How to improve student skills

So many parents ask me: "How can my child improve their grades?". I say to them, "If you improve your student skills, the good grades will follow."

Not everyone learns the same way. Not only that, but all students don't learn at the same pace. As some people are natural athletes and can put a basketball in a hoop with hardly any effort, there are students that really struggle to do the same task. The same applies to the classroom. Some students can look at an example or two and blaze through an assignment in minutes when another student will spend 10 minutes just trying to understand a single math problem. Getting a good grade is not the goal, the goal is improving your approach to learning.

The "best" students in my class are the best because they have a few things in common, (and it's not the grade). They exhibit a number of skills that help them reflect on their learning they are:

Coming in for help. Some students are deathly afraid of coming in to see a teacher during break or lunchtime. Furthermore, they're embarrassed, as it might be a sign that they "don't know how to do something". I've got news for you. It will be worse if you don't. The best students have the humility to ask for help, because when they do, it is the first step on the road to understanding and it means that they are engaged in the learning process.

Asking questions in class. Some students think that if they ask questions it paints a picture of them as an idiot. Nothing could be farther from the truth. When students do this, all the other students around them say: "I"m really glad he/she asked that?"

Reflecting on their learning. In grade 7, we always have a "practice test" to diagnose weaknesses before a final summative test. The practice test is crucial, because it unequivocally tells students what they can do and what areas they need to improve upon before the final. I think that a practice test is excellent because it narrows down what areas students specifically need to target, rather than blanketing a broad statement like "be sure to review for the final test" over students. How do they know what to study? The students that show the most improvement are ones that look at areas of their learning and really spend time on them. They ask themselves questions like: "can I do this without any help from others?" and "have I learned from my mistakes?"

Using study time effectively. If you have a quiz or test the next day it doesn't take a half brain to know that if you spend some time reviewing ahead of time, statistically, you'll do better than if you won't. Sadly, many students don't know how to study effectively. Often students lock themselves in their rooms with little parental oversight and many distractions such as social media and games. A 20 minute review session is then strung out to 2 hours if you include the breaks for facebooking and time to play the newest version of "Halo". Doing this creates problems. First, you haven't really focused your time into the task so your understanding will be "patchy" and fragmented. Also, since you've spent so much time not studying, you'll have an aversion to it. "I can't believe I got a D! I studied for an hour last night!" (Actually, it was probably more like 15 minutes)

All of these things above are student skills. They're not things that we as educators assess, but a student's ability to practice and develop them are crucial to developing long term learning habits. When students struggle in a class, I love to point out these above skills and ask them: "Why aren't you doing them?" When you are a good student, a good grade will follow.

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