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Taking control of challenging classes
  • Calendar Aug 31, 2021
  • User Vincent Perry
  • Category In Uncategorized
  • Comments 0 Comments

“This class is too hard!”

As a parent, it’s heartbreaking to hear these words. We can understand our kids’ frustration with a challenging class. More importantly, we want our kids to succeed at anything they put their minds to, and to see our kids, feeling defeated, believe that something is beyond their abilities is crushing to us.

In these moments of self-doubt, your child is almost certainly underestimating their intelligence. And of course, we want to remind them how brilliant they are! But responding to your child, “Of course you can do it!” may not be enough to restore their confidence: more likely, they’ll just disagree with you (teenagers, right?) And, at any rate, contradicting your child doesn’t actually help them with the class they are finding troublesome.

But what if there were steps the student could take that just take effort? Steps that a student, no matter how much they were struggling with a class, know would almost certainly lead to a greater level of success?

Well, there are!

Try “Of course you can do it! Maybe you’d have more success if you…”

Try something new

Of course, this is a list of what those “something”s could be. But this list is not exhaustive. When students are struggling in a class, often part of the issue is lack of engagement. Lack of engagement leads to struggling, which leads to more lack of engagement, and the cycle of passivity continues.

The way to interrupt that cycle is to take action, even if we aren’t 100% sure that action will help. 

Maybe I can read that section again? Or practice another problem? Watch a video? Review my notes? Create a mind map? Explain what I think I understand to a parent? 

Doing something is always going to do more than doing nothing, and at minimum, it will get the student re-engaged in the material. One of the biggest reasons that students struggle in their classes is long periods of disengagement that result from frustration. At minimum, “doing something” will end the disengagement. And maybe, just maybe, the “something” the students does is exactly what is needed to be done to make progress. Doing “something” and engaging with the class daily WILL make a big difference. Ask your son or daughter "What can you do differently?"

Ask Questions (be curious)

“Why am I so bad at this?!” isn’t really a question. It’s more of a cry of frustration than a genuine inquiry. But if we can get more specific about exactly what the student finds challenging about the class, we can actually come up with strategies that address the specific challenges the student is having. 

For example, a student who asks “What about the tests is so challenging?” might come up with answers like “because I feel so rushed”, “because the test covers things I didn’t study”, or “because the problems are tricky and different from the homework”. Each of these answers suggests different approaches to improving on future tests. But if we don’t ask these questions, it’s tough to figure out the root causes of the struggle. When we DO ask those questions, however, sometimes the solutions are obvious (or, at least, solutions can be found.) The more specific the questions and answers, the better.

The same goes for individual concepts a student is struggling with. If the student is struggling with logarithms, try asking “What is a logarithm?” If a student can’t answer that, it’s no wonder they are struggling! Now, the student has a path to understanding (ask a teacher or a tutor what a logarithm is, look it up online, find the answer in a book, etc)

Write it down

I always say “writing is doing”. There is magic in writing...writing things down makes them more real. It allows you to process a lot of information 

“Write it down” can mean a wide variety of things, like:

-Mind Dump: Just write for 5 minutes straight, without stopping, about the class you are struggling with. Get down all those repetitive thoughts and half-formed ideas. Get it all out. Once you’ve done that, go through what you’ve written down and find the important information. The tasks you have to complete. The ideas you have to improve. Do this once a week, or anytime you are feeling overwhelmed.

-Taking notes: Notes are NOT just about reviewing later. They are also a way to make sure that you are staying engaged in class. It’s easy to passively listen to a teacher lecture and assume that you understand what is going on. Forcing yourself to paraphrase in notes give you the opportunity, in real time, to discover what you don’t understand (and ask questions in class!)

-Use a planner: So often we find that students who are struggling with their classes are struggling, in large part, because they are reacting to day-to-day emergencies, rather than taking a larger view of what they need to do to succeed on a week-to-week and month-to-month basis. Looking at what is coming up over the next few weeks in the class, getting important events added to a planner, and scheduling DAILY study time will make a big difference for a student’s sense of control in the class.

The most important first step in making progress in a difficult class (or any difficult problem) is establishing a sense of control. Often students will focus on external causes (this material is too difficult, my teacher is terrible, etc), and when we assign an external locus of control, it can feel helpless. Instead we need to help the students focus on internal loci of control so they can take action and make progress.

Is your son or daughter struggling with a class? Give us a call at 858.551.2650 or email us at We'll help your child get a sense of control back!


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