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Improving Academic Success

by Bill Malone, MSW, LISW

It is early November and the first grading period is almost over. You observe a young child sitting quietly alone in the school cafeteria in total frustration. The child has a long face and looks sad. Being an astute person as you are, you realize that the child is depressed. You slowly walk over to the child and start up a conversation. You ask him, “What is wrong?” The child answers, “I am stupid, I hate school, and my teacher hates me.” You ask yourself, “What could make this child feel so depressed and hate school so much. You think to yourself, “Why is this child feeling so negative about himself and learning?” “What went wrong?” you ask yourself.

There are many reasons for a child to be unsuccessful in school. The causes for students to fail is enormous and range from physical, psychological to developmental problems.

Learning is a complex process that involves many different skills and abilities. Early school success is one major key to a child’s continued academic achievement in the future. If a child encounters continual failure in the early grades of school a negative learning attitude can develop. This attitude may linger into adulthood. Changing such attitudes can take years to undo. It is safe to say that one objective to ensure a healthier school attitude is success. Success breeds success. Success is like going up a flight of steps, one step leads to the next and the next, so on and so forth until you reach the top.

Adam Robinson, in his book titled What Smart Students Know, says, “Smart students aren’t any smarter than other students.” The difference, according to Mr. Robinson, is that other students are motivated to do well because it is expected of them and because they want to please someone else. Successful students on the other hand, are motivated to do well because of their own desires. They work harder for their own sake.

Successful students have a different attitude than other students. Attitude is like a rain drop. It is a small thing that makes a big difference. A successful student’s attitude is pro active and is positive. They think I can, instead of, I don’t know if I can or I can’t. Successful students also see themselves as confident, self assured and capable. Other students see themselves as inadequate, not that capable and not that smart, just average. Successful students see themselves as extraordinary. Successful students have high self esteem which makes it possible for them to try harder, work harder and be more persistent.

Persistency is another aspect that successful students possess which other students are lacking. The average or not so average student encounters obstacles and because of low self esteem or feelings of being incapable, frustrations set in and they give up. On the other hand, successful students have a lot of persistence. They don’t give up easily. They keep at it and keep at it until they get it. The by product of their effort is success. The successes that successful students achieve leads to accomplishment and confidence that leads back to more persistency and more success. Thus developing a positive, pro active learning model that is ongoing.

Teaching a child responsibility is another critical factor in school success. Successful students know that they are responsible for their school success and failure. They do not blame the teacher, parents or the school. Successful students act independently. When homework needs to be completed they do it without dispute. When a successful student gets a boring teacher they find a way to master the material despite the teacher. Other students act more dependently. They require parents to set the study schedule or they require the teacher to do all the learning. They do not see that school is their responsibility.

Parents can’t do the work for students if they want the student to be successful. If parents want children to be successful at school they must hold the child responsible for all the work that is assigned. If a parent’s attitude towards school is negative, so will the child’s be negative. Parents must supervise homework and be more persistent at getting the child to do the work. The easiest thing for parents to do is not fight with the child over school and let the child do whatever. In the long run everyone suffers with the greatest tragedy bestowed on the child.

Successful students know different study skills. For example, successful students know that when the teacher says read chapter 12 it means to read it as if they had to teach it. Other students who are given the same assignment just read the chapter like a novel and leave it at that. They don’t go back and question themselves on what they did read. They do the bare requirement and as a result they do average to less than average work.

Study habits are important for achieving success in school and if you examine how successful students study and how other students study you will see a clear difference. Other students read the text assigned, highlight the points they think are important, take notes, and in the weeks ahead review the text and notes for the test. This is a passive, boring and ineffective way to learn.

Successful students use a more active learning style. According to Mr. Robinson, successful students use a dialoguing process of asking a specific cycle of questions of the material being studied. They ask questions like: What is my purpose for reading this material? What do I already know about this subject? What information is important to me? What is my hook for remembering this information?

There are other questions successful students ask, but due to the limitation of this article it is not possible to cover all the strategies that can be employed to improve school performance. The reader may consider looking at Mr. Robinson’s book in more detail.

To summarize, the reader can see how their child stacks up by looking at the child’s attitude, self esteem, history of success, level of responsibility, persistency, level of independency and study skills and comparing them to that of a successful student. If there is an area or areas where the child does not stack up, the parent must seek out assistance. Early detection may prevent years of frustration and failure and may lead to years of positive proactive learning.

Your local mental health practitioner may be a good place to start to help you locate the source of your child’s academic difficulties.

Copyright 1993, 1998 by Bill Malone. All rights reserved.

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