As parents, it’s natural to focus on grades to measure our student’s success. While grades provide insight into academic performance, they don’t always reflect the actual knowledge and growth that our students experience. In fact, the process of learning, problem-solving, and developing effective strategies is more valuable in the long run.
At Untapped Learning, we see many instances where we’re more excited to see a C than an A. For example, we recently had a student with a C- in chemistry and an A in history in a semester of their junior year of high school. For context, history was a relatively easy class for the student while chemistry was incredibly challenging. Since chemistry was so tricky, they had to develop a disciplined routine to pass. They experimented with different study strategies and used trial and error to determine their learning style and how to play to their strengths. When we interviewed this student, they shared that even though they still don’t have the strongest understanding of chemistry, the class gave them an opportunity to establish better study habits, applicable to any class they take in the future. This class inspired (forced) them to work on a process that would help them succeed academically. Those learnings go far beyond the classroom as well. So, as mentors, we are much prouder of this student overcoming this obstacle than them receiving an easy A.
Though it can be frustrating to see your student fail a test or receive a low grade, steer away from that reflex to lecture. If the student did put in the effort, that lecture will only disrupt the learning process. Down the line, they will be less willing to take chances to understand how they learn. Instead, prioritize the process over the outcome!
Teaching Students the Process
Students and families focusing on the process over the product have much more long-term success. By learning to work through challenges, students gain valuable problem-solving skills that will help them in their academic and personal lives. Not only does this build better people, but we see the same conclusions time and time again:
Improve the process, and the grades will follow.
Instead of solely disciplining children when they face challenges or setbacks, we recommend you help guide them through the learning process. By asking thoughtful questions, you can encourage them to reflect on their study habits, learning environment, and overall approach to their education. Helpful questions from parents and educators that we have witnessed firsthand include:
- What did you do to study for your last assessment?
- What environment did you study in for your test?
- Have you considered studying in a group or seeking teacher-led study sessions?
- I see that you got 50% of these questions correct. What specific actions did you take to learn the material you understood?
- Did you space out your study sessions over multiple days or cram all at once?
By asking variations of these questions, you can help your student identify their strengths and weaknesses in the learning process. This reflection allows them to understand their learning style better and adapt their strategies accordingly. When discussing academic challenges with our children, avoid using general statements like “work harder,” “you’ll do better next time,” or even “maybe math just isn’t your thing.” Those phrases are usually ineffective in terms of creating change. Instead, focus on using open-ended questions to find practical ways to help your child improve, such as:
- How can we change your studying habits so that you can get the grade you want next time?
- How often do you need to attend math office hours to understand the material better?
- What steps can we take to help you feel successful in this class?
- How can you improve your relationship with your teacher to improve your learning experience?
Reframing the conversation and focusing on actionable steps will empower your student to take ownership of their learning journey.
A Real-Life Example:
Consider the story of Miley, a 6th-grade student struggling with math. After her 2nd failed test, her parents organized a meeting with her math teacher to discuss ways that she could improve her scores. The math teacher suggested the following strategies:
1. Attend morning study sessions two days a week
2. Do ten minutes of online math per day
3. Find a math homework partner
4. Spend five minutes every night reviewing the notes taken in class that day
Surprised at the simplicity of the recommendations, Miley and her parents agreed to follow these steps. While Miley faced setbacks, she persevered and eventually began passing her assessments, finishing the semester with a B- in the class. Through this experience, no one obsessed over the result. Instead, Miley embraced the process and, in turn, learned discipline, how to ask for help, and that small actions over time can lead to big results. Regardless of her future path, these lessons are invaluable.