Monday, August 23, 2010

The school year is closing in on us quickly and with my upcoming new position, I have been thinking about what makes some students successful, while others struggle. Being a special ed inclusion teacher puts me in the position to try to find ways to help some of those strugglers overcome the obstacles to their success.

For many students, the road to success simply requires a different attitude towards school in general, realizing that right now, school is their job, their real purpose. In elementary school, and sometimes even middle school, it is possible to coast along, doing little or no homework, just scraping though in classes, learning only what was forced upon you. But high school opens a new door of responsibility for students. Suddenly, classes matter, grades count, and the shift for accountability falls on the shoulders of students more than ever before. For the 'coasters', this is often a rude awakening, a realization that failure means repeating a class, and too many repeats means no graduation, or at best, a delayed walk in cap and gown.

Simple changes can make success more likely for these students:

  • Show up every day. Don't let a little cough, or headache, or belly ache keep you home. Be there unless you are truly desperately sick.
  • Show up on time, every day, for every class. The first 5 minutes of class are often the most critical. If you miss those first 5 minutes, you've wasted the entire hour.
  • Listen, pay attention, even if it is boring. Take notes, draw pictures to help you remember what the lecture was about. Be actively engaged with what the teacher is doing. ASK QUESTIONS, make comments, draw conclusions.
  • Smile, be friendly, be respectful, be polite - to the teachers, other students, everyone you encounter. If you need help, you will have established yourself as likable, which goes a long way in getting people to go the extra mile for you.
  • Study a little all along. Don't wait until the night before a big test to try and cram 2 weeks or more) worth of material into your brain. Set aside a few minutes each day to review in each class. If you have questions, ask the next day. When test times comes, you will only need a short study session to remind you of all the things you already know.
  • Determine how you learn best. Do you need to write and rewrite your notes until you remember them? Does saying them aloud help? How about recording them and playing the notes back for yourself? Find a strategy or two that work best for you and practice them religously.
  • Come to class with what you need. It sounds obvious... I know! but when you don't have a pencil to take notes with, you don't have your book or yesterday's handout, you are spinning your wheels trying to scramble to be ready to learn. Make it easy on yourself to be engaged.
  • Find a mentor who will help you study. It might be a friend, or just someone in your class who also needs a boost. Bounce questions back and forth until the material is second nature.
  • Save television, computers, video games for AFTER homework. Right now, your most important job is school. Reward yourself for a job well done with time spent on your other pursuits.
  • Remember: your teachers want you to be successful. Really, honestly... we didn't go through all those years of school just to torture you. Do your part to be successful and we will bend over backwards to help you. But don't break all the above rules, and expect us to cut you slack when you fail your final. If you are doing your best to pass our class and still struggling, we will find a way for you to be successful.

School is such a big part of a student's life. Making it a successful journey can be easy :)

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