Why isn’t my child performing well at school?

Posted by Gian Carlo Binti

15 March 2018

The Environment Factor

Whether we realize it or not but our environment has a great influence on our behavior and mindset. During my childhood I remember vividly the first day of elementary school in San Diego, California. I was the only Asian in that public school, I didn’t know the language and I was only 6 years old. So I was exposed to many cultural differences, personality differences, and different standards.

I was fortunate to have a good support system that helped me learn foreign language, in fact I was the top 5 for spelling bee competition. However, I moved around countries and cities often which me made it difficult to continuously adapt to new environment. Furthermore, since I started living by myself at the age of 12 I began to have friends that are negative and bad influence that eventually changed my behavior. I had no support system because my family was away and slowly my self-esteem started to reduce. I began to become lazy at school, fight with other students, and getting lower grades each time.

This consequently caused me to fail and was the reason I had to move countries and enter a new school.

I never realized this until recently but self-esteem and learning are closely attached. Interestingly, according to Dr. Josephine Kim (Harvard Graduate School of Education), children only know one thing about themselves and it is whatever that is reflected to them. Whether the reflection is positive or negative, you will learn to internalize it and later becomes a part our identity as a child.

The Self-Esteem Factor

How can self-esteem/confidence enhance learning?

I had the privilege to lecture Marketing Fundamentals at University of Indonesia. I had a student who hated Marketing and Business subjects because essentially he had always failed and could never really grasp any concept that was being taught. I realized that it was not a motivation issue but a self-esteem issue, he has already decided that he will fail Marketing. I changed the lesson format to first 45 minutes lecture, 30 minutes video, 15 minutes group discussion and a practical presentation at the end. This caused students to provide all their creative ideas and opened up to thinking freely (the idea was to promote self-thinking and creative ideas) and that no idea will be judged negatively but always positively.

Students that were lazy, that had given up suddenly found this very interesting and they’ve even manage to increase their grades. I realized that student’s motivation and eagerness to learn will always increase when they have confidence and happiness in learning. When you are confident to face all your challenges with determination, this mindset will influence your behavior to do your best which will increase performance. We will do this not because we are forced to study but because we want to do our best.

In Fact, most learning problems can be tracked to the lack of confidence. For example:

  1. Cheating is a result of insecurity of our own answers and belief that our own answers won’t suffice so we cheat
  2. Laziness can be because of demotivation due to discouraging words when they fail. At home they may not be appreciated for the work they put into or compared to siblings
  3. Bullying occurs because bullies prove their worth by degrading others

How do we build self-esteem to improve learning?

Acknowledge that successful learning needs collaboration between the student, the parent, and the teacher.

As a parent

In order to effectively help your child, you must first understand them. According to researcher and best practices suggests that overall student achievement is likely to increase when the needs of students are put first and students are able to understand how, what, when, and where they learn. Student data is central to this personalized learning at all grade levels.

Student data that is needed include child’s general intelligence, unique cognitive profile and a variety of social-emotional factors.

This will enable parents to:

  1. Find that unique needs of their children will be met
  2. Have better information and details about how their children learns best
  3. Have the opportunity to work together with teachers in a more meaningful way

Parents should also be positive by making proper compliment, focusing on the positive, and showing appreciation.

As a teacher

Sir Ken Robinson said that the role of teachers is to facilitate learning. This may sound simple but is more complex than we tend to think. He mentioned that teachers may oftentimes be engaged in the activity of teaching but are not really achieving it. If a teacher is teaching in a classroom but some of her students are bored or feel miserable than actually nobody is learning. Thus the teacher may be engaged in the task of teaching but not actually actualizing it.

Students will only learn from someone they like, and that human connection is fundamental to teaching. Understanding your student and building relationship with your children is key factor for helping students.

Teachers may create personalized learning based a child’s cognitive profile which will increase the student’s self-esteem by providing teaching strategies based on their unique needs and cognitive strengths. Personalized learning requires sophisticated data and assessment systems, which dynamically track, illustrate, and translate the data to inform not only the student and teacher, but also help determine the instructional tools, content, and learning approach best suited for each student (source: Personalized Learning Symposium).

This will enable teachers to:

  1. Form stronger relationships with students because they’ve understood their cognitive profile
  2. Teachers focus on how students learn best
  3. Teacher can become more creative in how they design curriculum and instruction
  4. Teachers get to help students to better understand
  5. Teachers have more opportunities to develop their own skills as teachers and to work in collaboration with other teachers

Conclusion

Ultimately the goal of effective learning is to raise the child’s self-esteem/confidence. This will take time, effort and accurate understanding of the child’s learning needs. Learning is hard, learning is a struggle, learning can be intimidating; but our role as parents and as teachers will help our children find joy in learning.

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