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My son is oin 6th grade at an all boys school. Up until this year, he was doing reasonably well.


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Anonymous December 14, 2008


His grades seem to be going down, no matter how much we help. We are thinking about taking him out of this school and putting him in another to give him a a better chance at getting into the high school of his choice. I don't want him to think I am giving up on him, and I feel like I have failed as a parent. The teachers at school say that it is not uncommon for boys at this age to lose interest in school and this will pass.
I'm not so sure. Any suggestions?

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healthy11 December 14, 2008


I do think it's common for many kids, as they enter adolescence, to experience a "change of attitude," and sometimes it shows up in their schoolwork. On the other hand, I can't help but wonder if your son's difficulties might be related to more than that. Does your son's school consider 6th grade like "Middle School" where now he has multiple teachers for different subjects, whereas before he had a homeroom teacher and might just go to other rooms for gym or music? The organization and executive functioning skills required in Middle School are much more demanding than in early elementary school.

You mention his grades are going down no matter how much you help...can you explain what you've tried to do already? Does you son see a tutor for certain subjects? Has he ever been evaluated for learning disabilites? (Kids can be very bright, and get by without doing a lot of work in early grades, yet "hit a wall" when they suddenly encounter work that challenges them.) I'll wait to give further recommendations until I know more about your situation. For general information, you might be interested in joining Greatschools Middle School Parents Group at http://community.greatschools.net/groups/11528

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jennifert December 14, 2008


His school is strictly 5th through 7th grade boys. Last year, 5th grade was self-contained with most subjects being taught by the homeroom teacher. This year, he has different teachers for all subjects. His homeroom teacher also teaches Spanish. We have tried studying with him, checking his homework every night, getting him to see his teachers for help on a one-on-one basis, and are currently working with the teachers on study tips. It seems that some of this could be severe test anxiety. We study with him, and he knows the material, yet does poorly on the test. My husband is a teacher, so outside tutoring is not needed. Our son has never been evaluated for learning difficulties, but then, we've never had reason to even think about it before.

The school is very demanding academically, and our family knew that going in. However, we felt it was the best decision in order to make sure that he gets the best academic background. Now, I'm not so sure.

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healthy11 December 14, 2008


If you don't mind my asking, where do most of the boys at the current school go for 8th grade? It seems like an unusual grade grouping, unless high schools in your area are 8-12th grade... If your son was to leave this school, would he do it at the end of this year, or are you considering transferring him right now? That may be a difficult transition, too. Does he have friends at the current school, or is he struggling with social aspects as well as the academics?

Do you think your son could be a perfectionist? I've heard of some kids who put the pressure on themselves, and of course if they don't do well on one test, they continue to obsess about it, and they become anxious about the next, and it "feeds" the anxiety they feel, almost like a domino effect.
Or, if your son isn't a perfectionist and putting pressure on himself, do you think he could be worried about "letting you down?" You mention having moved him to this school to give him a better chance of attending the "high school of his choice," but could he feel the pressure more as what if he can't get into the "high school you want him to go to?"

If you really suspect severe anxiety, you might want to have him evaluated by a child/adolescent psychiatrist, because it sounds like it's serious enough to be interfering with his life. If you aren't sure, it might also be wise to consider if he has executive functioning difficulties which are becoming more evident because of the increased demand of middle school. If that's the case, changing schools alone may not be enough to address the problem...


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jennifert December 15, 2008


Almost all of the boys go to private Catholic high schools. Given the state of our school systems in New Orleans, public schools are not an option. Catholic high schools here are 8th through 12th grade. We thought about having our son leave his current school in the middle of the year, but the school we are looking at would only allow us to do so if he went back a grade. So, he would start second semester in 5th grade and re-take 6th grade next year. The principal at the new school would not recommend that option. Her thought is that we should let him finish out the year at his current school and transfer him next year into 6th grade at the new school. Doing so would allow him the same foundation going into seventh grade as the other students. It would also give him a better opportunity to get into the high school of his choice. While the high school he wants to attend is the high school that my husband and I would like to see him attend, it is by no means our decision - or our mandate that he go there. Our son is free to choose his high school (as long as it is financially feasible for us), which gives him 5 choices.

Socially, he has adapted to his current school. He does have friends but not as many as he did during elementary school. I think being the only one from his elementary school to go to the middle school has been tough.

Our son definitely is a perfectionist (a trait he inherited from us) and can be discouraged if a task requires too much effort. We have seen that with sports. He also puts too much pressure on himself with grades. If he didn't think about it to the point where he overthinks test questions, he would be fine. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. He is so afraid of doing poorly that he does do poorly.

Are there any websites that you can recommend for test anxiety? His current school does not have a school counselor, but I am going to contact his elementary school counselor to see if he has any recommendations.

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healthy11 December 15, 2008


I haven't read this book, but it was recommended at a seminar I attended: "Freeing Our Families From Perfectionism," by Thomas S.
Greenspon, Ph.D., ' 2002. Free Spirit
Publishing Inc., Minneapolis, MN; 1-800-735-7323; www.freespirit. com.

As far as test anxiety, I'm not aware of any specific website that addresses the topic. The best suggestions I've heard are to do "practice" tests ahead of time, so the format/material/time limits are more familiar. Given that your husband is a teacher, there shouldn't be much trouble developing them, if you can find out from your son's actual teachers what type of tests they like to give... (ie, multiple choice, fill in the blank, essay, etc.) The more difficult challenge may be to get your son to spend the designated time doing what he might perceive as "extra" work (ie, 40 minutes to replicate a class period?)

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TeacherParent December 26, 2008


What does your son say when you ask him what's happening? As a long time Middle School teacher, I wouldn't agree that it's 'not uncommon for boys at this age to lose interest in school.' And - even if it were - I'm not comfortable with that answer to your concern. It seems dismissive to me rather like a "Ah well, Mrs. Smith, there's nothing to be done about this."
Homework, tests and quizzes, projects and participation in class are the four fundamentals of grading - in which of those four categories is your son not doing well? All four? I'd need to know that before giving advice.
And - I'd need to know if 6th grade is a year intended to be a very hard one by his school? Do you see a noticeable difference in the amount of homework assigned, the kinds of assignments given, the general manner of the teachers? It would help to know that as well.

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TeacherParent December 27, 2008


The transition from self-contained to not is a big one - the organization that is needed to manage the many papers given out by several teachers is no easy task. As a teacher, your husband knows there are primarily four things we look at when we assign a grade to a student. Homework, projects, tests and quizzes and participation in class. You say it's tests that are the problem but weren't a problem last year?

He may just be feeling overwhelmed and your nightly support to him is wonderful. When you look at the tests when they come home, what do you see? Is it in every subject that tests are 'throwing him for a loop?" Math as well as the more memorization based subjects like social studies?
I'd need to know a bit more but switching to a less rigorous school is certainly an idea- I did the same for my own son and he did much better in a less rigorous environment and got into a good college all the same.
I'm not comfortable with the teachers' suggestion that 'boys lose interest in school'. Yes, that can be true but rarely do they lose interest in doing well in school. They wish they didn't have to go to school, they'd rather be outside running off their energy or starting to flirt with girls - but - they remain interested in getting good grades even if disinterested in their subjects. Does your son agree with his teachers? Does he say he's 'lost interest in school and in doing well at it?'
I doubt it. Sadly I doubt his teachers are ready to dive in and help if they see him as having 'lost interest in school' - there's something a bit dismissive about that statement that bothers this TeacherParent a bit.
What does your son think is the problem? Is he simply overwhelmed with the transition? If that's it, with your help, he should be able to get through the 'slump'.
Good luck.

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jennifert December 29, 2008


Thank you for the advice. I was not comfortable with the statement that boys at this age lose interest in school either. My son has gone from an A/B student to a C/D student in the transition from 5th to 6th grade. He admits that he is not putting forth as much effort, but on the same token, he doesn't seem to care. I have told him that we will not let him fall flat on his face if we can help it, but he has to do his part. My husband and I have lost lots of sleep over this. Our current thought is that in the fall, we move him to another school and have him repeat 6th grade. He is not failing by any means, but he needs a strong foundation to move forward. We do not feel that it is doing him justice to let him continue this trend when we know his potential. Maybe repeating a grade will be the impetus that motivates him academically.

As far as his tests, we do see a pattern with the subjects requiring rote memorization. He does not learn that way. I think my husband called it visual/spatial learning. His teacher last year was a very visual teacher and used concrete methods to teach the boys. For example, when he taught them about reciprocals in math, he actually picked one of the boys up and turned him upside down. Not very conventional - but it worked. My son absolutely understands the concept. He has a hard time understanding why facts are the way they are. If I tell him, "This is the way to solve this math problem," he will ask why and insist there has to be another method. He can't accept that this is the way you do it and there is no rhyme or reason. His teachers this year are more abstract and lecture a great deal versus using examples to help the boys understand.

Our other thought is that he could suffer from severe test anxiety. In many cases, we study with him and he knows the material, yet still comes home with a C or D. When we ask him what happened, he does not know. If we review the wrong answers, he gets them right every time. My mother in law works at another school and has recommended an educational psychologist. I am in the process of making an appointment with the psychologist to see if she has any recommendations. We are also working with the school counselor and principal at his potential new school to help through this transition.

Do you think that a service like Sylvan or Kumon can help?

As a teacher, let me know if you think we are on the right track. I feel like I have failed him and that his academic decline is partly my fault. Thanks for your advice. This is helpful to know that I am not completely off base.

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healthy11 December 29, 2008


Have you ever looked at the website www.visualspatial.org?
If you're still not sure whether anxiety or actual lack of academic foundational knowledge is behind your son's difficulties, I would not recommend a "chain tutoring place" like Sylvan or Huntington or Kumon...

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TeacherParent December 29, 2008


I can't see how you've done anything to fail your son - indeed you and your husband are clearly very caring of him and this is 'eating you up' - his pain is your pain too. In any case, it's always best to fix the problem rather than fix the blame but I certainly don't see that this situation is anyone's fault. Your son may simply be 'mismatched' with this school. No school is the right school for every child.
I'm not a teacher who leaps to blame children either. Children are children - they're still learning how they learn and how to meet changing expectations from school year to school year.
Is your son otherwise happy with his school? Does he feel he has friends there? Does he generally like his teachers? It sounds to me as if your son might be unhappy with the school overall but I'd be happy to be wrong about that. But if a child is unhappy with the school, it can be hard for them to do well in the school. Does you son like the idea of switching schools? Does he protest that idea or receive it well? And did he always have test anxiety or is that new? If it's new, it could be related to his general feelings about his new school.
If you look at his tests, you can sometimes see a pattern to his mistakes - are his answers near to right or nowhere near right? Knowing that helps to figure out what's going wrong for him on the tests.

Ed. psychologists can offer insight but most often they will want to do a battery of tests on him - that usually does no harm but is usually fairly expensive. If you have a university anywhere near you, their ed. psych Departments will sometimes have graduate students do the testing at a much reduced price.

As to Sylvan and Kumon - I'm not a big fan. A great deal depends on the tutor they assign you and it's rather hit or miss. Their tutors are moonlighting teachers - there for the extra money they need, not necessarily because they're eager to work at night after having worked all day.... And Sylvan and Kumon are expensive too.

If your son likes the idea of leaving this school, maybe he'll take heart when you tell him that you're seriously considering that. Is it necessary that he finish the year at this school? I'm not sure that I'd have him repeat the 6th grade - but that's another matter and another discussion.
Someone once said a mother can only be as happy as her unhappiest child - it's hard on our hearts when our children are unhappy.



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