It takes a combination of skills — organization, time management, prioritization, concentration and motivation — to achieve academic success. Here are some tips to help get your child on the right track.
Talk to your child.
To find out which of these skills your child has and which he can develop further, start a simple conversation that focuses on his goals. Ask him about his favorite subjects, classes he dreads and whether he’s satisfied with his latest progress report.
Listen for clues.
Incorporate your own observations with your child’s self-assessment. Is your child overwhelmed by assignments? She may have trouble organizing time. Does your child have difficulty completing her work? She may get distracted too easily. Is your child simply not interested in school? She may need help getting motivated.
Identify problem areas.
Start here to help your child identify which of the five skill areas are trouble spots.
Whether it’s keeping track of research materials or remembering to bring home a lunch box, children need to be organized to succeed in school. For many students, academic challenges are related more to a lack of organization than to a lack of intellectual ability.
Tips to help your child get organized:
- Make a checklist of things your child needs to bring to and from school every day. Put a copy by the door at home and one in his backpack. Try to check with him each day to see if he remembers the items on the list.
- Find out how your child keeps track of his homework and how he organizes his notebooks. Then work together to develop a system he will want to use.
- Shop with your child for tools that will help him stay organized, such as binders, folders or an assignment book.
2. Time Management
Learning to schedule enough time to complete an assignment may be difficult for your student. Even when students have a week to do a project, many won’t start until the night before it’s due. Learning to organize time into productive blocks takes practice and experience.
Tips to help your child manage time:
- Track assignments on a monthly calendar. Work backward from the due date of larger assignments and break them into nightly tasks.
- Help your child record how much time she spends on homework each week so she can figure out how to divide this time into manageable chunks.
- Together, designate a time for nightly homework and help your child stick to this schedule.
- If evenings aren’t enough, help your child find other times for schoolwork, such as early mornings, study halls or weekends.
Sometimes children fall behind in school and fail to hand in assignments because they simply don’t know where to begin. Prioritizing tasks is a skill your child will need throughout life, so it’s never too soon to get started.
Tips to help your child prioritize:
- Ask your child to write down all the things he needs to do, including non-school-related activities.
- Ask him to label each task from 1 to 3, with 1 being most important.
- Ask about each task, so that you understand your child’s priorities. If he labels all his social activities as 1, then you know where his attention is focused.
- Help your child change some of the labels to better prioritize for academic success. Then suggest he rewrite the list so all the 1s are at the top.
- Check in frequently to see how the list is evolving and how your child is prioritizing new tasks.
Whether your child is practicing her second-grade spelling words or studying for a trigonometry test, it’s important that she works on schoolwork in an area with limited distractions and interruptions.
Tips to help your child concentrate:
- Turn off access to email and games when your child works on the computer.
- Declare the phone and TV off-limits during homework time.
- Find space that fits the assignment. If your child is working on a science project, she may need lots of space; if she’s studying for a Spanish test, she will need a well-lit desk.
- Help your child concentrate during homework time by separating her from her siblings.
Most children say they want to do well in school, yet many still fail to complete the level of work necessary to succeed academically. The reason is often motivation. Tapping into your child’s interests is a great way to get him geared to do well in school.
Tips to help motivate your child:
- Link school lessons to your child’s life. If he’s learning percentages, ask him to figure out the price of a discounted item next time you shop.
- Link your child’s interests to academics. If he’s passionate about music, give him books about musicians and show how music and foreign languages are connected.
- Give your child control and choices. With guidance, let him determine his study hours, organizing system or school project topics.
- Encourage your child to share his expertise. Regularly ask him about what he’s learning in school.
- Congratulate your child, encourage him and celebrate all his successes.
Often what holds children back from trying is the fear of failure or the memory of a time they didn’t do well. You can help break this cycle by celebrating your child’s successes, no matter how small, and by giving him opportunities to succeed academically.
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When it comes to art, Anya is highly motivated. We can reasonably draw this conclusion based on her close attention in class, her eagerness to draw whenever she can, and her career goal. Motivation is something that energizes, directs, and sustains behavior; it gets students moving, points them in a particular direction, and keeps them going. We often see students’ motivation reflected in personal investment and in cognitive, emotional, and behavioral engagement in school activities (Fredricks, Blumenfeld, & Paris, 2004; Maehr & Meyer, 2004; Reeve, 2006).
Virtually all students are motivated in one way or another. One student may be keenly interested in classroom subject matter and seek out challenging course work, participate actively in class discussions, and earn high marks on assigned projects. Another student may be more concerned with the social side of school, interacting with classmates frequently, attending extracurricular activities almost every day, and perhaps running for a student government office. Still another may be focused on athletics, excelling in physical education classes, playing or watching sports most afternoons and weekends, and faithfully following a physical fitness regimen. Yet another student—perhaps because of an undetected learning disability, a shy temperament, or a seemingly uncoordinated body—may be motivated to avoid academics, social situations, or athletic activities.
When Anya comes to school each day, she brings her strong interest in art with her. But motivation is not necessarily something that learners bring to school; it can also arise from environmental conditions at school. When we talk about how the environment can enhance a learner’s motivation to learn particular things or behave in particular ways, we are talking about situated motivation (Paris & Turner, 1994; Rueda & Moll, 1994). In the pages to come, we’ll find that as teachers, we can do many things to motivate students to learn and behave in ways that promote their long-term success and productivity.
How Motivation Affects Learning and Behavior
Motivation has several effects on students’ learning and behavior.
- Motivation directs behavior toward particular goals. As we discovered in Chapter 10, social cognitive theorists propose that individuals set goals for themselves and direct their behavior accordingly. Motivation determines the specific goals toward which learners strive (Maehr & Meyer, 1997; Pintrich et al., 1993). Thus, it affects the choices students make—for instance, whether to enroll in physics or studio art, whether to spend an evening completing a challenging homework assignment or playing videogames with friends.
- Motivation leads to increased effort and energy. Motivation increases the amount of effort and energy that learners expend in activities directly related to their needs and goals (Csikszentmihalyi & Nakamura, 1989; Maehr, 1984; Pintrich et al., 1993). It determines whether they pursue a task enthusiastically and wholeheartedly or apathetically and lackadaisically.
- Motivation increases initiation of and persistence in activities. Learners are more likely to begin a task they actually want to do. They are also more likely to continue working at it until they’ve completed it, even if they are occasionally interrupted or frustrated in the process (Larson, 2000; Maehr, 1984; Wigfield, 1994). In general, then, motivation increases students’ time on task, an important factor affecting their learning and achievement (Brophy, 1988; Larson, 2000; Wigfield, 1994).
- Motivation affects cognitive processes. Motivation affects what learners pay attention to and how effectively they process it (Eccles & Wigfield, 1985; Pintrich & Schunk, 2002; Pugh & Bergin, 2006). For instance, motivated learners often make a concerted effort to truly understand classroom material—to learn it meaningfully—and consider how they might use it in their own lives.
- Motivation determines which consequences are reinforcing and punishing. The more learners are motivated to achieve academic success, the more they will be proud of an A and upset by a low grade. The more learners want to be accepted and respected by peers, the more they will value membership in the “in” group and be distressed by the ridicule of classmates. To a teenage boy uninterested in athletics, making or not making the school football team is no big deal, but to a teen whose life revolves around football, making or not making the team may be a consequence of monumental importance.
- Motivation often enhances performance. Because of the other effects just identified—goal-directed behavior, effort and energy, initiation and persistence, cognitive processing, and the impact of consequences—motivation often leads to improved performance. As you might guess, then, students who are most motivated to learn and excel in classroom activities tend to be our highest achievers (A. E. Gottfried, 1990; Schiefele, Krapp, & Winteler, 1992; Walberg & Uguroglu, 1980). Conversely, students who have little interest in academic achievement are at high risk for dropping out before they graduate from high school (Hardré & Reeve, 2003; Hymel et al., 1996; Vallerand, Fortier, & Guay, 1997).
Extrinsic Versus Intrinsic Motivation
Not all forms of motivation have exactly the same effects on human learning and performance. Consider these two students in an advanced high school writing class:
Sheryl doesn’t enjoy writing and is taking the class for only one reason: Earning an A or B in the class will help her earn a scholarship at State University, where she desperately wants to go.
Shannon has always liked to write. The class will help her get a scholarship at State University, but in addition, Shannon truly wants to become a better writer. She sees its usefulness for her future profession as a journalist. Besides, she’s learning many new techniques for making what she writes more vivid and engaging.
Sheryl exhibits extrinsic motivation: She is motivated by factors external to herself and unrelated to the task she is performing. Learners who are extrinsically motivated may want the good grades, money, or recognition that particular activities and accomplishments bring. Essentially, they are motivated to perform a task as a means to an end, not as an end in itself.
In contrast, Shannon exhibits intrinsic motivation: She is motivated by factors within herself and inherent in the task she is performing. Learners who are intrinsically motivated may engage in an activity because it gives them pleasure, helps them develop a skill they think is important, or seems to be the ethically and morally right thing to do. Some learners with high levels of intrinsic motivation become so focused on and absorbed in an activity that they lose track of time and completely ignore other tasks—a phenomenon known as flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, 1996; Schweinle, Turner, & Meyer, 2006).
Learners are most likely to show the beneficial effects of motivation when they are intrinsically motivated to engage in classroom activities. Intrinsically motivated learners tackle assigned tasks willingly and are eager to learn classroom material, more likely to process information in effective ways (e.g., by engaging in meaningful learning), and more likely to achieve at high levels. In contrast, extrinsically motivated learners may have to be enticed or prodded, may process information only superficially, and are often interested in performing only easy tasks and meeting minimal classroom requirements (A. E. Gottfried, Fleming, & Gottfried, 2001; Reeve, 2006; Schiefele, 1991; Tobias, 1994).
In the early elementary grades, students are often eager and excited to learn new things at school. But sometime between Grades 3 and 9, their intrinsic motivation to learn and master school subject matter declines (Covington & Müeller, 2001; Lepper, Corpus, & Iyengar, 2005; Otis, Grouzet, & Pelletier, 2005). This decline is probably the result of several factors. As students get older, they are increasingly reminded of the importance of good grades (extrinsic motivators) for promotion, graduation, and college admission, causing them to focus their efforts on earning high grade point averages. Furthermore, they become more cognitively able to set and strive for long-term goals, and they begin to evaluate school subjects in terms of their relevance to such goals, rather than in terms of any intrinsic appeal. In addition, students may grow increasingly impatient with the overly structured, repetitive, and boring activities that they often encounter at school (Battistich, Solomon, Kim, Watson, & Schaps, 1995; Larson, 2000).
Extrinsic motivation is not necessarily a bad thing, however; often learners are simultaneously motivated by both intrinsic and extrinsic factors (Cameron & Pierce, 1994; Covington, 2000; Lepper et al., 2005). For example, although Shannon enjoys her writing course, she also knows that a good grade will help her get a scholarship at State U. Furthermore, good grades and other external rewards for high achievement may confirm for Shannon that she is mastering school subject matter (Hynd, 2003). And over the course of time, extrinsic motivation may gradually move inward, as we’ll discover in Chapter 12 in our discussion of internalized motivation.
In some instances, extrinsic motivation—perhaps in the form of extrinsic reinforcers for academic achievement or productive behavior—may be the only thing that can get students on the road to successful classroom learning and productive behavior. Yet intrinsic motivation is ultimately what will sustain students over the long run. It will encourage them to make sense of and apply what they are studying and will increase the odds that they will continue to read and learn about writing, science, history, and other academic subject matter long after they have left their formal education behind.
Excerpt from Educational Psychology Developing Learners, by J.E. Ormrod, 2008 edition, p. 384-386.
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