3 Ways to Improve Grades

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Help Your Kids Build their Study Skills

When students reach middle school, expectations of them greatly increase. “Greater attention to schoolwork is required for success and testing occurs on a regular basis” says middle school guidance counselor, Dara Lewen. These expectations increase at the same time children are reaching adolescence and leaving the comforts of elementary school. “It is essential for parents to assist their child in developing and maintaining good study skills,” Lewen continues.

Students learn the basic process skills such reading, writing, and math in kindergarten through second grade. These skills are later used to gain content and build other skills. By the pivotal year of third grade, if students haven’t mastered the basic skills and developed strong study habits, they may fall behind and earn lower grades. Strong study skills should be instilled long before students enter middle school to ensure academic success.

“When students learn how to study, they learn how to learn,” contends Mary Ellen Whittle, former educator, founder of the EXCEL Program and author of the Study-Wise curriculum. “Study skills are useful in every learning situation,” Whittle explains.

Here are some ideas for parents to help their children to become better learners and pull up their grades in the process.

1. Organization    
Start the organizational process by cleaning out the backpack. “Have your child select a day once a week to clean out his or her backpack,” Whittle suggests. “Assign special pockets or sections in the backpack for specific things,” Whittle continues. Throw away items that no longer have value. Hold on to tests and papers that may be helpful for studying for exams and place them in a separate binder for safe keeping at home. Students must be able to quickly locate important items such as homework to be turned in, signed papers, money, and keys. Monitor the backpack cleaning until it becomes a weekly routine for your child.
Encourage your child to have a system of organizing his or her class work, notes, and homework. Find out and follow the teacher’s or school’s existing system for organization. Often students are asked to color-code folders for various subjects. Teachers may have a preference for spirals or binders. Students should be discouraged from haphazardly putting their notes or homework in their textbooks or loose in their backpacks. Having an organized system will save time and effort both at school and at home.
Make sure your child has a quiet, well-lit table or desk for completing his or her homework.  Whittle suggests, “each child should have his or her own homework survivor kit – scissors, thesaurus, poster board, crayons, index cards, paper clips, etc.”  She continues, “much time is wasted searching for needed material” for daily homework and long-term projects.

2. Planning and Time Management
Most schools provide a student planner or assignment book. This is not only an essential tool for students to write down their homework and tests but it adds to the crucial educational component of home and school communication. “Emphasize the importance of legibility and completeness when copying down homework assignments,” insists Whittle. Be sure to check your child’s assignment book and be sure your child completes all of his or her homework. Most young children will require guidance from their parents in this daily practice.

Encourage your child to manage his or her time and plan ahead when studying for exams and completing long-range projects.  Children need a monthly calendar. Teach your child to write down all of his or her activities such as sports practices, games, lessons and social commitments.  Then Whittle suggests having your child break down the project into mini-steps and jot them down on the monthly calendar. Encourage your child to work backwards from the project’s due date allowing two or three extra days in case the child gets behind. Remember to teach and reinforce good study habits.

3. Study and Test-Taking Techniques
Students needn’t increase their study hours. Instead, children need to become more effective learners. “Brain-based research states that understating and retention increases by studying over several different time periods rather than all at once,” says Whittle. For example, more effective studying will occur preparing a half-hour per night for four nights before a test rather than two hours the night before. Whittle suggests “studying for short bursts and then taking a study break.”  Cramming for a test may serve only to increase anxiety rather than actual learning.

Often students make careless mistakes on tests because they failed to read the directions and understand what was expected of them. Remind your children to read all the choices for multiple choice items and then select the best answer. Encourage them to express their ideas clearly when responding to short answer or essay questions. Spelling, grammar and handwriting matter. Encourage your child to take pride and care in his or her work prior to handing it in.

Students will be relieved to discover they don’t have to give up free time and the activities they love to succeed in school. By being organized, setting priorities, and practicing consistent study habits, most children will become better learners. Parents must realize the crucial role they play in their children’s education. Parents need to be involved in the daily process by providing a secure home routine so that children can concentrate on doing their jobs of being the best students they can be.

Maintain bed times, make sure your child arrives to school on time and has the needed school supplies. Call your child’s teachers or guidance counselor if a concern arrives. Communication with your child’s school and establishing good study habits will increase the likelihood of school success and build personal responsibility skills needed for life.

Louise Hajjar Diamond has been a guidance counselor since 1990 and teaches study skills to her students.  She is also a freelance writer and mother of two living in Florida.

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