March Madness: How to Fight the Mid-semester Slump and Get Your Student Back on Track
We always have the best of intentions when it comes to a new semester: new binders, new page protectors, new classes in many cases. In January, you and your student are recharged from the winter break and ready to make the most of spring semester.
But by the time March rolls around, you might not be feeling so optimistic. The new binder is crammed full of looseleaf scribbles, permission slips that should have been signed a month ago, and the crumpled remains of worksheets or syllabi. If your student is learning remotely, you might not even have physical copies of their work or test results. You may have gotten a troubling midterm grade report or a request for a conference with your student’s teacher. There’s no other way to put it: March is sometimes a little bit mad.
The good news is that your student can get back on track and finish the semester in a strong position, and you can help them! Here are a few strategies you can use to get your student’s March madness under control.
Take the opportunity to have a parent-teacher conference
If your student’s teacher(s) request a conference with you, don’t be afraid of it! If they haven’t requested one and you’re concerned about your student’s performance, feel free to request one. Parent-teacher conferences are a key part of student success, even in a “normal” school year. In the midst of distance- or hybrid-learning, they’re absolutely vital.
It’s important to approach the conference with the right mindset and not focus on blame. It’s not necessarily anyone’s “fault” that your student is struggling. Even under ideal circumstances, the three concerned parties – you, your student, and your student’s teacher – are doing difficult jobs! This school year has been far from ideal, and it’s natural that your student may be finding school more difficult than usual. Your student’s teacher has also had to adjust to a modified teaching format that requires constant multitasking and provides less natural connection with their students. By assuming best intent on all sides, you’ll be able to work towards a solution that will help all three of you.
Make sure your student’s dates are in order
We’ve discussed the importance of schedules before, but it bears repeating. If your student struggles to turn in projects or finds themselves surprised by tests and quizzes, they may need help putting their deadlines and important dates on their calendar. Most students aren’t naturally perfectly organized: it’s a skill they have to learn like any other. The good news is that this skill will carry over into college and adulthood and help them succeed in multiple areas in their lives.
This is a problem that might require a double solution, both physical and digital. Paper planners are easy to use, so your student should note any deadlines, test days, and important other dates in their planner as soon as they learn about them; at the end of the school day, they can transfer those dates to an online calendar. The nice thing about digital calendars is that they can’t get left on a bus seat or underneath a sofa – plus, you can share your student’s calendar so that you’ll know when their math tests are and when that book report is due.
Help your student set up a study schedule
While we’re on the topic of scheduling, it’s a good idea to set aside dedicated hours for studying and homework (if you haven’t done this yet). Eventually, your student should be able to do that for themselves, but they might need help getting started, especially if they’re not used to managing their own time. Learning time management now will help your student get back on track this semester, but it will also give them an advantage when they get to college.
They should be marking dedicated study hours in their planners and/or online calendars so that they know when they need to buckle down and finish their tasks. When it comes to the work they do inside their study hours, they may need some help prioritizing their tasks. Here’s a helpful list of tips from the New York Times that can help you and your student design their best study system.
Consider a rewards system, and work with your student to set the parameters
We all like being rewarded for doing the right thing, and your student is no different! Creating a system where your student earns certain rewards for, say, completing a page of a study guide or reading for 30 minutes can be effective as long as you’re doing it the right way. According to EdNavigator, what you choose for a reward depends on your student: “A reward doesn’t have to be large, but it should meet three basic criteria: your kid cares about it, it’s inexpensive, and you don’t mind doling it out regularly.” For one student, that might mean extra time on SnapChat; for another, it might mean getting to choose what you cook for dinner one night a week.
One other note: It’s important that the reward isn’t tied to grades, but instead to the things your student has immediate control over. For example, you could reward your student with 15 minutes of social media time for finishing a study guide, but not for bringing home an A+ on the test. The goal is to build good habits rather than to fix an immediate problem.
As we steam along through the spring, your student will need your support more and more. Usually, the second half of the semester is the time for bigger projects, harder concepts, and longer tests. Establishing good habits now will help both you and your student have a successful, stress-free spring.