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Small Steps Can Improve Student Skills

Students who struggle in school often have many areas where they need to improve. This is true whatever the age. I currently teach high school students who struggle with student skills, and it is unreasonable to expect them to fix everything at once. Students should only work on one major issue at a time. If you limit what you are working on to one or two things, you can measure progress which encourages students to keep working.

Identify the problem. Whatever the problem is, the first step is to clearly identify the problem and come up with a possible solution. If your child forgets to write his name on his homework, there are steps to take to make this a habit—something he does without thinking. He must know what her teacher expects to be written in the heading and where it should be written. A sample of the correct heading should be posted near where your child does her homework. Once everyone is clear about expectations, the next step is to come up with a plan for how to change the behavior so that writing the proper heading is automatically something she does.

Guided practice. Whatever skill your child is working on, in the beginning he needs to practice with help. He will need to be reminded how to do it and monitored until he can do it without help. This takes time. Depending on the skill, it could take a long time. Children with executive functioning problems will especially need a lot of guided practice.

Independent practice. The next step is for him to practice by himself with you checking afterward to make sure he did it. It is a good idea during this stage to begin charting progress. Everyone needs to feel success and a bar chart or checklist is a visual way to see how well things are going. Some parents provide rewards for improved behavior, but I prefer to offer genuine praise for a job well done. Celebrate with an occasional trip to the frozen yogurt shop. Say, “You have made so much progress lately, I think we should celebrate.” My personal belief is that this will help your child become intrinsically motivated rather than motivated by constant rewards you offer.

Occasional check. With enough practice, your child should be independent and not need your frequent reminders and checking behind him. Occasionally, check to make sure he is still doing it and praise him for remembering. At this point, you can begin working on the next skill.

If your child can master two new student skills a month, in one school year he should experience a boost in self-confidence and perhaps improved grades.

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