As parents and educators ourselves, we know day-to-day life with kids is chaotic right now. Is today a Zoom day? Will school be in-person next week or not? How many learning nooks does one child need? Where is the laptop cord?!
Amid the upheaval, time continues to pass, and our children still need to learn. One of our latest discoveries that we think you should be aware of, too: even though a child is getting good grades, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re learning the material. We need to look a little more closely to understand whether or not kids are making real progress.
One of our students told his tutor he’s doing fine in Spanish 2. He’s not having any trouble with the work, and he’s getting an A. But his tutor sees it differently because she knows that A is based on watching videos and doing worksheets; there haven’t been any tests or quizzes yet. Through their in-session work, she’s observed that the student has not mastered the core vocabulary and verb conjugations he should have by this point. She’s very concerned about what this means as the content builds upon itself. At this rate, she doesn’t see how he’ll be ready for Spanish 3.
This sort of issue is showing up in various ways. Another student shared with his tutor that school feels much more “one-size-fits-all” right now. A tutor observed, “The curriculum feels choppy. I need to provide continuity or a throughline for the student to pull it all together.” We’ve heard from multiple tutors that students don’t feel a sense of purpose with assignments. It’s more about just getting them done (or not), than it is about doing quality work. In situations like these, a student might appear to be doing just fine according to their grades, but, again, they’re not necessarily learning as deeply as we’d want.
As tempting as it may be to say, “You know what? Grades are good, let’s coast a while,” we first need to know what the grades are actually reflecting. If it turns out that they’re not a good indication of learning, then coasting now might mean being lost later. We want kids to set up solid foundations, especially in classes like math and world languages. It’s also useful to think beyond grades for upcoming challenges like the ACT or SAT, and being self-sufficient in college.
There’s another reason we want to keep our eye on learning: motivation. You can’t underestimate the jolt of a light bulb moment! When students make new connections because they’re appropriately tasked, they want to learn more. If school is easy, those electric instants don’t exist, and you have a disengaged child.
Here are some questions that will help you gain a better understanding of your child’s progress:
Beyond the “work” of school, pay attention to your child’s demeanor and attitude. Are they often frustrated by a specific class or at a certain time of the day? Are they putting off homework to the last minute, or not doing it at all? Was there a class that was very challenging last year that is a piece of cake this year?
Obviously, this sort of behavior could crop up during the best of times. What you want to notice are patterns. We’re all overwhelmed right now, and it can be easy to miss signs that may indicate your child isn’t developing skills.
If you discover that your child needs a boost, there are several steps you can take. Start with the teacher. They’ll be able to give you pointers whether your child needs to participate more, meet with them before a test, or brush up on a few concepts.
A few of our favorite resources are Khan Academy, ALEKS, and IXL. They’re great spots whether your child needs review or enrichment. A little bit of time every day will make a difference! If you need some help figuring out where to dive in, your child can take one of our reading, writing, or math diagnostics.
Good executive functioning skills are key to learning. When students don’t have to reinvent the wheel every day, they’re able to focus on academic content. In this previous blog post, we share tips for establishing and maintaining executive functioning skills while we’re dealing with pandemic restrictions.
Finally, help your child engage in non-school learning. Sports, improv, music, dance, art, volunteering, genealogy…anything that will help them show up, sustain attention, and make connections. As one of our students told us, “The more dedicated you are to anything, the more dedicated you’ll be to school work.”
We’re here if you need us!