can I help my child be more motivated about school and put in extra effort?
It's pretty sad to note that a
private donor in Tucson, AZ, is now paying high school students $25 a week just
to show up at school. It's a dropout prevention plan, and he's paying the
"incentives" out of the goodness of his heart. But what a commentary on life
today, that kids have to be paid to go to school.
What's happened to the idea that
school is a privilege and an opportunity? Too many kids today see it as boring
and irrelevant. Researcher John Goodlad might have pegged part of the reason:
he blames "the compliance mentality"
that has a stranglehold on educational excellence in public schools - just do
the bare minimum and you'll get by. The spark of motivation and thirst for
learning are just not as common in today's students as they used to be. There's
also a problem with the Political Correctness and self-esteem orgy awash in our
schools, that nobody should ever flunk, nobody should ever fail, nobody should
get to be the valedictorian because it makes all the other kids feel bad, and
The worst influence of all along
these lines are government learning standards, which are in place almost
everywhere and a direct influence even on private schools and homeschools, by
osmosis. Because these standards are tailored for the middle of the learning
curve - the average student - there's no motivation for the top 50% of the
student body to try a little harder. They can meet the standards - they're
"easy" for them - so why go beyond?
If you have nothing but mediocre
standards, you're going to have nothing but mediocre students.
Putting a focus on
the effort or lack of it by students is not intrinsically a bad idea. We
just have to assess whether the problem of low achievement is a problem of
motivation (a "won't" problem) or a problem of ability (a
obvious in the early grades of school when a child has a learning problem that
it's a "can't" problem - the child can't read. That's caused by inadequate
teaching, in the vast majority of cases. Self-motivation won't work if the
skills simply aren't there. The answer: get your child's academic skills in
place, using outside tutoring if school can't do the job.
and parents begin to notice problems of motivation - the "won't" problem -- by
fourth and fifth grade. Lack of skill from poor teaching in the
previous years plays a large part. But there's an observable lack of effort on
the part of many kids that can mushroom into the set of behaviors we know as
"slacking" - failure to do homework, grades slipping, falling asleep in class, skipping
school, preference for socializing over study, and so forth. Even with a high
IQ and supportive parents, a lack of self-motivation can torpedo an academic
schools, educators find it necessary develop a policy to assign detentions and
Saturday school to get some of the students to do their assignments, ones
which the educators are sure they are capable of doing.
How did students get the idea that
they are not personally responsible for the work that they do in school? Yes,
teachers should address motivation in planning their lessons and orchestrating
the classroom experience, making them relevant, challenging and still
attainable. And yes, students need assignments that are appropriate for their
skill levels and provide differentiated tasks.
What parents should supply is this
truth: not all learning is fun. For higher-level thinking and other complex
skills, you have to put in the long hours and hard work. Competence in reading,
writing, and problem-solving depends on a mastery of basics, the fundamentals
that can only develop with student effort.
Parents also should help their
children with test preparation, listening skills, academic goal-setting and
personal-assessment activities. Help your grade-school child make a chart
logging how many books read outside of school or mark on a refrigerator
calendar the steps to take over the next two weeks to get that big project done
on time. In high school, your child should instantly know his or her GPA and
what graduation requirements are left undone.
More than anything else,
parents should send kids of all ages to school well-nourished, well-rested, and
well-coached on how serious and important school is. The rest is up to your
child . . . but with parental support, encouragement, attention and love, those
goals are well within reach.
Homework: Here's an interesting commentary
that contends that schools actually quash self-motivation in students and
replace it with a compliance mentality: http://www.crossroad.to/text/articles/zerotol.html