My daughter is struggling in class and has been failing her tests lately. While she says that she understands the outside readings and content that is being taught, after a test she complains that she can't understand what the teacher is asking. There's no way that I could help with that subject. In the past, she could have just asked the teacher on the spot, however with virtual learning, she doesn't have that support right now. What should I do? Should I hire a tutor?
Lost in Translation
Dear Lost in Translation,
First off, you are not alone. Recently we've gotten a flurry of requests for tutoring by parents with the exact same concern. However, before you go rushing off to find the perfect tutor, try out the following tips to help your child practice growing in their ability to self-satiate their needs through critical thinking.
Tip 1: Brainstorm a solution together.
Research has shown that providing children with a sense of autonomy in how they approach problems is quintessential to building self-efficacy. Instead of telling them how they need to deal with a teacher that they can't understand, tell them that you are happy to help them brainstorm a solution and come up with a plan together.
Tip 2: Encourage them to study efficiently.
The biggest downfall that we see with students is that they believe that re-reading their notes or the chapter is a sufficient study method. This technique will only work if test questions are asked in a way that jogs a student's mind (which is oftentimes a moot point if you can't understand the question). Encourage your child to make flash cards after every class with the top key terms and concepts and stick that on a metal ring for them to review throughout the semester. Known as "test-enhanced learning," being able to frequently retrieve important information will be critical in allowing them to actively process materials to a depth sufficient enough to withstand the added stress of trying to figure out what a teacher is saying.
Tip 3: Teach them testing strategies.
A paragraph of text is way more daunting than any single sentence - take advantage of your annotating skills, and breaking down the question into pieces. Example:
"Charlemagne (c.742-814), also known as Karl and Charles the Great, was a medieval emperor who ruled much of Western Europe from 768 to 814. In 771, Charlemagne became king of the Franks, a Germanic tribe in present-day Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and western Germany. He embarked on a mission to unite all Germanic peoples into one kingdom, and convert his subjects to Christianity. A skilled military strategist, he spent much of his reign engaged in warfare in order to accomplish his goals."
Based on the above passage, Charlemagne's approach to religious reformation in Europe could best be described as:
How do we answer? Let's take a look, and break the passage down sentence by sentence.
Sentence 1: "Charlemagne (c.742-814), also known as Karl and Charles the Great, was a medieval emperor who ruled much of Western Europe from 768 to 814."
Pretty important guy! Here, Charlemagne is established as an emperor, an imperial position, meaning he was the only monarch of all these regions. Based on this, we can assume he probably made a lot of big decisions for his citizens.
Sentence 2: "In 771, Charlemagne became king of the Franks, a Germanic tribe in present-day Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and western Germany."
Hmm... "Became" is a pretty generic verb, and it doesn't tell us much about why or how he was made leader of these regions. Let's sort this in with the previous sentence: further evidence towards Charlemagne being a head honcho of Europe.
Sentence 3: "He embarked on a mission to unite all Germanic peoples into one kingdom, and convert his subjects to Christianity."
Whoa! Bingo! With so many tribes under his rule, Charlemagne must have had his work cut out for him trying to convert each one to Christianity. This sentence can help us imagine how the conversion of this scale might go.
Sentence 4: "A skilled military strategist, he spent much of his reign engaged in warfare in order to accomplish his goals."
Whoop, there it is! Once we hit "warfare," it's clear that Charlemagne's style of evangelizing was not gentle.
Re-read the question, then answer with each of these sentences in mind.
Answer: a! Answers b, c, and d aren't supported by our breakdown of the text.
Re-writing the question.
When your in doubt about what a teacher is asking, try re-writing a question. Make sure to make it visual: get rid of unimportant information, bold or highlight the important stuff, and then make your own sentence. Circle the important bits and then take the content remaining and make it your own.
For example, this sentence,
Propose, by means of a sketch geometrical shapes of cells that would allow a balance of function and materials movement for each of the following situations. (Hint: Think about which aspect of shape would help the cell best carry out its given function.),
a) long-distance communication.
can be reduced to: Pick which geometric shape is most conducive for [long distance communication/stretching] in cells and draw it below. a) long-distance communication
Tip 4: Encourage them to talk to their teacher.
Encourage your child to talk to their teacher and ask to go through their last test, question by question. Teachers are more than willing to go out of their way to explain what they meant to students (which gives them real-life experience in how to approach solving miscommunications later in life). Plus there's always the chance that the teacher may notice that their materials could use some improvement.
Tip 5: Get outside help.
If the above suggestions don't work and your child is still floundering, then that's the time to get some outside support. Encourage them to set up a virtual chat space with their peers or even one-on-one tutoring. We have tutors who can teach students exclusively on how to study better, manage their time more effectively, and improve their test-taking strategies.