My last blog (about skills versus intelligence) mentioned that some parents and teachers think children are not trying when in reality they are working very hard. It is a concern that I have for struggling students, because judging a person’s internal motivation is difficult to do. And, there are children who will tell you they are not trying just to save face. ("I failed because I didn’t try.")
It is possible that your child is completely goofing off. Maybe he sneaks off and watches television or plays video games when he is supposed to be doing homework. That is a behavior issue that should be addressed. Just be cautious before deciding poor school work is a behavior issue. There may be genuine learning problems that interfere with work output.
How can you tell whether your child is doing her best?
Watch your child as she works on her homework. Does she spend a lot of time looking around at things other than her books and papers? How much time is spent doing that versus doing the work? Some children are distracted by anything and everything around them. For these children, the time they spend doing homework is really not accomplishing anything. However, to them they think they are working. In this case, their attention issue is keeping them from producing their work. This child is working hard, but not being productive. Some intervention on your part to create a less distracting environment might help them to be able to get their work finished in a reasonable amount of time.
Look at your child’s completed assignments. Are there a lot of erasures on the page? Are there questions that have been skipped? Is there an indication that he thinks he knows how to do the work, but really does not? Did he do the wrong questions or problems? These are signs of a child who is working very hard, but doing the wrong things (or doing them incorrectly). This child would benefit from additional instruction on the concepts in order to know how to do the work. It is also possible that these relate to either reading or organizational issues.
Watch your child as she writes. Is her handwriting labored? Does it take her forever to get one sentence written? This may indicate that your child has a motor-skills problem. These children produce work very slowly and may give up out of sheer exhaustion. This child is working very, very hard but because of a neurological problem cannot produce the work in a reasonable amount of time. This child needs to learn how to use a word processor to complete her work so that handwriting does not hold her back.
Assuming that your child is working hard but still not doing well in school, ask him why school is hard. See if he has insights into what is going on inside his head, and then follow-up with his teacher to find out if she sees the same things in the classroom. My next post on meeting with your child’s teacher may help you plan that conversation.
Here are several resources that may be helpful if you see your child described in the above scenarios.