or the assignment directions.
Just the other night, my daughter showed me a completed project and asked me what I thought. At first glance, it looked beautiful, but when I asked to see the assignment, it was obvious that she had left an important part of the project undone. So, I asked her to read the assignment out loud to me, and then she caught her omission. That was all I needed to do, ask her to read the assignment out loud, and it made a huge difference to her final grade on that project.
I love these little adjustments that my daughter has made to her study routines this year. They require the kind of help that I think is perfect for parents to give, because it focuses on habits and skills and not the actual school work. They are the next steps on her journey to becoming a capable student.
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Maureen Paschal is a freelance writer, a teacher-librarian, and a mom of four almost grown kids. She blogs at Raising The Capable Student where her goal is helping parents to keep family life a priority and school success in perspective. Her work has been featured in On Parenting from the Washington Post, Grown and Flown, Perfection Pending, and Today Parents.