Having a conversation with your child about a report card with lower than expected grades is never easy. Currently, more parents than ever are in this position with the impact of the COVID quarantine and virtual learning. Planning for these conversations can lead to the development of important life skills and mindsets as well as strengthened relationships.
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Steve [Intro]: 00:01 Hello and welcome to the Parent Wellbeing and Student Learning During School Closures Edition of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. With the extended closing of schools, we as parents have entered into a new territory regarding what we have known as “school learning.” With this and future podcasts, I’ll look to share my experiences as a teacher, educator, parent, grandparent, and continuous learner.
Steve: 00:34 Talking about grades: focusing on growth. Parent and child conversations about lower than expected report card grades are never easy. The pandemic, quarantine, and the move to virtual school, has placed many more students and their parents into these uncomfortable conversations. An Education Week article reported that about a third of high school students in St. Paul Minnesota had a non-passing grade at the end of the last quarter. Similar patterns are showing up in Los Angeles and Houston, several districts surrounding San Diego and the California Bay area, as well as two large districts near the district of Columbia, Fairfax County, Virginia, and Montgomery County, Maryland. In Salt Lake city, reports of three times as many failing secondary grades were so worrisome that students mounted a protest to demand in-person schooling. One mother illustrated the problem this way, her son, a high school sophomore, who usually received good grades was failing all of his classes at one point, including physical education.
Steve: 01:59 Her daughter, a senior, was getting all A’s. Both students were learning remotely full-time. The mother attributed the difference to how her kids learn. Her daughter was thrilled to work independently in her room. Her son, a more tactile learner, was not able to. To quote the mother, “you don’t have the drive to do it if you’re not really there.” The Oxford Learning website has a list of recommendations for talking to your child about grades. I’ve posted the link in the lead-in to this podcast. One important area that they identified is preparing for the conversation. Finding out what grades mean is a critical first step and having a meaningful discussion that leads to some goal setting and action planning. This may necessitate a conversation with the teacher. Does the low grade indicate a lack of mastery of expected or required grade level or core standards, perhaps as measured by low test scores or a poor performance on an assessment task? Or does the low grade indicate missing assignments?
Steve: 03:41 This is especially important information to gather during virtual learning. Some schools have a computer tracking system that automatically turns missing assignments into zeros and then averages them in with content tests or assignments. Gathering this information in a call with your teacher, perhaps jointly with your child is important. Planning for addressing assignment compliance change is very different than planning for increasing a content skill or knowledge understanding. Knowing what grades are based on is equally important for providing parental support to a student with very high grades. To what extent is the grade based on meeting or exceeding a grade level or course level standard? Again, important for planning ahead. For goal setting and generating action plans, feedback from the teacher should allow you to know these things. First, where does your child stand on grade level or course standards? Second, what progress has been made from the last report?
Steve: 05:09 And third, what are the current learning behaviors that the teacher is aware of your child implementing? Do these learning behaviors need to change in order for the student to make continued or extended learning progress? Ask questions of the teacher and your child in order to have a clear understanding of how to move ahead. Think through the conversation you want to have. A conversation rather than a sermon is more likely to lead to a plan that has your child take ownership and hopefully creates a partnership where you have a role in supporting his or her actions.
Steve: 06:04 Identifying positive elements is a good place to start. If there’s some stronger grades, what led to those? This is important to create your child’s understanding of their control over learning and grades. What’s behind those higher grades? Do you like that teacher more? Enjoy the content more? Did you predict you’d be successful before you started? How do those things impact what you do in that class? What effort do you put in, in those areas where you did well? How does your effort show up? Do you spend more time reading the assignments because you’re interested? Do you ask the teacher questions when you don’t understand because you know that she’ll help you? Is that a class where you work in collaborative groups and do you like working with your friends? And is it possible that they get you to work harder? Your child seeing the connection between actions on their part and how those action impacts their grades sets the stage for changes in an area where grades might be lower. Looking at an area of lower grades, what might be a progress goal to set?
Steve: 07:42 What would indicate initial progress? Changes in students’ actions are the first things to identify and celebrate even before a change in grades appears. I like to use this formula: effort x ability, focused on a manageable task = success. If your child is struggling with the content area where they have not had a past experience with success, you might identify it as a spot where more effort will be needed. What would that action of effort be? What would more effort look like or sound like? Sharing an example of an area where you need to implement more effort than others can serve to illustrate that this is an issue all of us deal with. For example, reading directions, information from a visual picture is much harder for me than listening to directions. So going into that type of a task, I know that I need to go slower and take longer. A class that one doesn’t like or an area where success in the past has been rare, may require a more conscious effort.
Steve: 09:09 As an example, in addition to doing my math homework each day, I might need to go back to earlier units and spend 15 minutes on problems as a review. And when I find problems that I can’t solve, I have to have a plan that I will reach out for assistance to the teacher, a classmate or to my parent. Your plan going ahead should include what your child wants to achieve, the steps that they will take toward achieving that goal, and how you will provide support. Your support might be assisting this and setting the time and environment for studying. For some students, that means a quiet space alone. For others, it means a parent sitting close by. Maybe it agrees to holding onto their cell phone during an hour of study. It could be checking their assignment and giving feedback when they’re finished. For certain, it’s about providing positive feedback and celebrating the effort. Carrying out the actions that were built into the plan.
Steve: 10:26 Success requires patience. As your learner implements initial actions and develops discipline to continue the change towards the outcome, the grades changing will lag behind. Too often, without support, a learner quits the plan too soon. Another website you might want to check out is called “Parenting Ideas,” and again, I’ve placed the link into the lead-in to the podcast. They share the following about building your youngsters confidence, which is critical to maintaining new behaviors and new actions. First, model confident thinking yourself. Kids soak up the language, thinking and behavior of those closest to them and their environment. Let your youngsters hear positive self-talk when you tackle something new. They might hear you say something like, “I’m going to have a go at this and if I don’t do well, I’ll try again tomorrow.” Also, show kids how to reframe their negative self-talk by showing them how to find a positive in a difficult situation.
Steve: 11:51 Second, focus on effort and improvement. Current thinking shows that people who believe that they can increase their intelligence through effort and challenge actually get smarter and do better in school, work and life over time. One way to develop a growth mindset is to focus your language on effort and on improvement rather than on results. By linking success with effort, you’re teaching them that success comes from something other than purely their ability, talents, or smarts. And lastly, praise strategy. Kids need to try new strategies and seek input from others when they’re stuck. They need a repertoire of approaches, not just sheer effort to learn and improve. It helps to focus language on better and smarter ways on improving. Comments such as, “that was a smart idea to tackle the hardest task while you were fresh.” Or, “wow, you practiced even longer than you had planned to.” Folks, your investment in exploring, strategizing and cheering on your child’s effort to make progress and improvements will build important life skills and mindsets. Capture the opportunity. Thanks for listening.
Steve [Outro]: 13:30 Thanks again for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean. And please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.