Bad grades? Here’s how parents can help their kids

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Sunday, February 10, 2008
— It’s report card season, and that means time for celebration. Or disappointment.

What’s a parent to do if visions of A’s and B’s turn into D’s or worse?

It’s too late to fix first-semester grades. But it’s a good time to focus on second semester.

The Janesville Gazette asked local education leaders for advice on this topic. While no one had a one-size-fits-all solution, the responses boil down to a plan:

1. Assess the situation.

Look to past grades to decide whether your child is living up to his potential.

For some kids, C’s are a good sign. For others, a B might mean trouble.

“If a parent questions how their child is doing, I recommend that they call the teacher. I know that our teachers would welcome that kind of inquiry,” said Principal Lynn Karges of Roosevelt Elementary School.

“Has learning always come easy and is suddenly not an interest for your child? That would indicate a motivation rather than ability issue,” said Craig High School Principal Mike Kuehne.

On the other hand, a child who consistently struggles with classwork and learning new information might have a problem that requires special help.

“The parent then should contact the school to find out how they can work together to help that student find success,” Kuehne said.

Matt Beisser, principal of St. Patrick School, touts the highly detailed report card that Catholic schools use, which give a separate grade for effort and even says how the child can improve.

2. Talk to the teacher.

Does the teacher think the student has put in enough effort? Could he do better?

“A child’s teachers, counselor or adviser can assist with this process and work collaboratively with a parent and student in developing target goals,” said Parker High School Principal Dale Carlson.

“Parents should share their ideas with teachers on what works best for their child. Teachers are here to support the work parents have already started and continue to do at home,” Carlson said.

3. Collaborate.

Ask the teacher what might help. Perhaps the child has a problem completing assignments on time. She might need help getting organized. She might need a formal homework time with a designated place to work.

Some schools have homework clubs, peer tutors or incentive programs. Teachers will know what’s available and have a good idea of what might work for a particular child.

Take time each day to go through your child’s backpack for returned papers, homework and school communications, Karges recommends.

Never fall into the trap of blaming the teacher, advises Judy Ronzani, director of the Sonshine Patch Christian Preschool and an instructor of Love and Logic parenting classes.

“Parents who make the mistake of saying negative comments about teachers in front of their children are setting their kids up for academic failure,” according to an article by Love and Logic’s Charles Fay. “When parents encourage children to learn how to positively deal with difficult teachers and stressful situations, their kids learn how to overcome challenges and solve their own problems.”

4. Consider rewards.

“Some kids need a little more motivation, and that’s why you have to reward the good work,” Beisser said.

But what kind of reward? Cash? An iPod?

Educators question whether those kinds of rewards have a lasting effect, and they question what a child learns from the experience.

“If an A is worth a dollar in first grade, is an A worth $10 in fifth grade?” Kuehne said. “And if that is the case, how much do we need to reward a 16- or 17-year-old?

“Paying for a grade sends a message that the reward in learning comes from outside the individual,” Kuehne said.

Kuehne suggests that students need to learn how valuable it is for them to acquire reading or math skills, and should desire those skills for the benefits they bestow.

“One of the best techniques in motivating your child is to tell them how proud you are for the effort they made in the grade they received,” Kuehne said. “Yes, a parent can be proud of a C if they know their child worked to receive that grade.”

Ronzani’s Love and Logic philosophy rejects rewards for good grades or punishment for bad grades.

In any case, kids might not be interested in money or worldly goods. Maybe parental praise is all they want.

“I don’t think we commend our kids enough for how well they do,” Beisser said.

“Be involved in your child’s education,” Carlson said. “Spending time reviewing homework, reading with your child, discussing what happened at school each day and maintaining communication with your child’s teachers can have a positive impact on your child’s performance and success ...

“A parent is the most important teacher in a child’s life.”

Last updated: 5:01 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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