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Carolyn's Blog

Vol. 1, No. 4

What Can Teachers and Parents Do to Help Underachievers?

In my last E-zine article (Vol. 1, No. 3) I discussed the causes of underachievement and various characteristics of underachieving children.  In this article I would like to offer some practical strategies to use in working with underachievers.  Because the causes of underachievement are so varied, so are the strategies that can be used by teachers and parents to deal with this problem.  I've listed some of my favorite strategies below.  If you have a favorite strategy, please email it to me and we will include it in the "Successes and Sharing" section of the E-zine.


Motivating Underachievers: 20 Strategies for Teachers

1.      Maintain contact between home and school.  Communicate in numerous ways: parent conferences, home visits, voice mail, cell phones, fax, e-mail, notes, video conferences and phone calls.  We are in the Information Age &endash; take advantage of new technologies as you communicate with parents!

2.      Discourage the "Parent to the Rescue" syndrome.  Work with parents so that they won't constantly rescue their child when he or she forgets homework or another needed item.  Work with parents so that they can develop realistic, enforceable consequences when their child does not exhibit responsible behavior.

3.      Emphasize goal setting, showing students how life success is linked to school performance.  Have former students come and talk to your class about the value of school in terms of success outside of school.  E-mail interviews are also a good way to link students to the outside world.

4.      Encourage more reading and less TV, videos, computer games and surfing the Internet at home.  Reading anything, regardless of what it is, will generally increase achievement.

5.      Use concepts from the world of sports as analogies for goal setting in life.  Success in most sports involves working toward a goal.  Use words such as goalie, goal post, personal best, game plan, etc. to show the conceptual links between the world of sports and the world of school.

6.      Hold students accountable for actions, behavior, materials and work.  Don't use threats you can't carry out.  Instead, say what you mean and follow through on it.

7.      Help underachievers identify their areas of strength.  Most underachievers are painfully aware of their weaknesses, but every underachiever has many strengths as well.  Notice these strengths and work to enhance them!

8.      Use whole group instruction, individualized study, heterogeneous grouping and cluster or ability grouping, each as they are appropriate for the teaching and learning goals and outcomes.

9.      Use various forms of assessment.  Schools should not be solely "test prep" institutions.  Assessing learning can be done in many ways.  Underachievers are often not good test takers.  Try performance assessments, rubrics, checklists and portfolios to document learning success.

10.   Use the expertise and experience of other teachers in deciding on strategies to use with your underachievers.  Collaborate by sharing strategies you know work with underachieving students.  Plan strategies jointly for dealing with your underachievers.

11.   Plan lessons that involve all of Gardner's Multiple Intelligences, a variety of learning styles and modalities, and/or all levels of Bloom's Taxonomy.

12.   Make sure your lessons give the opportunity for students to use higher level thinking skills.  Underachievers are often bored with low level thinking yet may be great problem solvers when given more complex and challenging problems.

13.   Use brain-based learning theories to develop interdisciplinary, integrated teaching units.

14.   Provide hands-on learning experiences.  This is particularly important for kinesthetic, concrete random learners, a description that fits many underachievers.

15.   Use outside resources and school staff to offer specialized courses based on student interests.  Sometimes an interesting mini-course will be just the thing to give an underachiever a successful school experience and motivation to do more.

16.   Identify specific organizational skills your underachievers need to learn.  Work on these skills one at a time.  Show your underachievers practical ways to become more organized.

17.   Include classroom activities that increase skill in memorization.  Memorizing successfully increases self-confidence and builds the base for other types of school success.

18.   Team each underachieving student with an achieving partner of equal ability.  This works well because the achieving partner will usually encourage the underachiever.  Don't pair achievers and underachievers of unequal ability.

19.   Be intentional about teaching study skills.  These are not automatic for most students, and tend to be particularly difficult for underachievers.  Telling an underachiever to study without showing him what that means and how to do it is a waste of time!

20.   Have students discuss and think about success and failure.  Talk about the fear of failure but also the fear of success.  Address issues such as text anxiety and perfectionism.  Dealing with these issues in a positive, proactive and helpful manner is one way to boost achievement.


Motivating Underachievers: 10 Strategies for Parents

1. Don't use "put-downs" and sarcasm in dealing with your child.  Even if he is driving you crazy and a sarcastic remark would make you feel better, there is no long-term beneficial result from doing this.

2. Emphasize what your child has learned from an assignment or activity, even if mistakes were made.  All of us learn a great deal from our failures and mistakes.  Help your child understand this and that all of us make mistakes from time to time.

3. Be aware of times your underachiever is trying to manipulate you.  Underachievers are particularly adept at manipulating adults, and experiencing success in this behavior only makes underachievement worse.  Don't use threats you can't carry out!  This is always an opportunity for your child to manipulate you.

4. Be aware of your child's areas of intense interest and build on these.  Use success in an interest outside of school as an encouragement for success in school.  Share your child's special interests with the teacher.  He or she may be able to use these to motivate your child.

5. Don't overload your child with activities!  Some students are underachievers simply because they have too much to do and too many demands on their time.  One or two extra-curricular activities a week are enough for most children.

6. Promote a love of reading in your home.  Designate one night a week as "No TV night" and have a reading night instead.  Make the most inviting place in your home a "Reading Area" where the only thing that can be done there is reading.

7. Discover your child's academic weakness.  Brainstorm ways to make learning fun in this area.  Create a game or song that makes learning easier.

8. Encourage your child to teach things he or she knows to someone younger.  Find an older child or mentor to work with your child in an area of interest or in a difficult subject.

9. Set aside a "Study Time" in your home every night.  No activities other than studying are allowed during study time.  Be a lifelong learner yourself and model good studying behavior during Study Time.

10. With the classroom teacher, devise a system of parent-teacher communication.  Take advantage of new technologies.  Use e-mail, school or teacher websites, homework hotlines and other forms of communication when available.  Don't be afraid to contact the teacher.  It is much better to work on a problem together than for each of you to struggle with it on your own!

Coil, C. (2007). What Can Teachers and Parents Do to Help Underachievers? E-Zine, Vol. 1, 4. www.carolyncoil.com.