Class is back in session and report cards will be coming out soon. No doubt by now you have already heard the moans and groans about homework, projects, and upcoming tests. It is common for students of all academic abilities to dread classwork and exams.
The question is when is it too much? When is it more than they can handle?
If your student is struggling in school, there are several ways you can help out. Here are a few helpful suggestions:
1. Ask the student.
In order to solve a problem, you need to go right to the source. Sit down with your student and talk about school. If you have any concerns, now is the time to talk about them. “You seem to be very upset with Spanish lately. What’s going on?” Don’t accuse. Remember, it’s all in the way you phrase things. “You keep on complaining about Spanish,” comes off as harsh. Your goal is to offer help.
Listen to the way your student talks about the subjects, their teacher, and school. Note anything that is said multiple times, especially if it’s a teacher’s name or a certain class. Your student could simply be disengaged from the class, or they may feel that their teacher isn’t being helpful. Lend an ear and listen for keywords and phrases.
2. Talk with the teacher.
Arrange a time to talk with your child’s teacher. (In person conversations are best.) Approach the conversation not as an opportunity to blame, but to ask for help. Be upfront and honest. “My son is really struggling with Spanish. Can you tell me about his classroom behavior?” Ask questions and listen openly. Make sure to talk about engagement, on-task/off-task behavior, and if your student participates in class.
Brainstorm some suggestions, like changing seat assignments. Perhaps the teacher can make time after-school for additional homework help. Exchange email addresses in case your student has questions at night. Maybe the teacher can recommend additional resources, like other textbooks, website, or even an app.
Work together to come up with the best possible solution.
3. Establish a homework routine.
Make sure that your student is in a strong routine when they come home from school. Get a healthy snack and get started on work right away. Ensure your student has a good homework station or a space where they can focus on their work. This space should be free from distractions such as televisions, cell phones, and younger siblings.
Determine a homework schedule. Students should take periodic breaks to stretch, move around, and refresh. The break time should vary by the age of your student. Elementary students have short attention spans, so maybe 20 minutes of work and 20 minutes of relaxation. (Notice how it’s not quite enough time for a TV show.) For high school students, try 50 minutes on and 10 minutes off. If they want to work longer, increase the break time by a few minutes.
4. Be supportive.
Many parents admit that they suddenly became unavailable to help their students with homework. Either they were held up at work or were busy doing tasks around the house. (Maybe even spending too much time on their own phone.)
When no one is around to provide support, a student’s potential for learning can suffer. Students need to be reminded that they have people in their lives who care for them, believe in them, and know that they can succeed. This should extend past immediate family members to grandparents, aunt and uncles, cousins – and especially coaches and teachers.
If you cannot be home while your student is doing homework, ensure they have a way of contacting you or someone else if they have questions.
5. Consider a tutor.
If you find that your student is truly falling behind and other options are not working, consider looking into a private tutor. Often teachers are available after-school to assist. When that is not possible, seek out other options. You may discover that your neighbor knows Spanish or the lady who plays the organ in church is really a math whiz.
If you don’t feel comfortable talking to neighbors, you can always consider tutoring companies. Many companies, like North Coast Education Services, provide one-on-one in-home tutoring. Other companies provide group tutoring sessions, where your student can work with peers. You could even consider additional classes.
If your student is struggling in school, the most important thing is to get help right away. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to recover. Remember, education is a process. Results are not immediate and they take time. A little bit of consistent support will lead to a successful school year and a more confident student.