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Motivating student success

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Finding the reasons children struggle in school is the first step toward improvement

“Do I have to do this homework?” “I hate school.”

Your child may dazzle on the ball field or on an artist’s canvas. Her teachers are dedicated and caring. So what do you do when your talented child is down on herself when it comes to classwork?
“Mommy, the numbers are dancing around on the page,” Johanna complained as she struggled through simple math homework in the third grade. Johanna’s mom, Heather, knew she could do the problems. Why wouldn’t she just focus and finish? Finally, Heather started asking Johanna the questions aloud.

“She clipped through the work orally. That was our first clue Johanna’s problem might be physical—something was happening between understanding the information and getting it to paper,” she says. “I began to investigate options to help her.” For Johanna, vision therapy worked miracles.

The frustration factors
Internal factors such as vision processing problems or dyslexia, embarrassment about learning challenges, or a lack of confidence may cause a child to dislike school. External pressures such as bullies, a teacher not suited to his or her personality, a demeaning or uncreative atmosphere, insecurity about relationships at home, or a changing circle of friends may distract kids, too.

“Frustrations at school aren’t always due to stubbornness. If you hear a child verbalizing a negative inner script, don’t wait to get help,” says Jene Hedden, president emeritus of Shelby Counseling Associates and a Shelby Energy member.

Dr. Barbara Washington, associate professor in special education who chairs the Department of Adolescent, Career and Special Education at Murray State University, agrees. “Work with the school to bring about a solution to the issue. If the issue is academic in nature, your child may need practice in prerequisite skills. Find out if group practice, peer support, or after-school tutoring is available through the school,” says Washington, who also is Kentucky state president of the Council for Exceptional Children and a West Kentucky RECC member. “If the issue is social or behavioral, determine what problem exists. Does your child need coaching in social skills or counseling? Many schools have family resource centers to help parents find a wide range of help for their children.”

Most importantly, she adds, during these struggles, “Speak positively to your child.”

More than a grade
People excel at many kinds of learning. Educational psychologist Howard Gardner suggests humans can develop aptitude in seven to nine distinct “intelligences.” Typically, two of these are measured in traditional school settings.[x_pullquote cite=”Leon Mooneyhan, CEO of Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative” type=”right”]Help your child discover his strengths, no matter what they are.[/x_pullquote]That leaves a multitude of strengths for young people to explore outside of the classroom. Recognizing that can be a key to helping your child succeed in the classroom, says Dr. Leon Mooneyhan, CEO of Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative, a consortium providing specialized services and programs to 13 school districts in north-central Kentucky.

“Help your child discover his strengths, no matter what they are. When kids find success in one area, it often boosts their confidence to keep trying in other areas. What we don’t want is for a child to decide he or she is not good at learning,” advises Mooneyhan, a former school superintendent.

“Kids have to find something that interests them,” suggests Lauren McQueary, a seventh-grade English teacher at Northern Middle School in Pulaski County. “It does not matter what it is: bull riding, skateboarding, or cooking. Connect what they like to educational goals. If your kid hates to read but loves to fly kites, then buy every kite magazine you can find. It is all about meeting kids where they are.”

In You Can’t Make Me (But I Can Be Persuaded), a book about motivating strong-willed children, author Cynthia Tobias reminds parents that employers want and reward qualities that kids are often punished for in school, like enthusiasm and the ability to talk and lead. She reminds parents to value more than academic achievement and to appreciate a child’s interests, abilities, and ways of doing things, even if they are different from their own.

Mooneyhan agrees. “If educators and parents ignore the intelligences that are not taught in the classroom, the world would be a boring place,” he says. “The foundations taught in school are essential. However, we must also see beyond today’s testing to picture the whole child and what the child may contribute tomorrow, and that may be spectacular.”

For more tips, read More help for struggling students.

Tim Webb

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