As the first quarter of school comes to an end, the novelty of the new school year has worn off for both parents and students. A child’s repeated empty promise to perform better academically is met with a parent checking progress and grades on the school’s website. It becomes a time of genuine concern for all parties involved. As the stakes become higher in school, the need to perform well is even greater. Many parents silently ask, “Is there something wrong here?” “Is there something I am missing. “School was never this hard for me when I was young”. Here is my short answer to parents, “The demands and the curriculum have changed drastically since you were a student.”
The A-Ha Moment
A few days ago, I had the privilege of sitting in a room with excellent teachers and the parent of a struggling student. Teachers were stating that this student lacked the basic math foundation skills; consequently, she was unable to grasp the greater concepts being taught in the class. This student was lost as the curriculum moved ahead towards the next benchmark. I have been in the field of school psychology for almost 17 years and never have I seen the gap between the student and the curriculum become so large. It was an epiphany! We are no longer asking students to simply solve for an equation. We are asking them to have automatic math facts, number sense and math concepts. Additionally, they are given an open ended question and asked how they would use the math concept to solve the problem. In English and Language Arts, a student needs to be able to identify the main idea, to make inferences and to make predictions. This is in contrast to the rote vocabulary memorization and fill-in the blank questions that parents were given in school. The curriculum is rigorous and demanding as it builds and grows across the year. It requires a student to not only have the basic information, but be able to compare and contrast, to infer, to problem solve and to reason abstractly.
Imagine if I brought you to the forest, blindfolded you, turned you around three times, and told you to find your way home. This would be a challenging task for most people. It would force you to do the following:
1) think flexibly,
2) identify meaningful information,
3) disregard non-essential information, (inhibiting response)
4) hold onto information that is increasingly complex for a longer length of time.
5) organize information
These are all tasks that would challenge your executive functioning abilities. Research has demonstrated that the frontal lobes play a key role in these thinking processes. This is the thinking part of the brain that is involved in the majority of tasks your child is asked to perform on a daily basis. It answers the complex questions of “why” not “what”.
A student’s ability to function effectively using this higher order thinking depends on what you are asking them to learn, their age, intellectual ability, and exposure to difficult problem solving tasks. However, some students are working with a deficit in one or more of these thinking processes. While some students look forward to the challenge, others shy away completely from the challenge. As a parent, where does your child stand in relation to these challenges?
How does this apply to my child?
There will be increased demands placed on our students as we ask them to perform tasks quicker, better and faster than the students 5 years ago. Get to know your child’s learning style, strengths and weaknesses sooner than later. Be proactive rather than reactive. After all, your student will be spending one-third of his life in school. We can make it easier or harder as parents by understanding their learning needs. The long term benefits extend past the classroom and into occupational functioning.
Begin to assess the following:
1) Is homework taking too long?
2) Is one subject requiring my child to exert greater effort than another?
3) Does your son continue to attain poor test results in spite of studying?
4) Does your daughter lack the ability to plan and execute a given long term task?
5) Is your student becoming frustrated by school?
If you have answered yes to any of these questions, it may warrant further assessment by a qualified psychologist.
At New Jersey Clinical & Sport Psychology, Dr. John Macri is a licensed psychologist who dedicates a significant portion of his practice to comprehensive psychological and educational evaluation. His ultimate goal is to assist each student in achieving reach their true potential. If you have questions or comments, please do not hesitate to reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 201-445-3306.