Written by Carrie Carson, MA in Counselling Psychology, co
Helping students stay focused in school is no easy task for teachers or for parents. We try so hard to give them the skills they need to be successful, but with all of the other things going on in their life sometimes it’s just too much. So what are some easy strategies that we can implement to help alleviate their stress (which also alleviates our stress!) that also promotes their academic success?
1. Write everything down
Although this may seem like common sense, it’s not always for our children. Even though they receive an agenda at the beginning of the year, most don’t use it unless their teachers or parents request that they do so, and even at that we struggle with how often they have it with them. So how can we encourage our children to write things down? Well, we will need to find creative ways to engage them, child/age-dependent of course. An example can be to show them how to make their agenda interesting by having them color coordinate their classes or highlight important dates. Doing this, will make the agenda’s appearance more appealing and inevitably make the use of an agenda more fun! Greater use of their agenda will also make them more aware of what is to come, which certainly helps with time management (and helps build their executive function skills which are important for academic success). Sometimes, however, we have to consider that not all students know how to write their homework in their agenda and this is where we as parents and teachers come in. Show your children how to write their homework down, help them practice fast and efficient ways to document in their agenda (ie., acronyms, shortened names for classes, etc.). Guidance and practice will help them to master these skills and make the use of their agenda much more natural. Here is a link to help you get started.
2. Set goals
Every child has a goal, whether distant future or at the moment. Help them identify what their goal is and how they can make it a SMART goal. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Having goals is often great motivation, therefore helping them set goals and showing them how to make them SMART will inevitably create success, and we all know “success breeds success”. Take for example a goal of Honor Roll, while this is a great start we need to break it down even further than that. We will need to start by recognizing that in order to obtain this goal we must receive an overall average of 80% in each class. For a student who typically receives 80’s but is just under in one of their classes, this goal can be revised to address the one class that is just under the 80%. However, for the child who typically gets 60%, this goal is not necessarily attainable. As such, we could make it more attainable by suggesting an increase in their overall grade in one or two classes by a manageable amount. The idea of setting SMART goals is that the student, with additional effort, should be able to reach them, and each success increases motivation to continue.
3. Time management
Children see due dates and deadlines but don’t always understand how to make the best use of their time, in order to complete the work. Help your children organize their agenda to include all elements of their day. For instance, have them write in activities they have in the evenings during the school week as well as on the weekend so that they can see which time slots are unavailable. You can have them add as much or as little as you want (this depends on their current level of organization). By having a visual of available time, parents/teachers can help students break down their work into the available time slots leaving students with a concrete plan to complete their work. Hopefully, with practice, students will then learn the skills to do this on their own. Since time management is greatly associated with executive functioning, you may notice that children who have difficulty with this task will also have difficulty in their everyday life. If your child seems to forget about appointments, this may be because they have a hard time keeping track of time and obligations. If they consistently miss deadlines, this may be because they are unable to adequately predict the amount of time a project may take. If your child needs constant reminders to accomplish tasks, this may also be because they have difficulty with multi-step tasks. Recognizing their area(s) of difficulty and implementing strategies to aid them, will certainly improve their overall success. Whether or not your child has learning difficulties, ADD or ADHD, here is a link to some additional strategies that can be adapted to all students.
It is always motivating when there are perks attached to good work, but no need to buy them gifts or bribe them. Using appropriate time management skills should create more space for them to do the things they like. Have them identify a list of activities they enjoy and show them that the more organized they are the more time there will be for these activities. When they see the proof of your “suggestion”, the motivation to continue will increase. Be sure to use their list, as showing them there will be more time for doing the dishes or washing the floor may not get them too excited! Research has also shown that including them in the process by giving them choices, increases both learning and interest (Cordova and Lepper, 1996; Lyengar and Lepper,1999).
5. Study Method
Help your child find a study method that is right for them as this is a key factor in academic success. Not everyone learns the same way. Some students are more visual, some more auditory, and others more kinesthetic. Each type of learner has specific needs and as such study methods need to be adapted. For instance, if your child is an auditory learner, have them record their voice practicing their vocabulary words. Listening to it over and over will certainly help with the memorization process. If they are a visual learner, have them write things down in colorful or artistic ways. For example, they can make PowerPoint presentations or cue cards that are color coordinated. Anything that is appealing to the eye will help a visual learner be more successful. Finally, if your child is a kinesthetic learner, you will want to incorporate a physical component where they can get involved and be part of the learning process. For instance, instead of just reading their novel for English class, have them act out some of the important parts. Don’t forget to be creative, having fun is a sure way to reduce the resistance from your children when it comes to completing their work. Here are some more tips on teaching good study habits.