Hey Students – It is OKAY to Get Help

Good grades start at home

The best kept secret these days is that going to see the teacher after school can improve your teen’s grades. Over the last several months I have asked a number of students (many of them clients whom I see because they or their parents want their grades to improve) if they go after school to get extra help. 90% of them say no. They say things like, “I can do it on my own I just have to take the time, work harder, study more,” etc. The other 10% say they have and that they found it helpful. If your teen is part of the 90%, you might want to ask your friends if their teens go after for help. Then without mentioning names of course, you can say you know of x number of other kids who do and they found it helpful maybe their grades have even gone up.

I usually suggest that for a teen’s toughest subject, they go after once or twice a week for two or three weeks and then compare their grade on the most recent quiz or test to one that they had before they started going after school. Once they see that the scores have gone up (and that some of their friends are there too) they might not be so apprehensive about going.

If that does not work then encourage them to at least ask the Internet wizards by searching for their topic/problem online. Sites like www.khanacademy.org, (video and audio combo makes this site my favorite) www.quizlet.com, (for flashcards and flashcard practice) and www.factmonster.com (although I don’t like the fact this site has ads) are places to start. Students can even “Google” quadratic equations for example (or whatever is stumping them at the time) and come up with over 4 million sites that can help. Sometimes students cannot understand the concept from the way it was presented in class, just getting another perspective from the Internet can make it click. Yes, I do recommend reading Sparknotes too if they struggle with reading comprehension, but they HAVE TO do the reading first and course notes for other subjects.

Winter break is a great time to take a look at some sites and do a little recon work to find help for those concepts they may not have mastered. Dare I say the midyear exams are only a week away. Whatever they have not understood up to this point, usually comes back to haunt them on the midyear or final exam.

It is okay to get help. Working harder at understanding something that you truly don’t understand is usually ineffective. As a coach I find guiding students to find their own solutions (and making it look like it was their idea) is very rewarding for all.

Effort or Grades – Which Means More?

080814-brainEvery day scientists are learning more and more about the brain. Research is proving that the brain can continue to grow new synapses (connections) no matter the age providing that it continues to learn “new” skills. Do you believe that your brain can grow or were you born with a certain amount of intelligence and that’s all there is?

I’m reading the book, Mindset, by Carol Dweck, Ph.D. Dweck believes that it is more important what you and/or your child believe about the brain and not what they believe about a grade or an IQ score. (Click here to watch a YouTube video of Dr. Dweck) Dweck’s premise is that there are two kinds of mindsets; fixed and growth. “Believing your qualities are carved in stone – the fixed mindset – creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. “  So you strive for the good grades in order to feel good about yourself. Then when you do poorly on something, you feel like a failure. Your motivation dwindles because in this mindset, nothing you can do can improve your grade. You’re stuck in a fixed mindset.

On the other hand, “The growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts….everyone can change and grow through application and experience.” Same failed test causes the student with this mindset to study harder and to work at it until they get it. They are motivated to improve and believe there is no limit to what they can do with enough effort.

So, as parents, do you praise your child for their grades or for their effort? One (grades) will lead to a fixed mindset whereas; praising their effort will encourage them to continue to strive for excellence. Dweck says, “The view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life.” What do you think? Let me know in the comment box below.

Exercise and Your Child’s Brain

exercise brainMarch usually marks the middle of the third term of the school year. For some children the winter months are the most challenging. With shorter days and cold, sometimes snowy weather, they are less able to get outside and burn off their extra energy. This makes it difficult for them to “settle down” and get working on their homework.

There is actually a neurobiological reason for this and it has to do with the neurotransmitter chemicals in the brain. I won’t get technical here, but there are three main chemicals in the brain that influence learning. They are serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. These chemicals work together to focus, motivate and improve learning in the brain. In his book, Spark, John Ratey, says that exercise improves learning in three ways. I’m paraphrasing but it helps to improve alertness, attention and motivation, helps the cells hold onto new learning and spurs the development of new brain cells. All of which are necessary for new learning and of course for homework.

Here’s how you can help. If you notice that your child is struggling to settle down to do their homework don’t force them. That tends to shut down the brain making it harder to work. Instead, encourage some activity for 15 to 30 minutes. Set a clear time frame so that your child is not surprised that they have to get back to their homework. Provide a five minute and a two minute audio and visual reminder to help with their transition back to homework.

Most middle school students can focus for 30-40 minutes and for elementary age children it is about 15-20 minutes. It’s important to break up your child’s homework time with 5-10 minute activity breaks after a period of focused work. Also providing a snack of lean protein can increase your child’s level of dopamine. Dopamine helps the brain carry the messages from one side to the other. (For children with ADHD, medication helps to increase the level of dopamine allowing the brain to feel “comfortable” and to process the information more efficiently.)

So get your kids active and watch their ability to focus increase and the amount of time they spend on their homework may decrease.