Last week Mrs. Smith came to visit me and discuss her daughter, Sarah. Sarah is in seventh grade and has been struggling all year. Last year in sixth grade Sarah earned all A’s and B”s on her report card. Sarah has a history of doing well in school. At the beginning of seventh grade Sarah began experiencing difficulty in a class or two, but she promised her mother that she would work harder and handle it. All year long Sarah promised her mother that she would do better. However, Sarah was not able to take control of her schoolwork and pull up her grades.
Teacher comments on Sarah’s report cards consistently stated that she was missing homework and doing poorly on tests. Sarah’s mother trusted her because Sarah had always done well in school. Mrs. Smith did not realize until too late that Sarah needed some academic support to help her to well in seventh-grade.
This story is important. The transition between elementary school and middle school can place an extraordinary load on a child’s organizational, planning and follow-through skills. Many students have not developed, or needed, executive functioning skills prior to middle school. The tragedy of this is when you have a strong student like Sarah who suddenly fails three classes.
It is important for parents to realize what they need to do to help their children succeed in middle school. I wish that Sarah’s mother had come to us in October or November of last year and we could have set up a plan to help her get her work done and turned in on time.
Communication is the key to success.
The communication needs to be between the teachers, the parents and the child. This sounds like a simple task, but as many middle school parents know it is not. If your child is at a school where teachers have an online homework program, that they actually keep up to date, then it is important for parents and students to check that online tool and make sure the child knows what needs to be done and when it needs to be turned in.
Many middle school teachers find it difficult to keep these online homework sites updated. Without the online homework check it can become a challenge for parents to know what assignments their child has. So what can you do?
- Have a meeting with the teacher
- Find a friend who is a good note taker and is willing to help update your child on what is due
- Have your child take a picture of the assignments listed on the board
- Request that the school give you weekly updates on unfinished assignments and outstanding homework
- Check in with your child every night, go through the notebook and planner to help them get organized.
- Create a homework calendar where weekly and monthly assignments are written down
- Understand that you are teaching your child the steps to success and that this is a process that will take time.
- Don’t wait more than a month if your child begins to struggle in school
- Ask for help and find a system that works for your family
Middle school is a very exciting and trying time as your child goes through developmental growth, both mentally and physically. It is a time when children require more independence, however they are not always ready for parents to step back completely. This is the time period where parents transition from teacher to coach, guiding their children to develop the skills that they need to succeed.