Help Your Child Do Better in School
"American children must be ready to learn from the first day of school. And of
course, preparing children for school is a historic responsibility of parents."
Former President George Bush
Some children do well in school. They learn quickly and remember facts. They
Some don't do so well. They have trouble paying attention. Their grades are poor. Yet
they may be as smart-or smarter-than their successful classmates.
Why the difference in performance?
It may not be a question of I.Q. but of behavior and attitude. Research has shown that
these qualities affect success in the classroom.
Successful students behave in certain ways. They have the "right" attitude.
They're motivated. . . they pay attention. . . they've relaxed. . . they ignore
distractions that might interfere with learning. And, when they need help with schoolwork,
they know how to get it.
None of those things are inborn, but they can be learned. And you, as a parent, can
help a child learn them.
Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) offers four steps
children can take to become better students. They are for children of all grades. They
will sound simple, because they are. But they can make a world of difference to your
You can teach your children strategies for the four steps:
- Paying attention
- Keeping interested in schoolwork
- Learning and remembering
Children can learn the knack of paying attention. Never threaten or order them to
"pay attention" in school as it won't work! Some simple techniques will. They
- Using self-talk and positive images. Children can use words or phrases to help control
attention. For example, they can tell themselves to keep their eyes on the blackboard
while the teacher is writing on it to explain a problem. You can help them practice
positive self-talk at home in various situations: when playing a game, helping around the
house, or working at a hobby.
- Help them stop negative self-talk ("It's hopeless" ), and to be positive about
themselves, to say, "I can do it." Positive self-talk might include the slogan:
"Quitters don't win and winners don't quit."
- No more negative images, either! Children can and must learn to see themselves doing
well in school. Tell them to picture themselves answering questions correctly in class and
feeling good about knowing the answers. Spend time talking with them about their successes
(as well as their difficulties).
- Asking questions. This helps children focus their attention while studying. When reading
about World War II, students might ask themselves "Which countries were our friends
and allies? Which were Germany's? Which countries did Germany occupy?"
- You can suggest general questions to a child, such as: "What is this paragraph
about? Who did what and why? Is the main point true or false?" Asking questions can
grab wandering attention.
- Setting specific study goals. Your children can set goals that will help improve
attention. Ask them to study a lesson until they can tell you the main point of the
paragraph. . . or solve a specific math problem. . . or know specific names, dates, and
places mentioned in the text. Discuss each goal. Remember that many small goals, one after
another, are better than a single large one.
Learning is a joint effort. Everyone must help if students are to learn. Teachers are
responsible for teaching and parents for parenting, but students must realize that no one
else can do their learning for them.
Children must believe that the hours they spend studying and the effort they put into
it make the difference between success and failure. Some youngsters believe other things
control success/failure-teachers, basic intelligence, or luck. They ignore their own
You can help your children accept the fact that their efforts do make a difference. The
next time they bring home test results, written comments, or report cards, discuss the
reasons why they did well or poorly. Help them relate their efforts to the result.
Do reward a child for improvement. Your praise is music to your child's ears. You might
consider treats or trips or privileges for special achievements. Do stress the benefits of
doing well in school. Some benefits are immediate, such as having more free time, and some
are long-term, such as getting a scholarship or an interesting job.
OERI research has shown that a child's success in school is determined not just by
intelligence but by the strategies he or she uses to master many facts and ideas.
Understanding a subject doesn't just happen. It takes work. It requires taking an
interest in the subject, and relating new information to familiar information.
Besides teaching the strategies for paying attention, you can help you child use
various strategies to remember. You can decide how best to adapt a particular strategy.
Here are the strategies:
- Making inferences. Encourage your children to try to draw conclusions from the
material they are studying. When they are reading about an invention-perhaps the
telephone-they could consider what people would do without telephones.
- Building bridges. It helps children to build a bridge between the new and the
old-between new information and things they already know. They should look for
similarities between the new and the familiar. For example, a child studying our court
system could relate the judge's role in settling disputes to his or her own experience
with arguments and disagreements.
- Finding the main ideas. As students listen or read, they must frequently ask
themselves, "What's the point being made here?" By constantly looking for the
main idea, they concentrate on learning the important material. This also helps to keep
them actively engaged in studying.
- Categorizing information. Many school activities involve learning and remembering
large amounts of information. Sometimes there are long lists of names and dates. When
there are many items of information to learn, students should group them in categories.
Students in beginning music classes don't try to remember the names and characteristics of
every musical instrument, but group them: percussion, woodwinds, strings, and brass. Your
children should try this technique in subjects ranging from geography to English to math.
Your children need a place to study. Whether you live in a one-bedroom apartment or a
sprawling ranchhouse, you can set aside a study area. It can be a desk in a bedroom or
kitchen table. But it must be fairly quiet with good light.
Children also need a time for studying. Help your children create schedules. If they
set aside time for chores, work, fun, and study on a weekly basis, they can make better
use of their time. These schedules should be flexible enough to allow trade-offs and
shifts when necessary.
- Previewing material. Encourage children to begin an assignment by previewing the
material-for example, by reading the introduction to a chapter, the headings, and summary.
This is like looking at a road map. Here they create a mental "map" of what is
ahead. They complete the "map's" details when they read the chapter.
- Reading and thinking. When reading the chapter, they should try to fit details
into their mental "map." This is the time to use the attention-grabbing
strategies-self-talk, positive images, and questions. It helps if they pause before each
new section to "test" their understanding. Using the strategies for learning and
remembering, they can ask: "What conclusions can I draw from this? How should I
categorize the information? Do I see analogies? What are the main ideas?"
- Taking notes. Children can't remember everything they read. It will help them,
though, to take notes of the main points. These notes serve as a summary of the most
important points. The act of taking them and reviewing them will help the student to
categorize the material, understand, and remember it. And the notes will help in preparing
- Self-Testing. Children should test themselves to see what they know and don't
know. They can then apply their study time more efficiently to the sections on which they
are weakest. You can help by making up test questions, for example, "What are the
chief food products of the country being studied? Why? Do we use these in our home?"
- Preparing for Tests. Encourage your children to prepare for tests by spacing
studying over days or weeks. They should make sure they understand the material and relate
it to what they already know. They should review it more than once. "Cramming"
the night before is not a good idea, and it is important to get a good night's sleep.
OERI's steps to success can help all students-from grade-school to high school. They
can help poor students improve. They can help good students get better. We hope they will
help your children!
Office of Educational Research and Improvement
U.S. Department of Education
Washington, DC 20208.