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Friday, October 31, 2014
Article written by Sadiq Ansari

My Kid is Smart- So Why is He Getting Bad Grades?

In my years as a private tutor, I've heard this phrase again and again. Parents who seek my services are usually their wits' end trying to figure out why their "smart" kids are doing poorly in school. The critical mind may first ask one of these parents, "Why do you think your child is so smart?"

First, let's take a step back and look at that word: "smart." This word is so overused and broad in definition, that I think it's just useless. Am I smart because I can instantly multiply 23 and 8? Was your high school class valedictorian the smartest person you knew back then? Was Einstein smart because he discovered the theory of relativity? What about savants, who can memorize tens of thousands of years' worth of dates but can't tie their own shoes? Almost everyone in the world can be classified as "smart" in their own respect, so let's just keep that in mind as we further explore the question posed in the title of the article.

I think the real definition of "smartness" has nothing to do with IQ or the ability to do mental gymnastics such as quick math or fact memorization. We are ALL born with our own limitations. We can work to expand those limitations, but, in some regard, they are always there. It is simply ignorant and incorrect not to acknowledge this. That being said, everyone can succeed despite their own limitations. However, in order to do this, one must understand his own limitations and figure out how to best use his own natural instrumentalities. For example, I've seen a lot of students watch me do quick math in my head, and then they try to emulate me. Some succeed, while some just end up taking longer than if they had written it down or used a calculator. I encourage everyone to try new techniques to see what works for them - that is the heart of really being smart. There are often many ways to do something - each student should do what works for THAT student. Sometimes that means working extra hard to understand a principle or memorize a fact, sometimes it means looking at something several different ways, and sometimes it means just taking one look at something and understanding it immediately.

OK, so we've had a brief discussion of what makes someone "smart" - now how can we help your smart kids get better grades?

First, the easy stuff: homework. Most kids I see who are doing poorly are either not doing or turning in their homework! If this is a problem, get on your kids' back to JUST DO IT. Some techniques I've seen help are: threaten grounding, check teachers' daily homework websites, or request your childrens' teachers to sign off on the daily homework assignment. I would NOT recommend positive reinforcement here because homework is the absolute bare minimum of what a student is expected to do. By this, I mean reinforcement like, for example, "If you turn in all your homework this semester, I will buy you a Playstation 3." NO NO NO NO NO. "If you turn in all your homework this week, then I won't ground you this weekend" is far more appropriate. Homework just isn't a bonus, I can't stress that enough.

Next on the list is attitude. This can be a substantially more difficult hurdle to overcome if your child has apathy or animosity towards school. A mild case of bad attitude could be cured by a simple, realistic explanation of why school is important. You need credibility, so don't say something like "Trust me, I'm your mother." If you want your child to get good grades, explain why. Be honest, and speak from the heart. If you got bad grades when you were that age, think about how your life would be different if you had gotten good grades, if it would be different at all. You can use yourself as either a positive or negative example. A child with more severe attitude problems is tougher to deal with - you may want to consider a tutor. In most cases, I would shy away from sending your kid to a psychotherapist because I've rarely seen them actually connect with kids (that being said, I do think they can work if there are other things wrong - just don't send your kid to a shrink for bad grades, that's what tutors are for).

Effort is the number one key to good grades. Students need to spend the time and seek the help they need to understand EVERYTHING they are expected to know. Teachers tell the students what will be on tests and quizzes, and there is usually no excuse for being surprised by a test question. Teachers want their students to succeed. Effort on the part of the PARENTS is important too - get involved! See what your children are studying, see if they need help. If they do, try to help them yourself, it's great bonding! Otherwise, take them into school early or pick them up late to get help from the teacher, or hire a tutor.

Which brings me to the last point - I've found that good teaching is the "X-factor" in academic performance. I've never tutored someone who thought their teacher was good at teaching. I personally think this is a little unfair, because teachers have the VERY difficult task of teaching 20-40 pupils, each of whom might have a different learning style. But I do believe that when a student tells me they have a "bad" teacher, they just have a teacher who is not reaching them for one reason or another. Like I said before, certain concepts can be explained numerous different ways, and it is simply impossible for one teacher to explain every concept every possible way. This is where outside help can come in very handy. A good tutor can quickly figure out what a student's learning style is, and cater to that particular student in a one-on-one situation. I call this the "x-factor" because 10 minutes with a tutor can be more valuable than 2 hours in the classroom. Tutors can help save time by explaining concepts in ways that students just "get."

So as you can see, "smart" kids can get bad grades for a reason. Hopefully you can identify what the problem is, and help your kid start getting As asap.
About the Author

Sadiq Ansari holds a B.S. in Computer Science from The George Washington University in Washington, DC, and expects to earn a J.D. (May 2007) from Pepperdine University School of Law in Malibu, CA. He has been a tutor for over 6 years, and runs Peerless Tutors. Their website -> Malibu Tutor http://www.malibututor.com


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