9 Tips For Discussing Bad Grades
How we talk to our students matters. Students come in all shapes and sizes, academic abilities, and specialities. The thing that doesn’t change between students, however, is the impact of conversation regarding their academic progress, at home. While a parent may dislike the grade the student has achieved, it is important to make it clear that the student is still worthy of love. Take time to acknowledge other areas that the student is performing well in and remind the student that poor grades are not an indication of character or future success.
It is critical to separate the student from the grade. A grade given to schoolwork is usually based on a rubric and linked to the comparative performance of the class as a whole. With this in mind, it can be difficult for a student to change the level of a grade when each student in the class is aiming for an equal or greater improvement to their own grades.
Skips and hops are as powerful as leaps and bounds. In subjects that students find difficult or less interesting, making small improvements from assignment to assignment, test to test, can be a huge deal! Though the student is receiving, what appears to be on the outside, stagnant average marks, it may be that they are developing slowly through immense effort. Until a student is able to separate the main objective from the low-level content, it can be hard to bridge the gap between a poor mark and a student’s willingness to care.
So how do we broach the topic of a poor grade…
1. Give the student time and space to come to terms with the mark. Students will feel vulnerable and judged when a family brings up the topic of poor grades. It’s important that the student has had time to process the mark, so they can separate the grade from their sense of self.
2. Let the student know you’d like to discuss the mark and give them time to recentre and approach the conversation from a lowered state.
3. First focus on the positive feedback. Let the student know that they aren’t a failure and that there is always good amongst the bad.
4. Put the negative into easy-to-understand words. Sometimes feedback on assignments can be difficult to interpret, so it’s important to take the time to decipher the feedback with the student to make it clear what is being said, rather than allowing the student to assume the feedback conclusively means they are a terrible student.
5. Remind the student that they are more than a bad grade. Grades can be improved with hard work and a development of study skills. If a student feels defeated, they are likely to respond to another opportunity with a deflated self-esteem, so let’s build them up to give them a fighting chance!
6. Discuss the workload. Give the student an opportunity to view the result of the grade as a part of a larger picture. Is the grade a result of struggling under the subject workload?
7. Explore the outcome. Encourage the student the identify areas that they could improve in next time. Then work together to come up with a plan for the improvement.
8. Avoid dwelling on the negative. Once the poor grade has been discussed, don’t bring it up unnecessarily.
9. Celebrate the good grades! When a student receives a good grade, it’s important to take the time to acknowledge that the student would’ve worked hard and improved their abilities to achieve that score.
If a student is particularly volatile when it comes to discussing academic progress with a family member, consider using a tutor to develop a feedback and reflection routine. As students ourselves, we know that negative feedback can be crippling, but we’re also proof that it isn’t the end of the world!