Hello and welcome to the EFP! I’m your host, Sarah Kesty, and before we start, I want to thank those of you who have reviewed and liked the podcast! Reading the reviews helps me improve what I do! And your writing the reviews helps get the podcast noticed by others who need it! Thank you so much! Please remember to share it with others who impact your kids’ day (parents, teachers, coaches…) The more people in our tribe, the stronger we are to make positive change!
I’ve got to say…this episode comes straight from my real life. It is the end of the semester. I’ve been staying after school, teaching Saturday school sessions, making lunch appointments…all to help students catch up in these final weeks of the semester.
In fact, at my last Saturday school session, I was sitting with several of my 8th graders, reflecting on why they were needing to spend part of their weekends working with me. I mean I love them, but I’d much rather they be out experiencing life and enjoying some social time! A few of my students admitted that some of the deadlines snuck up or that they didn’t realize assignments were worth as many points as they were. Others mentioned that the sheer amount of work was overwhelming and that they dawdled a bit until they knew my help sessions would be scheduled. Not one of them mentioned that they couldn’t do the work or that they’d given up. It struck me (again, for like the 1000th time) that their struggles reflected skill deficits, not problems with their character. They reflected lacking EF hacks, not lacking a desire to do well in school.
I’ve blended a bunch of EF strategies into my teaching (and I’ll be sure to share those in future episodes because they’re tested and true hacks for school and home). But, I also have a few tricks in my bag to empower students to pass their classes!
Today I want to teach you a few EF strategies for your child to use to pass their classes now! These are content-independent, meaning they can be used for any class, at any time. But, they’re especially helpful when grades are on the horizon. Let’s replace nagging and over-helping by strategizing the struggle.
Here we go. My top strategy is going to sound like, “duh” at first, but bear with me. Let’s think through an example to start. Your child is given an assignment, and the teacher included a section in the assignment explanation about where the assignment’s points come from. Something like: 20 points for planning document, 10 points for examples, 50 points for written components, and 5 points for the art. (I’m imagining a poster…either digital or on paper). As adults, we probably see the points breakdown and think, “well, we better start with the planning document to get organized, then we can focus on the writing since it’s worth the most.” But where do our kids likely start? The art! It’s the easiest component of the assignment and one most students feel they could handle well-ish, so they start there. And they may work reallllly hard on it, for a long amount of time, too. When the assignment comes due, however, they only earn 5 of the available 85 points, resulting in an F. Even. Though. They. Tried. Today I want to teach you that you can empower your child by having them see points as money…and we start with the biggest pay day. If I were to use the same example assignment, I may cover up the description of the assignment sections (writing, planning, art etc) and just show my child the points. Then ask, if these were money, which one would you want to earn first? Of course they’re going to say the most valuable! From there, you can help your child connect that the most valuable is the first spot to start, not the easiest. (You’re empowering them with the skill of prioritizing!) The identified starting point then becomes the first “chunk” of the work to tackle…get going. You can come back and look at the rest later. Please don’t go through the whole assignment and make a master list. In a time crunch, pick the highest value and get moving!
If your child doesn’t have a multi-step assignment, another way to use the “see points as money” strategy is to look at missing or upcoming assignments and their values. Many teachers have tests worth a lot but homework worth only a few points. This is where we in the EF tribe gotta be real. They may not get it all done. So just as important as prioritizing the top actions to take is identifying what can maybe be let go. (more on this a little later). Look at the list of assignments for your child’s grade. Use the points-as-money perspective, and ask which they’d like to earn first! They’ll catch on pretty quickly!
Connected to this points-as-money is the triage perspective. I hate this one because it’s so muddied by problems with our school system, but here’s the deal: if your child is facing multiple Fs, focus your last minute efforts on the grades closest to passing. You can do this as a think-aloud with your child (and without blaming him for where he is. Don’t nobody got time for blame right now) The triage perspective helps ensure your child’s efforts are fruitful and encourages him to be making decisions for his benefit, taking him out of feeling like a victim of grades.
So, we have point-as-money for prioritizing. My second strategy is to use urgency and novelty to your advantage. You may remember from previous episodes that our brains have evolved to focus more (through boosts in neurochemicals) when things are exciting. Well, as far as our brains are concerned, an urgent deadline is as exciting as it gets. And that’s good news for us, when we’re under a tight deadline. Use your child’s sudden boost in attention to their advantage by inviting them to notice how they feel focused and alert. Help your child notice that he or she got “in the zone” and got a lot done. Ask your child what went right to set them up for success. Involving your child in noticing their attention helps raise your child’s self-awareness (which is also a related executive function). It’s possible that next time they need to get some serious work done, they’re going to remember the time you helped them realize that plugging in headphones (whether or not music was actually on) helped them focus…and they may try that strategy again on their own!
Since brains also pay attention to novelty, see how you can spin this crunch time into a positive? Maybe you go get hot chocolates and study at Starbucks? Or…you call it a party? No, seriously, I’ve had such good results telling kids that we’ve scheduled any sort of party: cleaning party, backpack party (where we organize), English party, study party, math review jam session…you get the idea! Your child likely has a brain that responds well to odd approaches, so enjoy it! Throw yourself a study party.
My last strategy for passing in the last minute is to self-advocate. This can look different for different children, but the number one thing is to remember (sorry teacher friends): grading can be subjective. Grading systems look objective on paper, but they can be influenced by many things outside of the written rules. For example, a student who asks for help and appears interested in their own success will receive more attention and positive responses than a student who acts “too cool” in an attempt to hide their struggles. The “aloof” student will be moved to a lower priority in the teacher’s mind or even blamed for their own failure. Teacher perspective impacts teacher behavior. So, appearing like an active student benefits our kids. And here’s the truth: our kids don’t actually have to care that much about the class. They just have to look like they do. That means asking for help (in person or through email), showing up when help is offered, and showing behaviors that look like “playing school” (like facing the teacher, getting materials out…we’ll cover these in a future episode). So now you might be thinking that it would’ve been nice to know this earlier in the semester, so what can we do now?
Help your child draft some emails to the teachers in whose classes they’re failing. Depending on where your child is with self-awareness, they might choose to include some narrative about why they missed a few assignments but not ask for things to be excused. Have your child acknowledge that it’s late (and they’re sorry) before asking the teacher for specific opportunities for help, clarification, or make up assignments. Prepare your child that their teacher might have a “human moment” and lash out along the lines of “why didn’t you ask earlier?” That’s a version of should-ing on kids (you should have gotten help earlier) and again, don’t nobody have time for it. But, it’s wise to prepare your child that it may happen. Sigh.
To wrap up, we’ve got a few great strategies for the end of the semester struggle:
- Take the points-as-money perspective. Triage the classes closest to passing first.
- Use the urgency to your advantage
- Take steps to look like a self-advocating student.
A final tip is to remember that a few points are better than none. Don’t let apathy take over with your child. If he can only get half the math packet done, woo-hoo, that’s at least 50% of the points and will help. It’s easy to give up when the hill we have to climb is so huge. But that doesn’t mean that each step isn’t valuable.
Alright, I’m not going to throw a challenge at you this week because it’s already a challenging enough time. I am, however, going to post some cool graphics on my Facebook, so you can grab those and use them as backgrounds to remind yourself and your kids of our awesome strategies! Go to facebook.com/executivefunctionpodcast and like the page so you never miss a thing!
Grab that snuggly wonder kid of yours…time for the pep talk.
Happy end of the semester, kid!
Are you feeling the pressure of grades coming up? Your teachers are too! There’s a lot of stress this time of year, but the good news is there are also a lot of strategies to get you through! I just taught your grown up some ideas to help you pass your classes, but I also want to remind you that your grades aren’t everything. They’re not who you are. They don’t even show how smart you are.
Grades are the way schools keep track of kids. Most of the time you earn them through points, like a trade. You do work, you get points. Most of the time they show how well you played the school game, but lots of the time they don’t show if you actually learned. Some teachers like me know this and are trying to think of new ways to “grade” students. But for now, grades are the system to report on how kids are doing at school.
I want to remind you of some other things that show how you’re doing:
Think of the time last week when you helped a friend or teacher. That shows how you are.
Or the new trick you learned in a game or sport. That shows your brain is growing!
Or the way you don’t give up on what you want. That shows your strength!
Grades are one part of the picture of you. And right now they matter a lot. Grades may not be the full picture, but they are still used by schools and jobs to decide what opportunities you get. Grades matter to decide if you have to repeat a class. Grades matter to decide if you can stay on a sports team or keep a job after school. Grades matter.
Your grown up is going to help you hack your grades this week. They’ll get you going, but you gotta do the hard work. And I know you can! Give it your best, kid. Next week I’ll be showing you how to study so you don’t waste time or brain effort. Until then, I’m sending you all my love!
See you next week!