By Dr. Raymond J. Huntington
If you’re like most parents, the month of May probably feels like a final sprint to the finish line of yet another demanding school year. After nine months of checking homework, attending parent-teacher conferences and fretting about – or celebrating – test scores and report cards, you’re happy that you and your child are heading toward some high-quality “down time.” While this is certainly true, it’s also a good time to take a close look at the individual factors that have collectively impacted your son or daughter’s academic achievement during the year. A realistic assessment can help you determine if the summer months should include extra work, and help you prepare for the challenges your child will face in the coming year. Here are some of the most important indicators to review:
Indicator #1: Grades
Good grades over the past year are usually a reliable indicator that your child has mastered subject matter and is performing at grade level. Poor grades could mean that your child needs extra work and support in basic academic skills, such as reading and mathematics, or in skills that directly enhance learning, such as listening, following directions, and completing classwork and homework neatly and on time. Parent-teacher conferences in May and June are a good way to sum up your child’s progress during the year, and determine where extra help might be needed.
Indicator #2: Homework
Looking back over the most difficult homework assignments of the year, was your child able to concentrate well enough, and for long enough, to complete the assignments successfully? Were there particular challenges – such as reading retention or computation – that held your child back? If so, you may want to create some summer learning activities that will help your child build better study skills. Special reading assignments, reports and independent projects can help strengthen these skills – especially if they are tied to subjects that your child really enjoys. Your child’s teacher should be able to offer suggestions, and you can also check the Web sites for your state’s department of education for ideas.
Indicator #3: Standardized Test Results
While it’s only natural to look at test results as a simple indicator of whether or not your child is learning what’s expected, many of these tests are also a valuable resource for diagnosing particular learning needs. Look closely at the standardized tests that were given to your son or daughter in the fall and again in the spring. Review areas in which he or she excelled or showed room for improvement. This type of information will also help you determine what types of summer learning activities will be most beneficial for filling in skill gaps and preparing your child for the coming year.
Indicator #4: Portfolios and Projects
If your child has amassed a portfolio of writing assignments and projects during the year, the end of the school year is a good time to review the work as a whole. Written projects in the portfolio can be a good indicator of a child’s reasoning and organizational skills, creativity, and ability to follow through on assignments. Hands-on projects can reveal children’s success in applying what they’ve learned in a tangible, individual way.
Strong performance in either of these areas can be a good way to measure your child’s ability to think through classroom lessons and demonstrate mastery of the subject matter. Poor performance could indicate difficulties in concentrating, ineffective study habits or weak time management skills.
Indicator #5: Motivation and Enthusiasm for Learning
Finally, it’s a good idea to look back at your child’s enthusiasm for learning over the past year. Regardless of how intelligent or academically skilled a child is, positive motivation is one of the most important indicators of success. Ask your child’s teacher for insight about his or her happiness in school. Does your child seem to believe he or she can succeed? Does he or she seem to enjoy exploring new subjects, and new challenges? Are there particular talents and interests that can be nurtured to enhance your child’s self-esteem and desire to achieve?
If so, think about turning down-time into learning time, and keep in mind that – while all summer learning activities should be challenging – they don’t have to make your child feel like he or she is missing out on vacation fun. All you need to do is strike a balance so that a few hours of every day or week are dedicated to shoring up the skills that will get your child off on the right foot this fall.
Dr. Raymond J. Huntington is Co-founder and Chairman of Huntington Learning Center, which has been dedicated to helping children do better in school for over 25 years.