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Motivating a Jr. High kid

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Old September 5th 05, 03:48 PM
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Default Motivating a Jr. High kid

My son is entering 8th grade this year. He's always been an uneven student,
shining in some favorite subjects (won the school's geography bee one year!),
and sliding by in subjects he doesn't like so much. His teacher, and folks who
are around him day to day, say he's fairly bright. Where I see him falling down
academically is mostly in one thing - he just doesn't like rigor. Memorization,
or anything that needs a lot of careful steps. He can *do* it, and has no
problem with complex things in his model building. But when it comes to
studying, as I've noticed from trying to help him with memorization tasks like
German vocabulary, he loses patience with things that don't come to him quickly.

It was very interesting to me that his self-evaluation, as he spontaneously told
me last year, is just below the cadre of the brightest students. Some of the
other kids come to him for help in things he loves, like social studies. His
teachers pretty much concur. But his impatience with rigor is getting in the
way of even things he likes now, like German and band. He hates to memorize the
vocabulary, he hates to practice. And he's gotten no particular recognition in
school, and was clearly bummed the end of last year when some of his friends did
and he didn't at the awards assembly at school.

I'd like to stretch him a bit and put the 8th grade honor roll as a goal for
him. We've been talking about a PS3 a while after it comes out (I wait for the
prices to drop), and have told him I expect to see him on the honor roll before
he gets that. (He likes video games but hasn't been the type to get subsumed by
them or spend too much time on them.)

I think it's an appropriate goal. He knows high school grades are important for
college admission, and he consistently expresses college as a goal. I've told
him 8th grade marks will be an indication of how he does in high school.

I must admit to being a little at a loss as to how to really motivate him or get
him past this thing against memorization or rigor. I was a kid that had no
problem with these things, although I had other problems like with
procrastination. The only way I know to deal with rigor is just to do it.

So, what do I do with this kid?


Old September 5th 05, 05:17 PM
Parent Trainer
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On Mon, 5 Sep 2005 10:48:44 EDT, Banty

My son is entering 8th grade this year.

I have some general comments to begin with, and hope to follow up a
little later with more specifics. I have a lot of personal experience
with absolutely hating rote memorizing, practicing, and dealing with
stuff that does not come easily. I also have a lot of professional
experience working with kids like that.

My general first comment would be to consider the time frame of your
goals, and to consider what kinds of things your child is having
trouble with. He does not like things that require sustained effort
and that will only pay off in the long run, but that will be very
uninteresting, repetitive and boring right now.

So the first thing I would say is that the goals you are setting are
way too far off into the future. These goasl are nice and good, and
your child may even appear - appear! - to verbally and otherwise
indicate that he finds them worthwhile and somewhat motivating. But
then, sitting in front of the book, trying to memorize, he finds the
work absolutely deadly, his mind wanders, and he feels that he "just
can't do it."

Behavior in children is motivated by immediate short term goals. I
once knew a mother whose eight-year-old just hated to memorize a short
poem that he was supposed to recite at a school play. The mother
arranged an "American Idol" type competition that evening with the
family and a neighbor as the audience to see which child would recite
the poem best. She told her child on Saturday morning that the
competition would be Saturday night, and they would videotape it! The
child obsessively worked on memorizing the poem all day and beat two
other children hands down. (The families had arranged for other
prizes so that each of the children was a winner in some category).

It is difficult to find short term goals and objectives for the "grunt
work" of studying. But that is where your parental ingenuity and your
emotional investment should go. Make bets with your son, reward and
get excited about specific and small steps. Get into the immediate
short term business. Do not expect your son to overcome this problem
by himself just because of some lofty long-term goal.

For instance, a good approach would be: Memorize this table, and then
you can play video games for an hour. Memorize this page and I will
take you to the car and let you drive in the driveway. Memorize this
poem and we are going (today) shopping for that new video game you
have wanted. Be very positive, very excited.

Finally, help your child do it by helping him discover what activity
helps him meorize the best. For instance, I discovered in college
that I learn very very well when hearing things, I can really mimic
what I hear, I have a "good ear." I started getting As when I started
to (secretly) tape record lectures. (In those days you didn't have
learning resource center, etc.) After hearing a lecture twice, I had
it totally memorized, something I was unable to do from reading notes
or books. Some kids learn best by reading a paragraph and then
writing it down, sometimes in colors. Some memorize "visually" with

Good luck.

Old September 28th 05, 05:14 PM
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I must admit to being a little at a loss as to how to really motivate him or get
him past this thing against memorization or rigor. I was a kid that had no
problem with these things, although I had other problems like with
procrastination. The only way I know to deal with rigor is just to do it.

We struggle with similar things. This year I've stopped caring about
how the school needs him to learn things and focus solely on learning
the material. Maybe if he could view these things a little
differently? Sometimes it's a stumbling block to think "I have to
memorize this list of 25 German words" but more interesting to think of
it another way, such as "I need to understand the meaning of each of
these German words." It may seem like semantics to you and me, but at
that age I think kids are struggling to have control and power over
their lives, and school is a big part of their lives.

As for band, I've been a lot more practical and hard-nosed on that.
Henry's no longer in Band as a result. Band is a team activity, and if
you're not willing to pull your weight by practicing it's not fair to
the team so you lose that privilege. Plus band cost us money
(instrument rental) and practice was the payment he needed to make to
earn the instrument rental payments from us. No practice, no play.
This year he's in choir which requires less at-home practice and which
he is enjoying much more, I think in part because that practice
pressure is off.

I disagree with the other poster who I believe was looking at this from
the perspective of parenting much younger children. I do think at this
age kids can delay gratification and work toward more distant goals. I
think in general your plan sounds like a good one. Let us know how it

Mom to Henry, 13


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