For many families, there’s the overarching challenge with poor school performance for one or more schoolchildren. The million-dollar question is: What’s responsible for it? There’s tons of reliable research out there on this issue, yet it’s extremely hard to find. It’s mixed up and buried under even more unreliable data and plain old misinformation.
To make it worse, as in so many other parenting topics, parts of this conversation can easily turn into an emotionally charged controversy. Let’s see if TLP can help promote peace and calm while unraveling the puzzle.
Let’s Eliminate the easy ones
First, there’s a wide array of physical and physiological issues that can easily trigger lower performance in school. Every year we need to call on a specialist for things like dyslexia, sleeping disorders, hearing and seeing defects, speech defects, anemia… the list is endless.
The good news with these is that many are reversible. Once you consult a doctor and get necessary treatment, things usually go back to normal. But often the ailment is of a more permanent nature. With things like epilepsy or asthma, there can be more chronic problems at school if the student hasn’t yet developed ways to cope and still function well.
Within the school itself, we often develop elaborate strategies to assist, drawing on help from classmates, the front office, and of course, teachers.
Disorders, Deficits & Disabilities
Next, the last 50 years or so have seen a lot of valuable studies bring forward issues we didn’t understand or even know about before…everything from autism, to ODD and all the other deficits. Care professionals give parents and educators useful guidelines for managing the problems that accompany deficits, disorders and disabilities.
Then, if you’re a parent there’s just the issue of your child and his/her personality and natural abilities. Many students have been tested and found to have low intelligence, yet turned out to be highly gifted in areas that don’t show up as easily in regular schools. In other cases, they just take longer than their classmates to reach the same level. Yet they get there with a push or a great deal of encouragement.
The general public knows and talks about what we’ve just discussed so far. That makes it just a little easier to eliminate them when you’re troubleshooting for persistent low grades. But there’s one more issue that, for some strange reason, only gets discussed at length among teachers.
It’s high time that discussion starts around dinner-tables and coffee-shops as well.
Let’s talk about academic motivationYes.. academic motivation is a thing! Click To Tweet
It’s understandable, but a pity that it’s not discussed among parents as often as the other challenges already mentioned. You can have a gifted student with high IQ, very healthy and with none of the three D’s we’ve mentioned. Here’s the kicker. Without academic motivation, that student can still be at risk. Among the thousands of dropouts every year, many are some of the most intelligent students in our schools. So what’s their problem?
I remember years ago sitting among teachers discussing students. Very often, a student is described as simply being “lazy,” “won’t work,” or “not focused.” Then someone else in the room would challenge that discription and say, “You mean not motivated?”
And there you have it. Words DO matter. There’s not a whole lot you can do about a student who is just naturally lazy (if that actually exists). We’re all lazy when it comes to doing something we’re not motivated to do, aren’t we?
It’s not about being politically correct either. Saying a student is unmotivated is simply more empowering. It suggests in an obvious way that all that is needed is to find the key to motivating that student.
That may not be too comforting when you get to find out where the lack is coming from. But at least it narrows down the problem to something parents can fix.
Is it the teachers’ fault?
Old-school educators said it best. “Until the student has learned, the teacher has not taught.” We need to discuss this.
Before my colleagues jump on my case, I interpret it like this. The teacher may have taught the class. But that student may not have arrived at school that morning, and many other mornings, ready to learn. If the student is nor ready to learn, it doesn’t matter what the teacher does while teaching.
Sure, most teachers recognize the problem when they see it, and may go the extra mile to try and motivate the child. Sometimes it works. More often than not, it doesn’t. Let me tell you why.
The Weakest Link
Remember that famous show, “The Weakest Link?” Well there’s a very strong link between unmotivated students and another sticky topic called parental involvement. Of late, educators have begun referring to it as Family Engagement in education.
I’m not pointing any fingers here. TLP is a blog about helping children, right? As a parent, you want to know everything there is to know about getting your child ready for a happy, productive life. And I know first hand, and through working with hundreds of parents, that there is nothing so frustrating as feeling you have no power to assist with your child’s hardest struggles. So let’s not sweep what first appears an uncomfortable topic under the rug. Arm yourself instead with the weapons of influence so you can do three important things:
- recognize the signs when a child is highly motivated
- recognize the signs when a child has low academic motivation
- steps to take in each case.
The last one simply means that motivation is not a given. A child can be highly motivated in the 3rd grade, and be totally demotivated five years later in the 8th grade. It’s like everything else in life. You get up one day and things happen that can throw you. Guess what. Our children’s lives are no different. Just as we can become depressed as adults, children and teens can have the same. Just as we can become lazy about certain things we just have to get done, so it is for children and teens as well.
In the coming weeks we take a deeper dive into this issue. We’ll even feature a free training via a free online webinar at the end of that process. If there are no disorders or health problems, we need to know what motivates children to do well in school, and what gets in the way.
And we need to know what to do about it. Right? Feel free to ask your questions or send me feedback in the comments below. I’ll be following and responding daily.