Uncovering the Reason for Underachieving
Is your student not working up to his or her full potential?
You recognize the signs: constant complaints, procrastination, and poor performance. Whether underachieving is an ongoing problem or a new trend for your child, it’s a normal experience—in fact, struggling is a predictable part of the learning process.
“I think that from very early ages we [in America] see struggle as an indicator that you’re just not very smart,” says Jim Stigler, a professor of psychology at UCLA. “It’s a sign of low ability—people who are smart don’t struggle, they just naturally get it, that’s our folk theory. Whereas in Asian cultures they tend to see struggle more as an opportunity.”
Western cultures often think of struggling as a negative, but Asian cultures view struggling as an opportunity to learn and persevere. In his article “Struggling Means Learning: Difference in Eastern and Western Cultures,” Alix Spiegel further explains Stigler’s theory:
“In Eastern cultures, Stigler says, it’s just assumed that struggle is a predictable part of the learning process. Everyone is expected to struggle in the process of learning, and so struggling becomes a chance to show that you, the student, have what it takes emotionally to resolve the problem by persisting through that struggle.”
When you examine the situation from that perspective, both you and your child have a chance to persevere. As the Learning Coach, you can work with your student’s teacher to figure out why your student isn’t putting forth his or her best effort at school.
If your student is underachieving, it doesn’t mean that he or she is naturally lazy or indifferent about school. In fact, you might be surprised that your student is underachieving because he or she is extremely bright but needs a different challenge. Take a few minutes to determine the cause of this pattern. Consider these common possibilities:
- A bad attitude
Once you know what’s likely causing the problem, the next step is to come up with a motivation solution for your child by learning more about the problem.
If you find yourself spending more and more time with your student to help keep him or her on track during the day, it’s possible that he or she just needs more attention. Ask yourself this: “Does my child have good interaction with others throughout the day?”
Take a memory walk through a typical day. Jot down all the conversations your student had with other people about the material they learned. Was it one, three, five, or none? If you answered less than five, chances are your student is feeling lonely. Sharing learning experiences is paramount to the student’s attitude. If children have no one to share their learning with, they begin to feel there is no reason to learn anything at all.
Partnering with your student as he or she ventures into each subject’s tasks will break the cycle of careless work and low performance. But besides offering your own support, help your student find other ways to interact with teachers and peers. Encourage him or her to participate in the virtual classroom during LiveLesson® sessions. Students can also send WebMail to classmates or join conversations on discussion boards. If other virtual school students live in your area, you can also arrange “study dates” a few days a month. Don’t forget that there are a variety of clubs and activities your student can join to meet students who share the same interests.
You know when your student gets off track because he or she is restless, distracted, and unmotivated. But how can you tell if a student has been overexposed to a task?
One way to assess the situation is to consider the task—say, writing a narrative essay. Ask your student to show you all the narrative essays he or she has written in the current year. If your child can produce at least 3–5 well-written essays, then it is possible that your student is indeed bored with the task of writing narrative essays.
When you talk to your teacher about your student being bored, be prepared with several pieces of demonstrated work that shows how your student has been overexposed to the topic and is ready for a new challenge. Your online teacher may offer to accelerate your student or suggest an enrichment activity suitable to your student’s interests if your teacher sees evidence of overexposure.
A Bad Attitude
If you don’t think that your student is lonely or bored, he or she might just have a bad attitude about the task or subject. Feeling unmotivated and frustrated can quickly become a habit, but it’s a habit you can change by taking certain steps.
First, consider your student’s learning environment. Does everyone in the family have a positive attitude about school? If not, stress the importance of education and make sure that academic achievements are praised and rewarded. Make sure that all your family members are supporting and encouraging your child who is struggling with underachieving.
Second, set up a reward system for students. For example, if your student likes to draw, he or she could earn drawing time by completing lessons successfully. Third, take small breaks during the day. These can relieve stress and help your student maintain focus.
Finally, try to make learning fun. There are a lot of tools and games that you can use to help your student learn. Ask your teacher for ideas—remember, you are part of a great team dedicated to your child’s success. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help.
How do you help your student when he or she is underachieving? Share your advice in the comments.