How to Create Student Academic Independence and Stay Connected!

There is a tricky balance of creating academic independence in your child but trying to remain connected with their academic progress.

I have worked with many families that firmly believed they were giving their child "independence" and "responsibility", but in reality it means parents disengage from the academic process. While some students are well adept at the skills needed to be academically successful, such as time management, study skills, and problem solving, most teens are just learning these skills and have yet to master them. 

In high school, new grading systems and amount of work can quickly become overwhelming for many students. Unfortunately, by the time parents realize there is a serious issue, grades become almost unrecoverable and the student is left feeling defeated and unmotivated.

So whether your student is in middle school to their senior (even college!) year, there are simple yet highly effective ways to instill academic independence but stay connected.

1) Utilize the online grading system. High schools and even some college courses use grading programs such as Focus, Infinite Campus, Rediker, and Canvas,  etc. Be sure to sign on regularly-set a weekly calendar reminder on your phone if necessary- to stay connected. Checking it with your student is important so you have immediate feedback. I suggest every Thursday, so if there is an issue they can ask the teacher on Friday and work on it over the weekend.

How often to do it: Once a week, particularly before the end of the quarters/ semesters.

By the time parents realize there is a serious issue, grades become almost unrecoverable and the student is left feeling defeated and unmotivated.

2) Access their LMS- Besides grades, teachers often utilize a learning management system (LMS) where they can put up videos, notes, quizzes, tests, presentations, and so forth. I am amazed at how many parents do not view this part of the classroom, as it is often vital for student success. I had a parent come in furious about a student's test grade for them to realize that there was a practice test they could take unlimited times. The student never accessed it, thus why they failed. While it is hard to manage 7 classes, having an understanding at the beginning of school what to expect from the teacher's LMS can allow you to help if there is an issue.

How often to do it: As needed- but sit down at beginning of the school year and go through it with your student.

3) Know how the teacher/ professor grade- Many teachers have it labeled in a syllabus how they grade their class, and it's clearly labeled in the online grading systems. Knowing if that test they are worried about is 10% or 40% of their grades makes a big difference in how a student should study. I find students often focus on the lower percentage assignments because they tend to be more fun- like drawing maps, creating brochures, or developing a project. Hours can be spent on something that has little point value or impact in lieu of studying for that big test.

How often to do it: Beginning of the school year, and refresh each semester (possible new teachers)

4) Ask for a rubric- I often have parents come in because they are irate that a project a student spent hours on received a low score. What these parents failed to do was ask their student for the teacher's rubric, a document that clearly defines how the teacher is grading for that particular project. Utilize that rubric as if you are the teachers grading them. What can sometimes be "give-me" points (putting name on it, citing sources, title page, etc) can be very costly if not done.

How often to do it: As needed, primarily for big projects and written work.

5) PLANNER, PLANNER, PLANNER- Yes, I know it is the 21st century, but studies have shown people who write things down remember over 50% more information. I have yet to find one teacher who does NOT write down the assignments on the board. It will save invaluable time rather than looking on the LMS, texting friends, or looking through notes, to figure out what is due- simply have them write it down in one place.

How often to do it: Once a week, same day as checking grades.

6) Check in with the teacher and counselor- There are only two possible reasons for any issue, 1) Student related or 2) Teacher related. If you feel that the same problem keeps coming up and the student seems to not be resolving it on their own, you need to find out which reason it comes from. Email the teacher, and follow this style, "Dear Mr/ Ms. XYZ, I have been trying to help Student Name be more successful in your class. If you could help me understand in which ways I can do that or why Student Name is struggling, I would be very appreciative." This simple, yet highly effective, email allows the teacher to feel like your are helping (not yelling or being acquisitory), open ended so they can explain what they see, and shows you are cognizant of their time and appreciate a response. Do not be the parent who waits until the last day of the quarter, semester or year (yes, I have had YEAR!) to check in and problem solve. Don't leave it on the teacher/ school to connect with you.

How often to do it: As needed

In the end, remember that just because they are in a new grade, they still need help in figuring things out. Being available to listen and help problem solve is key to success. The earlier issues can be resolved, the better for everyone. While we often start out strong in the beginning, save this link to read at least do an academic check once a month!

Have a great beginning year!