Category Archives: Homework

What do teachers really want?


Maybe, but flattery will work better. Seriously.

The highest and most effective form of teacher flattery is asking a teacher for help. The next highest is actually doing your work. You meet teacher expectations, you get an A. Easy enough.

Well, let’s start from there, anyway.  So what do teachers really want? And how can the student figure that out? Continue reading

The Nature of Procrastination & Helping Students Achieve Their Goals

tomorrow_localvoxEveryone procrastinates, but there is a distinct lack of understanding

… when the procrastinator is a struggling high school student. Maybe it is a generational stereotype, but there is very little sympathy towards students who are unable to manage their time properly. When kids struggle in school, they are often accused of procrastination. The fact is, procrastination is a prevalent symptom of human nature.

The A+ Club from School4Schools.comn LLC is an online tutoring and academic support and remedial tool for education that recognizes the damage of such categorizations. Our professional and experienced educators do more than help with individual assignments, they also teach young students how to advocate for themselves and use the system that labels them “procrastinators” to their advantage. 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

Procrastinators unite!

Nah, we’ll get around to it later.

“Hi, my name is Michael, and I’m a procrastinator…”

In our inaugural podcast, Gabriela Bromley, a neuroscience major at Simmons College, introduced to our listeners the relationship between procrastination and anxiety. I’m amazed by the insight – so simple, so obvious, but one that I had never considered before.

I asked a guidance counselor friend of mine about it. This professional’s ability to relate to and understand kids is extraordinary. “Wow,” she told me, “I’ll have to include that in my next student questionnaire.” Me, too.

Rational Choice Theory

When teaching, I always talked to kids about procrastination. I viewed it as an entirely rational choice and its opposite, getting things done right away, as, well, a bit freaky. Think about all the moral tales and quotes on it, starting with Thomas Jefferson’s, “Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today” or Aesop’s “The Grasshopper and the Ants” fable. If procrastination weren’t so normal, society wouldn’t lecture us about it so much.

Thankfully, Mark Twain comes in on our side: “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.” Yep, there’s always another tomorrow, or so we hope. Yet even Twain gets serious and gives actual advice on how to beat the impulse to delay:

The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.

It’s tough advice, no matter who it comes from, because just grasping the nature of some tasks sure can be “overwhelming.” And if we could just do that first step, wouldn’t we be doing the rest already? How are we going to start that first thing if the entire thing is scary, or if we are unsure and intimidated by it? Even more readily than putting off what we know we must do, we put off what we don’t understand how to do. Thank you, Gaby, for pointing this out!

Teachers: how many of your procrastinators just don’t know what to do? How many late papers or projects are late because the student was unsure and insecure about it, and not because they’re lazy or disengaged? Have you prepared your students for it? Have you identified their needs and concerns? It’s not so simple as “get it in on time,” anymore, is it?


It begs the question, however, that if we are anxious and unsure, how come we finally get to it at the hard deadline?

“If it weren’t for the last minute, I wouldn’t get anything done”- Anonymous

The reason that procrastinators posses infinite ability to focus and work long hours just before a deadline is because the task wasn’t clear to them until then. It was the deadline that forced the concentration and the courage that went missing before. We procrastinators need to build early that anxious deadline feeling, that scent of battle that finally pushes us to get it done at the last minute — only at the first minute, instead.

But this is, as they say,

Easier said than done.

“How soon ‘not now’ becomes ‘never.'” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

That and the Golden Rule, easier said than done. So what can we do about it? A couple thoughts, first, following Gabriela’s ideas about procrastination and anxiety, and the other following our core strategy of articulation at the A+ Club:

1. “Am I putting it off because I’m afraid of it?

From now on I will use Gaby’s dictum as the first question. Am I afraid? Or is it because I don’t know what to do? It’s so much easier to say “I can’t” than to get help. Again, a rational choice. But, we want to resolve this procrastination thing, not excuse it. So, instead:

2. Articulate: say it, track it, and get it done.

At the A+ Club , our view on overcoming procrastination and delay is to think about it, say it, and remind.  The more you speak it the closer you are to getting it done. We call it “Articulation.” Say it, track it, and get it done.

Student procrastination is not about laziness. Not even procrastinators put off the things they enjoy. When students are inspired and engaged, they eagerly jump on the assignment and meet all the deadlines. Sure, procrastination is a matter of priorities — get off the phone, turn off the Xbox, and so on, but we prioritize what we best understand and believe in.

Maybe it’s time for us all to put off taking an honest look at procrastination.

– Michael

The A+ Club from LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.

Parents, helicopters & angry kids: how to successfully manage a teen’s academic struggles

parent-and-student_MH900399329So what is a parent supposed to do?

You get in their face too much, and it’s “Back off!” You back off, and they do everything but what you want ’em to do. There’s no better way to go crazy than to be a parent. I know, I’ve gone crazy twice. Well, make that three times, since I was a kid once, too, and the only way to go crazier than by being a parent is by being a child.

To be the perfect parent is impossible. Kids disagree, because they’re always full of advice on how we could be doing our jobs better as their parent. And, of course, the perfect child doesn’t exist either. And here is a real problem: when kids assume they can’t please us, they just drop all of our expectations. Some call it “rebellion.” When it comes to school, we call it “trouble.”

Then we get angry parents

Think about how quickly your child runs home with a good grade on a test, waving it in front of you, demanding your congratulations and praise. Of course they do, because they know you’ll be so happy with them.

Then think about how they defer, hide, and try to get away with not showing you the low grades. They do it because they think you’ll get mad at them, and they’d rather not deal with that. You know, yelling and grounding and the like. Much easier to put off your anger for later than deal with it now. Deferment of pain is a natural and rational human choice.

But what kids don’t get is that that’s not what’s really going on. Sure, you’re going to get mad, and, yes, yelling and grounding may follow. But it’s not because of the low grades. You’re angry because you’re worried. Kids don’t realize this. They just think you’re mad because you’re like that.

Kids want to please parents

Kids want to please their parents. They want to meet parent expectations and to be that perfect child they know they’re parents want them to be. Reality gets in the way, and disappointment and anger may follow. But it doesn’t have to go that way, and real trouble can result if we parents don’t handle it well ourselves.

When I work with students, I ask them why they don’t tell their parents about the bad grades at school. It’s always, “because they’ll get mad.” Okay, I say, but you know they’re going to see it eventually and then get even more angry. No answer. Now, do you show your parents the good grades? “Sure.” Why? Smiling now, “It’ll make ’em happy.”

Parents don’t get angry with the low grades. It’s the impact of those grades that scares parents into anger. And when kids bring good grades, it’s not the grades we parents applaud, it’s our joy at a bright future for our children that those grades represent that makes us happy.

Children are deathly afraid to disappoint their parents, and they will make up all kinds of excuses for negative outcomes. If you listen carefully, all of those excuses are designed to deny having disappointed parents: it’s always someone or something else’s fault. And in the face of parental anger, kids then further excuse themselves from having caused that anger by blaming it on the parents’ own anger.  Yes, there is a logic to it, however unproductive it may be.

Parents are motivated by fear

Kids readily perceive parental anger over bad news but not the love that stands behind it.

We parents are afraid for our children, and we see danger at every turn. When they were little and starting to walk, everyday objects around the house were like daggers poised to kill our precious children. So we padded the sharp corners of the table, put those stupid plastic covers into the outlets, and blocked off the stairs. As children grow older, our fears turn to new dangers, also very real, such as popular culture, the internet, drugs and alcohol, teen driving, and, of course grades.

Children don’t get that our fears are motivated by love. When I ask kids if their parents would get angry if they didn’t love them, they go blank. Of course not, since if they didn’t love they wouldn’t care. It is helpful for kids, at least conceptually, to know that parental anger over poor grades is an act of love. We parents need to remind them of it, especially when we are angry.

Helicoptering & other forms of oversight

Sometimes I hear about the old school, hard-knocks way of parenting: let ’em fall, brush off, and get back up again on their own. There’s a lot to be said for this, as it develops independence and ownership of outcomes by children. But it doesn’t always work, and how can it truly work all the time? Kids do need help sometimes.

We also hear about the “helicopter” parent who hovers over every little thing the child does, making sure it’s all perfect. The danger here, of course, is the opposite of the “hard knocks” school of parenting in that the child will never develop independence and ownership of outcomes. Plus, sometimes that helicopter runs out of gas, and then what? You can’t be on top of everything that goes on in your child’s life.

So the question is balance: what can we do for our children that is productive, healthy, and promotes the values and independence and ownership of them we want out of our children?

Honesty, Love, and Trust

But verify.

Honesty is a two-way street, and when that traffic is coming at you hard, it’s easy just do dodge it with a little lie. But we must face things as honestly as possible, for without honesty we can never fully trust. It’s most difficult for kids to be honest with their parents, because they don’t want to disappoint them. The best we can do as parents is to remind our kids what our expectations are and how they are built from love and not anger. Let our children know it’s okay not to be perfect, but remind them of the values and hopes we hold for them.

This is really hard to do, and no parent can every fully reach it. So we must also verify.

Help when needed

I can’t tell you how many times we hear from parents, “He always says he did his homework already. How am I supposed to know?”

When it comes to schoolwork and grades, schools are supposed to assist parents with timely assignment and grade notifications and communication between teachers and parents. It is impossible, of course, to know everything all the time. (My mother had me convinced that she was “the fly on the wall” in my elementary school.) Ideally, the information flow is sufficient for parents to know what teacher expectations are so as to be able to verify workflow with their child. Worse, however, in the schools we have seen in our student support service, effective teacher feedback is not the norm.

Well, when the grades come back you’ll know for sure.

Until then, the question is if the child is deferring responsibility or actually fulfilling it. In our student support service, our ideal is for students to account for themselves without parent or teacher oversight, and we provide the HomeworkTracker to our clients as an effective tool for it. But we’re not always working with kids who have that ability to be on top of everything all the time, so more tools are needed. We support parents and students by monitoring their teacher pages and progress reports and encouraging teachers to provide direct feedback for our students.

The most powerful tool we provide, however, is a simple, honest conversation. And an ongoing one. We speak with our students at least once a week in order to help them think through what’s going on in school, verify what we see, and to problem solve. The very first and the most powerful thing we can do with a student is to help them remove those self-imposed barriers that they use as easy excuses for not meeting their parents’ and their own goals. Once a student articulates a goal honestly (a goal to get all A’s is less honest than a goal to improve on existing C’s and D’s), then those self-imposed barriers becomes problems to solve rather than excuses.

It is a huge the first step for students who have been in the process of denial and deferring to be honest and realistic with themselves. When parents and students are in a cycle of denial and anger, that honesty is difficult to find. Some of the greatest successes in our service have been to restore that trust between parents and students over school work. Then they can argue over more important things, like chores and what movies they’re allowed to see. Getting there takes patience, consistency, honesty and love. We’re one tool available to parents and students to get there.

In an upcoming post, I will cover the feedback process more carefully and offer some suggestions for parents and teachers on how to up that game. Meanwhile, we wish students and parents all a happy, positive start on the new school year!

– Michael

The A+ Club from LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.

The Learning Process

Or, where do grades come from?

Where do grades come from? Click here to view my Learning Process flow chart. Grades and learning are not necessarily related… Ideally they are, but what, really, do grades measure?

Have you ever considered what, exactly, do grades measure?

They measure something, but can they really measure everything? And of what they do measure, is it fair, is it meaningful, and does it represent what we really want students to achieve?

At the A+ Club we work with students to appreciate what grades are really about. The first thing to understand is that grades do not measure, do not indicate intelligence. Nor do grades necessarily measure learning. Whatever schools have done to lead any students or parents to believe this need to just disappear. Of course students have different intelligence. But they also have different skills Good at math, bad at drawing. Good at football, bad at reading. Good at singing, good at science, too. Whatever, these are all different types of intelligences, as intelligence is purely contextual. I do wish I was a math wizard like my astrophysicist brother. Ain’t gonna happen, so I do what I can with what I’ve got. That doesn’t mean I can’t get a good grade in Physics. So how would I go about getting a good grade in Physics if I’m bad at math?

I love this c.1910 French vision of the future of education. Would that it were so easy!
I love this c.1910 French vision of the future of education. Would that it were so easy!

First some vocabulary:

  • Assessment: a measurement of something, such as a grade on an exam.
  • Grades: assessments of student performance based upon certain criteria, hopefully not arbitrary
  • Learning Expectation: what a teacher expects students to learn
  • Relevancy: the idea that something is important or meaningful
  • Prior Knowledge (PK): what you already know
  • New Knowledge (NK): new things you learn
  • Internalization: the process of turning NK into PK

Grades as measurements

If we consider that grades measure something but not everything, then we must first consider what it is that grades measure. If a teacher gives a grade for “participation,” what does that mean? Is it an impression? A concrete measurement. Or is it a measurement of a process, such as a requirement to show the steps taken to answer a math equation as opposed to just answering the equation. When teachers outline assessment expectations in advance, we call this a “rubric.” Ideally, every little grade has a clear rubric or clear understanding by students about its expectations.

Just about every student has a story about getting a zero on something because they forgot to put their name on an assignment. It was done. It was even done well, and the student learned. But the student got a zero. So, what’s the grade about? Well, putting your name on the page is part of the grade. (Some teachers throw out un-named assignments; I always keep them, as it killed me that a kid did the work but I can’t reward it because I don’t know who it is!).

The next lesson here is to follow instructions!!! Students who are impatient with process often skip the instructions and then miss out on important steps that lead to low scores. You may have had one of those teachers who puts a “trick question” into an exam just to see if the student read everything, such as “skip the next two questions for extra credit.” I get the idea and have tried it myself. Ultimately, though it is not fair, but the sentiment is true: “read me,” screams the test!

Grades reflect so much more than just learning. A few things that go into most school assessments that are so basic we don’t often think about them. But if we do, we are more cognizant of what it takes to get a good grade:

  • timeliness
  • completion
  • name
  • instructions

If you really consider it, there is far less “learning” in a grade than there is “process” and just meeting teacher expectations.

Student Success

At The A+ Club, we employ these ideas very simply:

  • are you aware of what is expected of you?
  • what learning is expected?
  • are you being graded on timeliness and completion?
  • what process is expected?

That last, process, is behind most low grades. Many kids believe they could just ace the test and get a good grade without having done any homework. Often enough they are correct in this. But hardly always, and it is always the case that students are graded on process as much as learning. The trick is for students to make it meaningful enough to bother to do it, or, better, to want to do it. The best teachers make everything meaningful to students, but that’s a rarity. Instead, kids have to take up relevancy upon themselves.

Our job at The A+ Club is to provide kids with the tools and strategies to make their work meaningful, if only to get a higher grade.

– Michael

The A+ Club from LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.