Dear Teacher

How to handle an underachiever

Question: We have been struggling with our 10-year-old son, who is definitely an underachiever. He has been evaluated/tested recently and was not found to have any learning disabilities. His IQ tested in the gifted range.

Last year, it was a nightmare trying to get him to do his homework. The same thing is happening already this year. Punishment/rewards simply don't work. I could "wax" forever over the struggles we have had with him. Do you have any recommendations to help him? – Defeated

Answer: Ask him what it about his homework that he doesn’t want to do. He may say that he doesn't want to do what he already knows. In this case, both of you should talk to his teacher or teachers about making a deal to reduce the homework load provided he is succeeding on tests without this practice. Another alternative is to have him be given more challenging assignments.

On the other hand, if your son says homework is boring but he is not doing well on tests, ask what is holding him back on tests. He may say that he has trouble writing out the answers to test questions. In that case, he needs to be taught to organize his answers. Whatever he says is the problem, see that he gets help in this area. 

High IQ scores are not always predictive of success in school. Many bright students need help in learning how to study or have areas of weakness that need to be worked on. Your son needs to learn the discipline of handling appropriate homework assignments. Look for the help that he needs now.

What Is parents’ role in teaching children?

Question: Our school says to leave the teaching of students to the teachers in our daughter’s preschool. Should we not supplement the learning experience at home as well? – Would-be Teacher 

Answer: We're not 100 percent sure what the school means by this. They are probably referring to formal teaching of reading and math. This could include teaching your children phonics and sight words and basic addition. Why don't you ask them exactly what they mean?

Parents are their children’s first teachers. It is definitely your job to encourage and guide their learning. You do this by seeing that they have an adequate supply of play things, taking them on all kinds of adventures to help them learn as much as possible about the world, and giving them the opportunity to play with other children and engage in both indoor and outdoor activities.

You prepare them to read by reading to them and talking to them about stories. This is essential. You read words on signs, menus, and lists so they get the idea of what reading is. You definitely can teach them to count and recognize the number of objects in small groups of objects. What you don’t have to do is to use workbooks and worksheets to prepare your children to read and do math, this may be what the preschool means.

Handling a misbehaving first grader

Question: My son, a first-grader, is a saint at home, but he behaves terribly at school. I get e-mail from his teacher almost every day about his constant talking, making funny noises and getting out of his seat. The teacher has tried sending him to the principal, eliminating recess and putting him in the hall. I have taken away privileges, from TV time to play dates with friends. What can be done to change his behavior? The teacher says he appears to be gifted academically.

Answer: What your son is doing in the classroom is not unusual behavior for a first-grader. It would be best handled in the classroom. Since the teacher doesn't seem to know how to handle the child, she should ask for help. One or more experienced teachers could visit the classroom and make suggestions.

You are too removed from your son's behavior to be punishing him after he has misbehaved. Instead, do state that you expect him to behave well in the classroom. Also, it would be wise for you to visit the classroom and observe what he is doing. You might come up with some good suggestions for the teacher based on your knowledge of what type of discipline works with your child. For example, a behavior chart is helpful for some children. Your son might check each time he talks to classmates. Then the goal would be to reduce this number each day until it is at an appropriate level. Also, seating him in the back of the room could make his behavior less noticeable.

There is always the possibility that your bright child is misbehaving out of boredom. Perhaps he could be assigned more challenging work after he has completed routine assignments. This might turn things around. Also, he may need work on his social maturity in order to handle being in the classroom environment.

This teacher is spending an inordinate amount of time e-mailing you about your son. She also may not have good classroom-management skills. While it is rarely possible to change teachers, a different teacher might be a better fit for him.

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 ©Compass Syndicate Corporation, 2010. Distributed by King Features Syndicate.