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Politics & Current Affairs

Setting Goals for an A and a Whole Lot More

How to improve a struggling student’s academic performance has bedeviled educators and parents alike. Is poor performance the fault of the curriculum, the teachers, the student, conditions at home or socioeconomic status? A recent meta-assessment conducted at Duke promises some answers.

Parental involvement at home, specifically as it relates to academic socialization, may improve student performance at the crucial transition from elementary to middle school. But what, exactly, does this entail?

It’s not news that when parents are involved, children tend to perform better. But the Duke study identifies a specific type of involvement, called “academic socialization,” that has a significant performance impact when a child makes the transition from elementary school–a time that will, many believe, effect the course of their academic career.

Academic socialization targets adolescents’ decision-making and problem-solving skills-two cognitive abilities that begin to develop in the early teens-by linking academic pursuits to future goals. In other words, schoolwork is placed in a larger, interrelated context of long-term pursuits, through techniques such as linking assignments to current events; encouraging future academic and career aspirations; talking through, rather than just showing, specific learning strategies; and encouraging the creation of and preparation for future plans.

This goal-based framing allows parents to remain involved in the learning process while accepting and encouraging the autonomy and independence that is natural at the adolescent stage. Conversely, some commonly accepted strategies, such as help with homework, are actually not at all helpful, and can often achieve the opposite of the desired effect and lower overall performance.

The implications of these findings could extend well beyond the home: teachers could, for instance, apply the logic in their classroom efforts in their choice, presentation and explanation of assignments. Administrators could also try to understand the implications for curriculum and test development.

It will be interesting to see if such an approach is used by the star teachers that will lead the Equity Project, an innovative New York charter school opening in September, and if it’s not, whether adopting it would improve results.

And this is advice that could extend well beyond classroom. Achievement at work, in personal life, in sports: could not all of these be impacted by a strategy of long-term goal focus and development?

While such a broad application remains to be studied, the initial findings in education are certainly worth some thought.


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