Middelagemum.com: How to raise a good student

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Regular readers might remember my How to raise an adult post a while ago, where I talked about finding ways to step back and let our children learn by their mistakes.

In response we had an email from Lucy Parsons who finds as a mentor and tutor, that success as a student comes from being independent and resourceful, rather than reliant on tutoring.

Lucy kindly offered to write us a post – which is valuable reading for any parents and children about to enter the most stressful time of the year. Over to you Lucy…….

As exam season looms parents and teens across the UK are becoming increasingly anxious. Teens are wishing that they’d started their revision weeks ago and parents are trying to keep a lid on their nagging to get their children to buck-up and do the work.

The sad thing is that it’s often too late just days or weeks before the exams to start to make a real difference to exam outcomes. Of course, in some ways it’s never too late to start doing the work and every hour of revision can make a difference. However, the students who are just starting now are missing the foundation piece that carries a really good student through their exams.

In my work as an academic coach I see many students who don’t know how to be good students. They’re spoon-fed knowledge throughout their exam courses at school; their parents pay for tutors so they don’t have to solve their own study problems; and revision sessions are handed to them on a plate. When they do get to the point where they are left on their own to study independently they are left floundering – they haven’t been trained to study for themselves.

This worries me. How do students survive when they get to the unstructured environment of university? What about the work place? If they’re not able to organise themselves to study how are they going to cope with the rigours of producing results in exchange for money?

Inspired by her piece How to Raise an Adult I offered to write an article for Jane on how to raise a good student. It’s my aim, through my work, to empower young people to become good students so they can achieve amazing grades and get into great universities in a sustainable way, through their own talents.

So, here goes……

  1. Talk to your child about their studies

Every day (or nearly every day) talk to your child about what they’re learning at school. Try to find the things that spark their interest and listen to what they’ve got to say. Don’t use this as an excuse to tell them everything you know on a particular subject – just listen to them and answer the questions they ask you. Doing this signals to them that their interests and studies are important to you and they will gain attention from you when they talk about what they’re learning.

  1. Encourage the interests that they talk about

When your child talks about the things they find interesting find ways to further their interest. This may range from looking something up in a book or online together to arranging a day trip to a place that will take you deeper into the subject. Recently, my daughter had a letter home from school saying that they were studying fairy tales this term. At about the same time I had a flier from a local theatre about a production of some of Grimm’s fairy tales – it was automatic for me to book tickets to see that production to further her knowledge, interest and engagement in this area of her learning.

  1. Praise effort over results

As a child I was always praised for results. When I got home from school, before I’d even had a chance to put my bag down, my dad would ask me ‘Did you get any good marks today?’.

I found this exhausting and demanding. By nature I always wanted to please my parents and teachers so it didn’t put me off. However, this kind of thing would put many students off.

Carol Dweck, the American Psychology professor, has done a lot of research into the concept of ‘growth mindsets’. Growth mindsets are the belief that through effort and hardwork you can get better at anything. She has found that if parents and teachers praise effort rather than results the results improve faster and to a greater extent.

What does this mean for you as a parent? When your child gets a good mark say something to the effect of ‘I’m so pleased for you, I know how much hard work you put into that.’ Alternatively, if they are struggling, say something like ‘It’s not being the best that counts, it’s doing your best.’

  1. Help your child to create a study routine

I attribute much of my own academic success to being able to organise my time very effectively. I had a study routine that I stuck to un-waveringly. If your child obviously has a problem with getting their homework done sit down with them and encourage them to think about how they can organise their time best to get the work done and do all the things they want to do. You can guide this discussion but let the ideas come from them.

If you need more help with this take a look at the post on my own site The Weekly Routine of a Straight A Student.

  1. Help them to come up with their own solutions to study problems

In Jane’s original article on How to raise an adult she talked about how many parents just swoop in when their children have problems and fix everything for them. This isn’t the thing to do. When you’re trying to raise a good student, or an adult for that matter, you’re aiming for your offspring to be independent and resourceful. Instead, coach them through finding a solution for themselves.

For example, if your child finds that they are staying up too late doing homework and therefore not getting enough sleep, ask them how they think they could reorganise their evenings so this didn’t happen anymore. Encourage them to pursue their best ideas and see how they work. Ask them if they need any support from you to make the changes they’ve suggested. They’re a lot more likely to follow-through with their own idea than with yours!

Being a good student requires many things: motivation, self-belief, resourcefulness and organisation to name but a few. These ideas are a great starting point for promoting these qualities in your children.

Lucy Parsons is an academic coach and mentor. She empowers 15-18 year olds to get the top grades and into the best universities. Lucy’s book ‘The Ten Step Guide to Acing Every Exam You Ever Take’ outlines how Lucy herself achieved 5 A Grades at A-Level which earned her a place at Cambridge University. Find out more about Lucy and her work here.

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