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January 25, 2018

Building Good Habits for a Successful Second Semester

organize study school tutoringWas the first half of the school year a challenge for your child? Less than stellar grades? Fine grades but totally stressed out? Don’t despair! Just because they got off on the wrong foot doesn’t mean they can’t regain their balance second semester.

Learning and mastering executive functioning strategies can go a long way toward a successful second semester. Digging into the backpack, reflecting on the school year so far, and creating and tracking goals with your child will help you both make effective changes and optimize for ownership!

Where to Start?

Grab that bookbag and clean out the old to make room for the new. First, have your child sort through all the paper – loose and in binders and folders – and determine what should be thrown out, archived, and kept handy.

Next, assess your child’s organizational system and adjust as needed. Ask these questions to get a better sense of how on top of it they are:

    • Where do you put “take home” papers like homework and forms to be signed?
    • Where do you put completed homework and other paperwork to return to school?
    • Where do you archive stuff like graded work, non-current handouts, and other paper you may need in the future (e.g. to study for finals)?
  • Do your teachers have rules for how to organize materials for their classes?

Is your child’s school paperwork mostly digital? Apply the same approach but use apps like Evernote or Dropbox to keep documents off of their homescreen.

Autopsy

Now that you’ve tackled something tangible, take some time to “autopsy” first semester with your child. Start with general questions like What went well? What didn’t? What new habits will you need to practice to have a successful second semester? For this to be a productive conversation, try to stick to questions and really listen to what they have to say. This isn’t a time for lectures or “I told you so’s.” Trade in your parent hat for an investigator hat to get to the details that matter.

If those initial questions don’t yield the info you need to get things moving, try these:

    • Was the class hard because of the material/content, the teacher, the homework, the tests?
    • Was homework a problem because it was difficult? Did you know how to do it but choose not to? Did you do it and then forget it at home?
    • How do you study? When do you start studying for tests?
  • How do you approach long-term assignments or projects? Do you plan out your time or wait until the last minute? Do you get feedback along the way to make sure you’re on the right track?

Make It Happen

With the insights you’ve gained from the first semester reflection, turn to goal-setting. Start with the big goals like getting an A in math, and work backwards to concrete mini-goals such as studying for ten minutes every day. What will your child (and you in some instances) need to do on a daily, weekly, monthly basis to achieve the end goals?

We’ve learned over the years that the more realistic you are, the better – even if that means starting with baby steps. Also, remember that you’re working toward ownership and independence, so be clear with each other about what’s non-negotiable (completing homework) and what’s negotiable (such as which room it’s completed in).

Track It

Once you’ve hammered out these measurable steps, figure out a way to track them. We’re big on checklists because they’re clear and easy to use, and also because, for a child, being accountable to a checklist they helped create is much less emotionally charged than being accountable to a parent telling them what to do. Keep two copies of the checklist so that your child can keep one in their binder, and you can keep one where you can all see it on a daily basis.

Depending on the mini-goals or steps you come up with, you may choose to start with just a few and then build from there. Think about what’s manageable, and go for what may be a little stretch but not beyond their capabilities. As we’re fond of saying, meet them where they are, not where you wish they were. Tracking in this way is motivational, and it also helps build routines, which leads to good habits.

As second semester progresses, revisit the big goals and adjust the checklists as appropriate in relation to reaching them. It’s easy to forget this vital part of progress, so schedule these conversations well ahead of time and make them something to look forward to. We’ve had parents and children talk through goals over hot chocolate or during a walk through the park. Get comfortable talking about mistakes and setbacks being opportunities to learn and grow!

Developing good student habits takes consistent effort, but in the end it’s so worth it! If you have questions or want to talk through any ideas specific ideas for your child, give us a call or send us a note.