HomeHealth & BehaviorBehavior & Discipline

Ask the Experts

My Fifth-Grader Doesn't Put Forth Much Effort

By Dr. Michelle Alvarez, Consulting Educator


My son is in fifth grade and has always been a hard-working student. However, this year, both his teachers and I have noticed that he is not working to his potential.

He turns in his assignments late, and is putting forth very little effort. He is very bright, and while his grades have gone down, he is not failing, yet. He seems to be enjoying school but does not want to do the work. What can we do to get him back on track?


Here are some suggestions to deal with your child's lack of effort:

  • Talk to your son about school in general. The cause may have nothing to do with academics.
  • Observe your son. See if there are any times when he does complete his work and see if you can identify what is motivating him to do so - then try to replicate it.
  • Help your son set up a structure for becoming organized. For example, have him go to the store with you and pick out something to help him organize his school work - a Trapper Keeper notebook or one that zips up so things don't fall out.

There are also some good resources online. The Aspen Education Group offers information on underachievement in gifted students and Prufrock Press also provides an article on underachievement among bright students.

I would also suggest enlisting the assistance of student services professionals at your son's school (school counselor, school social worker and/or school psychologist). It is important to find out what is at the root of your son's lack of effort in school at this time, especially since this has not been a problem in the past. School-based student services personnel will review your son's academic record, talk with teachers past and present, talk with you about what you are seeing at this time, observe your son in class and then talk to your son. This information will assist them in determining what might be at the root of the problem. Then they can develop strategies, along with the teacher, so that you and your son can address the issue.

Dr. Michelle Alvarez is an adjunct professor at the University of Southern Indiana and project director of Safe Schools/Healthy Students for the Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation. A former school social worker in Pinellas County, Florida, she is co-editor of School Social Work: Theory to Practice and chair of the National Association of Social Workers, School Social Work Section. She is also the parent of a special needs child.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.