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How to Make a Student 'School Smart'


Q. Kids come to school with such incredibly diverse backgrounds. When they are from an "academic family," they have what they need - books in the home, parents who value school highly, high expectations, clear rules about homework, and good role modeling for getting along with teachers and other students. Kids from chaotic homes and low-income homes often are at an incredible disadvantage because they lack those things. How can we as a society help level the playing field without holding back the kids who already are "school smart"?


Author Jim Burke has come up with the "four C's" for students who want to build up their "cultural capital" for educational success, and educators who want to help them:


1.    Commitment.


This relates to how much students care about their schoolwork, and consistently try to succeed, with the help of their parents and their school. It really helps students stay committed to academic effort if they have allies, guides and coaches, he says. They must consider school a haven where they are cared about and understood.


2.    Content.


A good student has to welcome unfamiliar content and relish the process of relating it to his or her everyday life and the world around them. It has to be a solid mixture of classic academics, and what is relevant, engaging, and practical for today's students and tomorrow's citizens. The content of the curriculum should not be narrowly limited to intellectual knowledge, but also contain the rich depth of moral, social, personal and practical strands of study as well.


3. Competencies.


These are the skills students need, starting with reading, writing and figuring. Keys include the ability to communicate ideas, evaluate and make decisions, and generate ideas, solutions, and interpretations. Specific competencies run the gamut from organization to developing allies and mentors.


3.    Capacity.


Beyond the basics, but starting with them, students build their capacity for learning. They need reading skill at a level that gives them confidence, dexterity, fluency, joy, memory, resiliency, speed, and stamina. Tolerance of risk and complexity are factors identified by Burke as affecting capacity.

Homework: The book is available on School Smarts: The Four C's of Academic Success, by Jim Burke (Heinemann, 2004).


By Susan Darst Williams Coaching Your Child 19 2008


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