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Poor Grades Need Attention Now, Not Later

April 08, 1993|MARY LAINE YARBER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Mary Laine Yarber teaches English at Santa Monica High School

Report cards are on their way home to many Westside parents now.

At most schools, this is just the first report card of the semester, so many students and parents don't take it very seriously. That is a mistake. If you want the "big" report card at semester's end to be satisfactory, you'd better treat this "little" one as something important.

The reason is simple: If there's improvement needed, it has to begin now to produce a significant difference later.

To that end, consider some ways to respond to poor report cards and help your child improve.

First, set aside some time to talk quietly with your child about the report card. Choose a time and place where you can talk privately and unhurriedly--and without distractions such as the television, phone or other family members.

Bear in mind that children's self-esteem is deeply affected by their grades, whether or not they admit it. So begin the conference by reminding your child that grades do not determine how lovable he or she is.

Then look over the report card with your child and consider each grade separately.

Discuss the best grades first and analyze the success. Were there study habits or techniques that could be applied successfully elsewhere?

Now on to the less cheery grades.

All too often, a parent's first instinct is to scold or punish a child for a bad grade. That can add to a student's shame, however, and just make him or her even more resistant to the troublesome subject.

A better approach is to ask the student what he or she thinks the problem may be. I've found that the problem is often as simple as poor study habits or disorganization, and that students will generally admit to it without much fuss.

In such a case, help your child compose a realistic study schedule, and check that the homework for that subject gets done every night.

If the problem is lack of time rather than misuse of time, don't be afraid to eliminate one of your child's less crucial activities, such as sports, socializing or watching television.

As soon as possible, call or visit the teacher. He or she can give you a thorough and specific rundown of the child's learning obstacles, and suggestions for how to break them.

Once you've established a rapport with the teacher, try to maintain it--the two of you working as a team are your child's best chance at improvement.

For example, keep close tabs on your child's progress by receiving daily or weekly reports from the teacher. Available through the counseling office, these reports let you know which assignments are due when, and they can often help you catch grades before they fall.

(There are also reports for keeping track of your child's attendance, if "ditching" class is the problem.)

Ask the teacher about obtaining a tutor, too. If he or she isn't available to help, ask about other sources of tutoring, such as nearby public libraries, youth or recreation centers, and "homework help" telephone lines.

You can find older tutors through the employment offices of nearby colleges and universities, but they generally cost $10 to $25 an hour.

Finally, if these and any other remedies fail, you may have to accept that perhaps your son or daughter can't do much better in a particular subject.

To offset that, help him or her to discover and polish a subject or talent that comes more easily.

After all, very few students can do well in every subject. But by analyzing the report card wisely, working with the teacher and monitoring your child's progress, you can at least help your child make his or her best effort.

And, by starting now, you've got the best chance possible for happier news on that big report card at year's end.

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