Category Archives: Parents

A Successful Assessment pt 2: how to prepare for a test (or learning all along not just cramming)

Successful Test Prep from the A+ ClubParents concerned about their teen’s middle and high school exam and test prep might consider that studying isn’t just a matter of reviewing notes and study guides. Successful testing requires ongoing learning.

Here are some strategies for parents to empower their student’s exam prep and overall academic success.

In our series on  Successful Assessment: how to prepare for a test (or why doesn’t my child test well?), we are reviewing the essential parts of successful testing:

  1. No Surprises (identified teacher expectations)
  2. Student Prepared (successful learning)
  3. Student had time to finish (successful test execution)

This post regards student preparation. It’s one thing to know what will be on a test (see Part 1: Identifying Expectations) and also to understand it . But can you perform it yourself? Continue reading

A Successful Assessment pt 1: how to know what will be on the test (or identifying teacher expectations)

Successful Testing from the A+ ClubFor successful testing, students need to know what will be on the test. Sounds obvious, but parents don’t want to hear from their teens that there were “surprises” on a test or that they studied for the wrong thing.

This edition of the Successful Assessment will review how to help your teenage student identify what will be on a test.

As outlined in the introductory post, How to approach a test (or why doesn’t my child test well?), at the A+ Club, we help middle, high school and college students succeed on formal assessments, what we usually call “quizzes” and “tests.”  Our quick measure of a successful assessment means:

  1. No Surprises (identified teacher expectations)
  2. Student Prepared (successful learning)
  3. Student had time to finish (successful test execution)

No surprises!

“No Surprises” on a test means the student knew what to expect, knew what to study, and was familiar with every part or aspect of the test. Continue reading

Brenda & Her Mom Don’t See Eye-to-Eye on Her School Work

Brenda & Her MomMeet Brenda & her mom.

They both know that parenting a teen through middle and high school isn’t always easy. And being a teen isn’t always easy, either.

At the A+ Club, we provide academic coaching, mentoring & tutoring in order to help parents of middle & high school and college students track their work, get tutoring and homework help when needed, and engage in the positive processes of goal setting, problem solving, and academic self-advocacy.

We can help!

Please meet Brenda and her Mom. They’re really nice people, and they love each other very much. But sometimes mother and high-school age daughter don’t see eye-to-eye over homework, grades, and school. We can help them both!

Click on the images to see Brenda’s & Her Mom’s worries about school, and how we the A+ Club helps both students and parents:

Learn more about the A+ Club here or take the Academic Needs Survey to identify your student’s challenges and find the right solutions for them!

– Michael

What do grades measure, anyway? How to make sense of grades and student learning

Student-Performance_Process-flow-chart_noheaderParents! If schools were meant for learning, why do we have grades?

In other words, if learning were the goal, wouldn’t every student have to get an A+ before moving on to the next level?

If, when a student gets a D, and it indicates the student met 64% of expectations, is there learning going on at that school? Wouldn’t a 100% grade represent true learning?

As long as there are grades less than an A, the point of schools, then, is not learning.

Worse, not all grades are equal. Does an A in PE represent learning as much as an A in math? They both count the same towards your GPA and both are required. Clearly, learning is not the only thing being measured here.

Grades as thresholds of… of something

So, the student got a B- or a C+, or an F. What does that mean, anyway? The F might be a zero –no work was done at all, or maybe it was 59% and just shy of a D. That’s quite a leap, but that F is still an F.

Or, maybe that C+ was because, even though the student aced the tests, he didn’t do any homework and got nailed for it on the overall grade.

Ask my son, as that was his strategy for high school. He learned everything asked of him, but he only showed it on tests. He learned, but that’s not what school is about.

Well… It worked for him, as he’s a successful musician who dedicates himself to perfecting his craft and learning everything he possibly can about it.

What’s going on here is that grades measure lots of things, just not always – or even mostly – learning.

School is about process

A student like my son learned everything required of the test but skipped on the rest of the process required by the teachers.

Here are some of the things students get measured on that have nothing to do with the generic “Learning”  but everything to do with “grades” and doing what’s asked of them. Some of the things by which students are measured include:

  • showing up
  • writing name on papers
  • sitting down for long periods of time.
  • lifting one’s arm in the air before speaking
  • remembering locker combinations

Okay, so sometimes students are measured on figuring out math formulas or reading literature. But it seems to me that a student could get a much higher grade in high school doing all the other things than strict “learning” that my son did, by actually learning, and never proving it on tests.

School is about figuring out what’s expected and then getting it done, learning or not. My advice to parents, however, is not to get to worked up over a student’s ability to follow process. It doesn’t measure worth, it measures… process.

Of course we want our kids to get good grades, the best grades, and the best way to get there is to follow teacher and school processes. So let’s understand “studying” as not just learning but also following all the little steps that students are being graded upon in addition to “learning.”

See what inspires your child, encourage it, and then encourage her to engage in grade-accumulation as well as learning.

The Secret Life of a teacher gradebook

At the A+ Club, we often hear from parents and students that the student got a B-, or whatever, and can’t say why. The teacher didn’t explain it, the student doesn’t understand it, and the parent is helpless to figure out why.

I just had a conversation with a very bright student who was disappointed in a B+, as her goal was an A. She says that her grade dropped because of a single quiz — which is possible. I suspect, though, that there was something else that knocked her off, and it was very likely manipulated by the teacher. I’m guessing that as a brilliant thinker, quick learner, and full of impatience with process, that quiz grade was the excuse the teacher needed to reflect an overall B+ — smart, got it down but didn’t do everything I asked.

That’s a guess, but I know it happens all the time, especially as an excuse to lift grades — “Oh, well, he did all his homework, so I’ll just pass him even though he failed all his quizzes.”

I’m hearing disgust from all the high-minded teachers out there who believe that standards are standards and the grade book speaks for itself. I’m sorry, but that’s impossible. You will always, necessarily, judge kids holistically, no matter how hard you try to be objective.

Let’s say a student has an A in homework, which is 25% of the grade, an F on tests, which is another 20% of the grade and a D in quizzes (with corrections)  and an A+ in classwork, each 20% of the grade. That adds up to a 77%, or a C+. (Try it here: Mercer Univ Weighted Average Grade Calculator).

Now, the teacher also has a 15% “participation” grade, and whatever the teacher assigns here will decide that overall, final grade:

  • a C in participation will yield 76%, or a C
  • a B in participation will yield  78%, or a C+
  • an A+ in participation will yield an 80% or a B

Assuming there’s no real metric for “participation,” the teacher is justified in assigning this grade based upon pure observation, which will then impact the overall outcome of a C, C+ or a B.

Teachers can do the same by tweaking different grades, such as dropping the lowest grade in each category, or whatever.

From the grades profile we have created, this student is following teacher process, such as in doing homework, but is not learning what is required of the test. Many teachers would be sympathetic to the process and reward a high participation grade simply because the student ostensibly did what was asked, whether or not any learning was involved.

I’m not judging this process. I just want parents and students to be aware of it.

So what do your child’s grades actually measure?

Tests necessarily contain some learning measurement, whether or not it was taught or if it was an explicit part of the content (multiple choice measures reading and logic as much or more than content knowledge). So test scores are usually a primary indicator of your child’s learning. (It is not an indicator of a presence or absence of effective teaching!)

Other assessments such as research projects and essays yield measurable learning, although, like homework and participation grades, these are process-heavy assessments and do not necessarily reflect learning achievement (“mastery” the educators like to call it).

Look over the grade book, speak to the teacher, and discover what, really, is being measured. An A in homework does not mean learning is happening, especially in classes in which the teacher grades for compliance and not accuracy (check it off for having something written on the page — yes, this goes on every day).

Hopefully the various categories of student measurement align, such as B in Homework, B on classwork, and B on tests. I have to say that a part from A- students, that kind of overall consistency in grade results are rare.

Above all, insist upon strong feedback from your child’s teachers. Only the teacher can say what the teacher is measuring, and a good teacher will align grades with thoughtful feedback on actual student production.

Grades measure a lot of things. Make sure you and your child understand what, exactly, is going on with your child’s grades.

– Michael

What’s your student’s emotional IQ? Maturity, Emotional Intelligence & Salesmanship

So your child is that smart, a high-riding, high IQ, straight A’s academic cowboy!

Cool that, but how’s that maturity thing going?

The peak age for absorbing new information is age 18. The peak age for assessing the emotional state of others is 40.

It makes sense, as our developmental years are for learning, testing, and expanding our bodies and mind and testing how they interact with the outer world. Our adult years are for organizing and evaluating ourselves within the larger world.  (Here for How Intelligence Shifts With Age)

So perhaps we can measure our children a bit differently from ourselves?

Continue reading

Are you obstacle-minded or a problem solver? Goal setting & fixing mistakes

When we say, “Oh, well,” to a failure, we are more likely to repeat the mistake. Instead, correct forward rather than excusing backwards. Quite literally, this is “problem solving.”

There will always be obstacles and difficulties. Success doesn’t happen by itself. It’s all about learning from problems instead of resigning to them — or worse, using them as an excuse to give up on our goals. Continue reading

Next time your kids says, “summer’s so boring…” remind them why they actually enjoy school

“I’m so bored.”

Heard that one before over the summer holiday?

Write it down when they say it, record the date and time, and remind them of it when they complain about school in three weeks.

It always amazes me to hear from kids how summer can be “so boring.” Sure, some kids have extraordinary summers, but those experience are fun and memorable for the same reasons that other kids miss school: kids like success.

It is a good reminder for adults that kids do enjoy being in school. The primary thing kids miss is each other, of course, but they also miss the challenges, the excitement of stuff going on, and all the activity which makes their lives in school a speedway.

And what they really like most is success.

Kids enjoy what they do well, so it’s our job as adults to ensure that they stay on the path of accomplishment, that they stay excited and positive about school. When they do, it all seems easy and great.

When they don’t do well, and start wishing for the next summer — all the while forgetting how boring it was last summer — that’s when we really need to double down on positive.

When grades hit the bumps, when work piles up or gets difficult, we want to be reminding them of their successes. Find something that is going right — there’s always something going right — and reinforce it, support it, and repeat it. That little success will get bigger and bigger.

Here are some ways to keep kids on track and from missing summertime:

  • Speak accomplishments not problems
  • Relate short-term obstacles to long-term goals
  • Stay positive even in the face of obstacles or poor outcomes
  • Focus on solutions to process rather than reprimands over outcomes
  • Be consistent in your support

Reinforcing the positives won’t make the difficulties disappear, but it will make them seem less overwhelming. Improvement doesn’t come from reprimand, it comes from correction, and by staying positive we create a healthier attitude of improvement instead of resignation to failure.

It works only if it’s applied constantly and continually. Just as a diet won’t work if followed once a month, neither will academic support if it comes just now and then.

I wish you and your child an enjoyable and positive school year, even if it is full of challenges and difficulties. When your child meets them, school will actually be rewarding and maybe even fun.

– Michael

Parents, you rock!

Parents, thank you for your business, but most of all thank you for allowing us to help out.

Every month as I process payments from parents for A+ Club monthly student support service, I write:

Please find the attached invoice for A+ Club student support. We thank you the opportunity to contribute to your child’s academic success!

We mean it: we are so thankful for the opportunity to help out, to be a part of your children’s lives to help them academically, to support their dreams and your ambitions for them, and to help ease the pains of adolescent parenthood. Continue reading

Should v. Could: setting parent expectations without judgement

Woulda, coulda, shoulda…

“Could you have done your homework” is a vastly different question than “Should you have done your homework?”

Anger is love?

Parents get angry with children because they are scared. Children get angry with parents because they don’t want to disappoint.

The cause of both is love.

When enforcing parent expectations, we need to remind ourselves of that, for we easily get lost in the emotions of the moment and forget that it’s our love that drives our emotions and not the events that are upsetting us. Continue reading

Arguing over grades?

aaaaahYou know the routine:

“Do you have any homework?” : “No.”

“Really? Nothing?” : “Already did it.”

“But you have a math test tomorrow?” : “Oh, yeah. The other kids weren’t ready, so the teacher put it off for next week.”

When the discussions over homework and grades become two-way traffic on a one-way street, the one complaining and badgering, the other deferring and dodging, it’s no longer a functional, working relationship. And all we’ve got left is anger. Continue reading