Grade School

Finishing the School Year

I remember watching a track-and-field event at the Olympics in the 1980s, wondering why some runners ran out of steam on the last lap, while others grew more invigorated the closer they came to the finish line. I find that students of all ages mirror these same outcomes. The ones who lose their momentum toward the end of the year may forget to turn in homework, fail to organize their backpack or folders, and can experience a decline in their grades. I often wonder if all this correlates with the increase of hot, summer-like days; perhaps the brain processes that it’s summer vacation just a little sooner than the actual calendar date. Whatever the reason, our children sometimes need some parental intervention to keep them on course and help them aim for the finish line.

I suggest the following in order to push for a strong end to the year:

1) DO THE PROPER WARM UPS, including having a discussion about the importance of a “work ethic.” Having a drive to do better–not better than another student, but better than previous personal achievement–is something that separates the good student from the great student, the average worker from the exceptional worker, the okay parent from the stellar one. Work ethic translates to all other areas of life. If it becomes a habit to just “get by” at the end, that habit can find its way into other areas. I have had many students who have been noticed for going just a touch beyond the teacher’s expectations, whether creating a beautiful image for a science lab report title page or not settling for the minimum number of sources for a history research project. I personally learned how work ethic can influence one’s life path. In high school, I worked extremely hard, particularly in subjects where the material did not come naturally. When I was rejected from my top-choice college, my teachers (unbeknownst to me) called the school and expressed that the admissions committee had made a mistake. I was able to appeal due to their intervention, including a follow-up letter they wrote on my behalf, and I was accepted!

2) PLAN THE RACE by organizing the final months of school with a month-at-a-glance calendar. Some kids cannot process how to approach their workload, particularly if they have long-term assignments. Keep a master calendar in an area where the entire family can see it. Although I believe that iCal and other digital organization tools are worthwhile, I think children’s minds (and even adults’) need to see the coming weeks right in their faces! I advise writing in the due dates of quizzes, tests, and projects, and working backwards to include the steps taken along the way. For instance, if a student has a vocabulary test on Friday, he or she would write into the calendar: MONDAY (put vocabulary on note cards or type words and definitions into quizlet.com); TUESDAY (memorize definitions and parts of speech); WEDNESDAY (play a vocabulary game on quizlet or begin to test yourself on note cards); THURSDAY (final review: take practice test on quizlet, or have someone quiz you on the words). This method can be particularly effective when breaking down study time for final exams. The key is to have enough time to cover every subject in the amount of time it dictates. Being able to breakdown each subject into smaller, manageable parts contributes to higher grades and less anxiety.

3) REINFORCE THE REGIMEN by reminding your child about critical work habits. Is your child sitting at a desk when doing his or her homework, or is he or she in front of the TV? Does the student text, check messages, talk on the phone, or video chat throughout the process of completing his or her homework? Whereas breaks are a necessary part of the study process, distractions can become counterproductive and severely impact the quality of one’s work. Recently, one of my students told me that his cell phone broke and that it took a week to get it fixed. He said that he was a different person and student without it. Make firm rules about the quality of study time and what technology may or may not be integrated into that time.

4) CHEER YOUR CHILD TO THE FINISH LINE: be encouraging, rather than discouraging in order to help your child end the year successfully. None of us likes to hear over and over again what we should have done differently in the past even if done in an effort to move us forward. Send messages that boost your child’s esteem and influence his or her drive. You can also set up incentives to encourage positive behavior, ranging from a play date to a trip to Disneyland to the promise of additional driving time during the summer.

The end of the year is quickly approaching. With just a few slight adjustments,
you should see your child sprint toward the finish line!