Saturday, August 29, 2009

Sue Scheff: Disengaged Students

I hear this frequently from parents. More with older teens (students) where they used be an overachieving student and now fortunate to get B’s and C’s. With younger students, sometimes it is learning difference that hasn’t been recognized or difficulties focusing. Connect with Kids offers an excellent article on this topic with some great parenting tips.

Source: Connect with Kids

Disengaged Students

“If you look at a 4th grade classroom with 32 kids, the kids at either end of that bell curve aren’t getting attention. And so it’s not the kids in the middle of the road, it’s the kids at either end who tend to disengage much more quickly.”

– Deborah Christy, Educator

A new university study comparing American students to Chinese students finds that our kids place less value on education than their Asian counterparts and aren’t as engaged in their studies. But interestingly, both groups of students show less interest in school at about the same time: middle school.

Andrew, 17, was an ‘A’ student in elementary school. Then he went to middle school, and his grades went down … way down. “A big change happened probably in 6th grade,” says Andy, “and then just started to get worse.”

But why? “I found new interests, got a taste of different things in life, “I could just not be inside, locked inside having to do all this work, that didn’t seem to be getting me anywhere.” Instead, Andy says, he focused his attention elsewhere, like Irish dancing. He became a champion dancer.

Educators say typically, there are two kinds of kids who lose interest in school. Gifted kids, like Andy, and kids with learning disabilities. ”If you look at a 4th grade classroom with 32 kids, the kids at either end of that bell curve aren’t getting attention,” says educator Deborah Christy. “And so it’s not the kids in the middle of the road, it’s the kids at either end who tend to disengage much more quickly. “

So how can parents help? First, avoid using threats about the future. “You can keep saying you’ll never get into a good college if you don’t take this. A lot children can’t think that far in advance, they’re interested in the right now,” says Ms. Christy.

Christy says next, think about tutors or alternatives to conventional schooling. She explains, “almost every school system in the United States offers magnet programs or accelerated programs or some form of unconventional approach to education.”

Finally, stay connected with your child, and listen. Christy says,“I think the simple act of a parent walking into a child’s bedroom, sitting on the bed with no agenda, just showing up and saying what’s going on. And a lot of high school parents don’t do that anymore.”

Andy’s parents’ never stopped encouraging him and, finally, his grades started to improve. “I’m still working hard to pull them up,” says Andy, “and they’re standing by me all the way, they’re helping me out as much as they can.”

Tips for Parents
There is a common pattern that many students seem to follow as they get older. When they are in elementary school, they tend to enjoy homework and school, but as they get into middle and high school, they begin to lose focus, dislike homework and even regret having to attend classes. The National Parent Information Network (NPIN) of the U.S. Department of Education has developed a list of things that may help parents who have students who are becoming unconcerned about homework. Everyone needs to work together – the school, teachers, parents and the student – to solve the problems. If your child refuses to do assignments, call his or her teacher. If you and your child can’t understand the homework instructions, call the teacher. The teacher may also be able to help you get your child organized to do the homework. The NPIN says different homework problems require different solutions:

•Does your child have a hard time finishing assignments on time? Maybe he or she has poor study skills and needs help getting organized.
•Is the homework too difficult? Maybe your child has fallen behind and needs special help from a teacher or tutor.
•Is your child bored with the homework? Maybe it’s too easy and your child needs extra assignments that give more challenge.
The NPIN suggests asking your child these questions to combat any problems about homework that may arise:

•What’s your assignment today?
•Is the assignment clear? (If not, suggest calling the school’s homework hotline or a classmate.)
•Do you need special resources (a trip to the library or access to a computer)?
•Do you need special supplies (graph paper, poster board, etc.)?
•Have you started today’s assignment? Have you completed it?
•Is it a long-term assignment (a term paper or science project)?
•For a major project, would it be helpful to write out the steps or make a schedule?
•Would a practice test be useful?
There are certain things you can offer your child whether he or she asks for help or not, according to the Chicago Public Schools.

•Encouragement – Give your child praise for efforts and for completing assignments.
•Availability – Encourage your child to do the work independently, but be available for assistance.
•Scheduling – Establish a set time to do homework each day. You may want to use a calendar to keep track of assignments and due dates.
•Space – Provide a space for homework, stocked with the necessary supplies, such as pencils, pens, paper, dictionaries, a computer and other reference materials.
•Discipline – Help your child focus on homework by removing distractions, such as television, radio, telephone and interruptions from siblings and friends.
•Modeling – Consider doing some of your work, such as paying bills or writing letters, during your child’s homework time.
•Support – Talk to your child about difficulties with homework. Be willing to talk to your child’s teacher to resolve problems in a positive manner.
•Involvement – Familiarize yourself with the teacher’s homework policy. Make sure that you and your child understand the teacher’s expectations. At the beginning of the year, you may want to ask your child’s teacher these questions: What kinds of assignments will you give? How often do you give homework? How much time are the students expected to spend on them? What type of involvement do you expect from parents?

•American School Board Journal
•Academic Quality Improvement Program
•Chicago Public Schools
•National Parent Information Network
•National School Board Associations
•U.S. Department of Education

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