Dr. Roger McIntire
Adults looking back on their childhood realize that school success was a critical ingredient of
day-to-day happiness. If you can help your child/teen in this important part of his or her life,
what a gift it is! School is such a large part of a teen’s life that if it isn’t going well, it clouds
almost all other activities.
Provide motivation for using school skills. As your student gains new skills from school each
day, he should be encouraged to use them at home. Sometimes that requires real creativity by the
Could your son or daughter use math skills to keep track of the family checking account?
Receive a fee for doing so? Could your son handle the grocery list? Take the money and do the
shopping? Will he make costly mistakes? Yes. Couldn’t your son or daughter stay interested in
this stuff until he or she needs it? Probably not.
So why should they study decimals this semester? What use is it to know portions of Geography
or American History? Why is spelling important? The answers need to be in the present activities
of your child’s life. Remember he’s a person on short-term priorities.
Encourage practice in study sessions. Students often try to study by doing the practice in their
minds while sitting and staring at a book or homework sheet. This is not real practice.
Most of us don’t have the kind of memory that retains a great deal from just looking; it’s the
doing that will be remembered. Successful work shows up in grades if the student uses active
practice; not just staring at pages, but reading aloud. Not just “trying to remember,” but talking to
others about the work, drilling important concepts, rewriting notes and important material, and
drawing new diagrams or tables that organize facts differently – preferably on cards. For each
page of reading the student should take some notes. “Never turn a page without writing
something,” is a good study rule.
Counselors often coach students to improve their classroom habits as well as study habits –
particularly in classes where a student is “having trouble with the teacher.”
1. A student influences a teacher’s attitude just as a teacher influences a student’s. When there is a
choice, your student could sit in a seat as close to the front as possible and keep good eye contact
with the teacher during presentations – just as you would practice good listening skills in a
2. A continual banter of unnecessary questions will do no good, but good questions help learning
and teaching. Einstein’s mother used to ask him when he came home from school, “Did you ask
any good questions today?” If you try to ask good questions in class, you have reasons to follow
the teacher’s presentations more closely and are more likely to learn.
3. Your student should occasionally talk to the teacher about the class with a question or
comparison to some aspect of other subjects or experiences.
Some people may object to the contrived nature of these suggestions, but many teens have the
mistaken notion that the classroom is, or should be, a place where only completely passive
learning takes place.
The fact is that a classroom is a social situation where exchanges are a part of the learning and an
active, assertive role is necessary. The exchanges may not influence the teacher’s grading, but
your teen’s relationship with his or her teacher will improve active learning, and that will
One last bit of advice: Have your student construct his own version of any upcoming test,
making it as similar to the one expected as possible. The exercise reduces anxiety and my
students often report that more than half of their questions were the same as the ones on the
teacher’s test! With those questions answered in advance, the students easily remembered their
answers and were quickly half way to a good test grade.