Bryan continued to make progress, but he had no real goals. He was making progress because of a lot of involvement by his parents, teachers and his counselor and he enjoyed the attention and encouragement. His development and growth was being guided by others and I needed to help him start to take ownership. It would have been helpful if he had some sort of career goal, but he didn’t. If he did, we could talk about how he needed to prepare for that career. If he was motivated to prepare for something specific, we could use this as a powerful source and help direct what he needed to do.
What we decided to do was to go to a basic plan that would help him organize what he did on a daily basis: listen and think about what teachers are telling you they want completed; how to use his agenda to record those specific requirements; how to organize his schedule so he could get everything completed; and review what was done to determine what was completed and at what level. I specifically discussed each of these plans with him and asked him to check with his teachers and his parents to check on how they thought things were going and to ask if they had any suggestions to make things work better.
It sounds pretty straight forward to suggest that he listen and think about what teachers are telling him they want completed. However, I had to keep in mind that he had not had a lot of experience or success in doing this. Most teachers at the middle school level will write assignments, dates of quizzes, tests and projects on the board and they probably have an on-line teacher web site, but if you are not in the habit of paying attention to this, you may not see the importance of taking immediate action. Teachers often ask their students to specifically write this information in an agenda or use a phone to record it. I am not going to go into planning for short term and long term projects at this point because I first want to make sure that all of the basic information is being recorded.
As information is initially recorded, I want it written in an agenda so that I can easily discuss what was done and how well it was done. I want a student to share it with their parent(s) and I want the student to be able to show me what homework was assigned and when quizzes, tests and projects are due. If they don’t have it written down (because it is stored in their phone), it makes it more difficult to access the information and discuss it. Students that already do well probably prefer to use their phones and it can work very well. The use of a written agenda with dates and times also makes it easier for me to help them manage information and start breaking long term assignments into shorter goals with specific time frames. I can specifically discuss when they do their homework, when they are going to study for quizzes and tests, when they will start working on projects and discuss what else needs to be completed.
The above actions lead to the question about how well did they perform and what the student thinks they need to work on right now. I am not actually checking on what they did or how well they did, but rather, what they think. I want the student to talk about the process and what they think they need to change or do differently. This process requires them to organize and manage their time and the information that is given to them. I want to talk to them about things they have learned about this process of recording information and how successful they feel they have been. I also want to have them tell me what they need to change or do differently to make the process improve. With that being said, I then have to check what was actually completed and at what level.
Most schools now have on-line grade books that list assignments, quizzes, tests, projects and the grades that were achieved. I always suggest that students ask to go on-line and review this information with their parent(s). The more the family is involved on a regular basis, the easier it is to make changes and ensure on-going success. I try to meet with students that are having performance issues every two weeks, but usually meet after one week when I start working on a performance issue. I look at the agenda first and discuss what was written and ask questions when I see missing information. My goal is to have the student tell me why something wasn’t completed and what they are going to do to improve. As I see the individual grades, I am first looking for assignments that were not completed and we talk about why they weren’t completed. Then we talk about their plan to change that.
I am looking at quiz and test grades to determine if there is improvement, but I specifically ask what they need to do to make some improvement. There are usually skill issues and they probably have not learned how to successfully study for quizzes and tests, so I direct their attention to how the teacher presents the information in class, how teachers schedule homework. I am trying to get the student to discuss what they are uncertain about and when they realized that they didn’t understand what was being discussed. I want them to start keeping track of things that are important and specifically what they need to work on and how to keep track of this information. Going to a math teacher and asking for help on math is not as effective as going to the math teacher and asking for help on decimals or fractions or how to multiply negative numbers.
Once they start to keep track of specific skills that need assistance, they have to set goals that include when they will go for help and how they can schedule time to practice theses skills. the more my students keep track of what they are required to do, organize their time so they complete the required work and get help on specific skills or concepts that are necessary to perform at a higher level, the more success they will see. I want them to reflect on the successful habits that they are developing and think about changes that they need to make to move their performance to the next level. We generally know what we know, but not specifically what we don’t know. That is why it is so important to develop mentors (parents, teachers, counselors and other students) who will help us set realistic goals and give us honest feedback on the level of our performance. The encouragement and honesty of these mentors fosters an environment that challenges and encourages positive improvements that help children that are struggling. Failing grades didn’t develop instantly and won’t change instantly. It is a process that has to nurtured and may take years to change. Parents need to be ready to sign on for the long haul if they want to see positive changes.
Next: Performance That Doesn’t Improve