Advice Column, Education, Recently

REPORT CARDS & PARENTS: RESPONSE STRATEGIES GEARED FOR GROWTH

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Receiving report cards are one of the major annual milestones at traditional schools, aimed at providing insight into how a child is progressing in a specific year. But as students enter the second term, many parents are receiving the report cards for the first term now and already dreading the next assessments that will be arriving in about 10 weeks’ time.

However the report card should not be viewed as a definitive ruling on a child’s academic ability, but rather be used as a guide on the road towards success. There are a few ways in which this can be facilitated by parents, when sitting down with their child to discuss their results.

So which principles should guide the discussion that will take place when a child brings home a report card in June?  I believe that the backdrop of any such conversation must be what Dr Carol Dweck calls a “Growth Mindset”.  She coined the term in 2006 in a book entitled Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Students with a “growth mindset” believe their skills and talents can be developed through effort and persistence. Whereas those with a “fixed mindset” believe their success is determined by natural talent or intelligence.

Research shows that the language and actions of parents can have a powerful impact on their children’s mindsets and achievement. 

The Growth Mindset theory can be put into practice by parents regardless of a child’s results – whether they be fantastic or concerning:

A PARENT’S FIRST RESPONSE

Distinctions…

Some report cards trigger immediate praise. However, if your child brings home an excellent report card, and you praise your child for being smart, through this a fixed mindset is being promoted. It sends a message that their accomplishments are based on the constant attributes they were born with.  

In contrast, praising children for working hard fosters a growth mindset. It sends a message that the child’s effort is what led them to success.  On the Abbotts College report card the effort ratings help parents and students to focus on the process and the level of effort that went into it, because even a student with good marks can get an average effort rating if the student is under-performing. You should reiterate the concept that talent is not going to keep on delivering results if it is not accompanied by the determination to work hard and grow.

A “mixed” or disappointing report card

If your child (and you!) is discouraged after a disappointing report, you should try to find some form of improvement or effort that you can praise to inspire them to continue developing. When improvement, even if it is just a baby step, is acknowledged, students can feel the work that they did put in, has been seen and validated. It also helps students to understand that the goal of their learning is to make progress and that success can be relative. 

These positive comments can serve as a “soft frame” that can help your child to digest the “middle part” where you give constructive feedback on things they struggle with or need to work on. These are the things that have not been mastered “yet”.  By embracing the power of the word “YET” when you communicate with your child, you can help them understand that setbacks are reflection points that must be used to pause and strategise for future success. 

You should end the conversation on a positive note.  In the process you are framing the challenges as an opportunity for growth, helping your child to embrace and tackle any obstacles he or she may face. 

MORE INGREDIENTS OF A MEANINGFUL CONVERSATION

Adding the flexibility of the brain to your conversation

By emphasising to your children that they actually have control over growing their brains through the actions they take, parents are empowering their children. They should understand that what strengthens the connections in their brains is practise, asking questions, and actively participating in learning. Increased motivation and achievement will follow if the child understands that the brain physically changes when you put in effort whilst mastering concepts and skills.

Accept mistakes as opportunities

One of the best ways you can model a growth mindset is to speak openly about your own mistakes and lessons you took from it.  This will show your child that making mistakes is a natural part of the learning process. Your child should know that it is by trying hard things, things that do not fall within our comfort zones, that we are growing, even if it means that the result is not perfect.

Understand the role of emotions in learning

Our fight or flight response is triggered when we are scared or feel threatened. It is a normal phenomenon and can manifest as stress symptoms such as sweating, stomach cramps, and your mind going blank. Obviously, such symptoms can prevent us from learning or from giving feedback on what we’ve learned. Help your child to identify such responses and to develop strategies that can be used to prevent the fight or flight response to take over when learning or doing assessments.

Constantly keep having the conversation 

Traditional schools only provide quarterly report cards, which can mean that the constant improvement conversation falls by the wayside until each report comes along. If your child is in this situation, try to check in more regularly to see what is happening academically. At Abbotts College we assist parents and students with this kind of constant feedback by releasing seven report cards per year. These report cards reflect three aspects:

  • The outcome of bigger summative assessments that form part of the “School Based Assessment” which will be used to determine the promotion mark
  • The outcome of different types of smaller assessments which are used to assess whether students mastered the concepts and skills that were taught on a continuous basis
  • The effort ratings a student obtained in the different subjects

Obviously, by giving thorough formal feedback on a regular basis, the parent or guardian can always be well-informed about the student’s academic performance and work ethic. However, more importantly, the report cards provide numerous opportunities for meaningful conversations between parent/guardian and child. It is a way to allow for the people at home to play a more active role in the journey on which the student finds him- or herself. If your child’s school does not provide more regular report cards, it is worth getting in the habit of checking in yourself on a regular basis to ensure your child is empowered, confident, and mastering work to the best of their ability.

Parents and children should see every report card not as something to dread, but as an opportunity to embrace the potential to grow.

For further help in parenting with a growth mindset, visit:

https://www.mindsetworks.com/parents/growth-mindset-parenting

By Sanet van Rensburg, Principal: Abbotts College Centurion

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