Whether your son has always been an A student and suddenly brings home a C+ or your daughter spends too many hours getting through her homework, it’s hard to watch your child struggle.
We asked 5th grade teacher Carol Wooten, a winner of the 2008 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, for her advice on helping troubled students. She teaches at Hunter Gifted and Talented Magnet Elementary in Raleigh, N.C.
Some kids try hard but still have a tough time keeping up in school. How can parents keep these kids from giving up?
Look at your child’s learning style. I am a visual learner, so I graph and color-code everything. Other kids learn by doing or learn by listening. See how your child learns best and find ways for him to be successful. Think beyond paper and pencils. If your child learns by being hands-on, he might like to make a creature out of geometric shapes. This appeals to the kids who love fantasy. Help kids find their niche. Many kids love learning games, which can be found on the Internet. Also, take advantage of all the resources available at the school.
How would you suggest a parent help a child who says she feels dumb compared with other kids in the class?
Be positive with your child and provide opportunities for your child to be successful. Talk to your child and find out why she feels this way. Get to the heart of the matter. It may be a lack of test-taking skills. Set realistic progress goals together. When the goal is achieved, do something special together to celebrate the accomplishment.
On the flip side, how can parents light a fire under the child who is very bright but just doesn’t seem to care about grades?
Set a high expectation and model it at home. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, but it might be helpful to work on time-management skills. Set time parameters. Set a goal to reach during that time. If your child meets the goal, give him a choice of what activity he wants to do.
Some kids want Mom or Dad to sit next to them and help with every step of their homework. How can parents encourage homework independence?
During homework time, check in with your child. Some kids need more oversight than others. Use a timer to help your child stay focused. Help your child break a task into manageable chunks. Tell your child she needs to work for 30 minutes and then she can have a five-minute break for a snack or some activity she enjoys, though not video games. There is no such thing as five minutes on a video game! For projects, help your child create a timeline so all the work isn’t left until the night before.
When a child has a hard time with homework assignments, at what point should the parent talk to the teacher?
When it becomes a consistent problem, we need to work together as a team. We need to find out the cause of the problem. Does he not understand the concepts? Is the class too fast-paced? Or is he misunderstanding the assignments? Maybe an intervention strategy is called for. Maybe the child needs one-on-one time with the teacher or a tutor. I would rather the parent go ahead and speak up when the problem first surfaces. There are so many ways to communicate with teachers these days, including email and parent-teacher conferences.