We often hear from parents that their child lacks motivation in school and is not finishing all of his or her work. There are all sorts of reasons for lack of motivation: some kids, for example, simply aren’t interested in everything they are being taught at school. As adults, we know there are many things that don’t interest us, but no one generally makes us do those things on a daily basis; some kids suffer from a lack of motivation because too much has been done for them for too long and they have not yet learned how to do things on their own (set their own schedules, determine when their work needs to be done) and they lack the self-confidence needed to properly motivate themselves. Lack of motivation in school and “not working to one’s potential” doesn’t necessarily come from an inability to focus but often from not having the skills necessary to know how to manage one’s time and space.
There are ways to address this as parents: look at the problem of motivation as a skill to learn, something to practice, rather than something that is supposed to be innate. If you view it as something everyone is supposed to have at all times, then it’s easy to assume that if motivation and discipline is not present in your child, there is some illness or disorder at work. Help your children learn to set up calendars, schedules, and alarms, and manage deadlines - on their own. Let them fail when they mess up and don’t step in to help too fast. Establish routines at home from an early age such as a regular time each night when HW gets done, when meals are served, when it’s bedtime, and for weekends. For older students in middle and high school, it’s not too late to establish good schedules and expectations: let your kids plan their appointments, contact their tutors and teachers, determine when and how they’ll get their work done, and travel independently around the city or town you live in. Offer guidance but remove it quickly when you see your child doing ok.
Independence inspires motivation. Good schedules and teaching self-confidence and independence build motivation very effectively over time – but it does take time. Be patient and encourage your child to be patient. Allowing time to fail and make mistakes will ultimately help the learning process and develop necessary self-esteem and perseverance.
As an educator, I cannot excuse cheating in any form. But we should not overlook what the Stuyvesant students may be trying to tell us through their behavior. The student quoted in the story bemoaned needing to memorize “a table of chemical reactions.” Some memorization and rote learning is essential, but given the overwhelming amount of homework that students like those at Stuyvesant face every night, it would be more practical to ask them to study in ways that build problem solving and critical thinking skills. In the working world, information via the internet is so readily available that memorizing a table of chemical reactions seems to have dubious value. Collaboration is at the center of the working world, so we should find ways to promote problem solving assistance from teachers, peers, and mentors, rather than shun it. Stuyvesant’s students, who are clearly capable and intelligent, and their talented teachers might all be better served by a change in direction. Even as we rightfully mete out punishment for cheating, we ought to consider more constructive ways to prepare students for what lies ahead.
A proper diagnosis involves asking the right questions, doing enough research, and performing the right tests. This is just as true in the doctor's office as it is in school or when doing test prep. Recently, a mother came to see me to discuss her son's test prep. He is about to enter his senior year at a NYC private school and had been prepping for the ACT for many months with another tutoring company. She told me that he had done several mock ACTs with this company, but was still having trouble finishing the test sections on time and scores really hadn't budged. Given his lack of confidence, he didn't sit for the ACT this June and instead opted to push for one of the fall tests - hence her visit: what could Bespoke do for them since she didn't think the other tutor was helping?
I started by asking many questions relevant to taking the ACT: Was her son a reader? Did he like to read and did he read books for fun as a younger child? No, she said, reading was a chore, and he read as little as possible. His math was weak and he was being tutored for his school math course. And, yes, he continually had trouble finishing the ACT sections. When I pushed her to explain how her son had initially been evaluated by the other company, it was clear they did so without any full-length testing, without any scores to look at, and with seemingly little attention to the fact that her son was not a reader and struggled in math. This is not the profile of a student who can be expected to excel on the ACT, a test heavily based on fast reading and a knoweldge of math up through trigonometry. His profile suggested someone who could do well by learning the "tricks" of the SAT reading sections and by dealing with SAT math questions that didn't require much calculator use or memorization of formulas.
Applying to college means putting one's best foot forward at every turn. Selecting the right test - ACT or SAT - is an essential step. But good decisions about which path to select come from good diagnoses, and those in turn arise from having hard data such as test scores and a thorough understanding of a student's academic and personal history. It is important that parents and students seek out this information before spending time and money on a path that may end up frustrating them.
School is out for many students, bringing relief from the hectic finals rush. The spring testing cycle is over, too: the SAT and ACT dates in the fall seem a lifetime away. Students are gearing up for their summer plans – camp, travel, internships. No matter what your student is doing this summer, she should always have these by her side: books.
Despite the differences in content areas, all sections of all standardized tests have reading in common. Students have to read to understand Math problems; read to recognize the big idea in a Reading Comp text; read to find the right detail in an ACT Science chart. The more students are comfortable with reading as an activity, the better they’ll do on all sections of their standardized tests.
Students gain more vocabulary through reading than in the classroom: according to researchers Anne E. Cunningham and Keith E. Stanovich, “Most theorists are agreed that the bulk of vocabulary growth during a child’s lifetime occurs indirectly through language exposure rather than through direct teaching.”
So what should you do? First, make sure that reading is a pleasure for your student, not a chore. Get excited when you talk about reading, and model good reading habits yourself.
If your student is interested in a certain topic, find books and well-written magazines that focus on that area. If he already enjoys reading, encourage him to try a new time period (Victorian! Mid-Century!) or a new genre (Science Fiction! Historical!). This exposes students to new vocabulary and writing techniques, which they’ll be rewarded for understanding during their testing.
Get the whole family involved: set aside an evening or a weekend afternoon for reading – turn off the TV and power down your laptops and tablets. The more opportunities students have for reading, the easier it’ll be to make positive reading habits.
The perfect recipe for a relaxing, enriching summer: your student and plenty of books.
It’s been a great spring for Bespoke students. From January to March, Bespoke students have scored in the 95th+ percentiles on the SAT, ACT, SAT Subject Tests, and GMAT. Our students cover a vast variety of interests and passions, but one characteristic that our successful students share is a willingness to work hard.
What does this behavior look like? One of our tutors reported that her SAT student, without prompting, memorized lists and lists of vocabulary words for each week’s tutoring session. Another tutor told us about his GMAT student who did all of the problems in the GMAT Official Guide – twice! – to make sure she was ready for anything on test day. It’s not glamorous work, but it paid off with great scores for both of these students.
How do you instill that kind of drive? A mix of internal and external motivation is important. Students who take pride in their work and who have confidence in themselves are more likely to do not only the required work but also enrichment activities that build on their existing skills. Students who find themselves in the beneficial cycle of study – improve – study more – improve more will want to put in the hours necessary to continue their upward rise. External motivation helps too: sometimes students don’t have a clear concept of what these tests are for, so bringing them on school visits and demonstrating what the destination is will add a positive incentive.
Time is an important ally in this effort. The more time your student is able to commit to improvement, the better. Thirty minutes a day at a relaxed and focused pace for three months is better than cramming two hours a day for two or three weeks. When students have time to self-correct and learn at their own pace, studying will be a reward, not a punishment.
We’re looking forward to another season of success!
See the image below for a visual explanation of the SAT Question of the Day from February 21. The original question can be found here:http://sat.collegeboard.org/practice/sat-question-of-the-day?questionId=20120221
See the image below for a visual explanation of the SAT Question of the Day from February 18. The original question can be found here:http://sat.collegeboard.org/practice/sat-question-of-the-day?questionId=20120218
See the image below for a visual explanation of the SAT Question of the Day from February 9. The original question can be found here: http://sat.collegeboard.org/practice/sat-question-of-the-day?questionId=20120209
See the image below for a visual explanation of the SAT Question of the Day from February 3. The original question can be found here: http://sat.collegeboard.org/practice/sat-question-of-the-day?questionId=20120203