Is Your Student in for an October Surprise?

October marks what I think of as the “dip” of fall semester.

When your student first heads back to school, there’s initial momentum and energy. Even if school isn’t what they’re accustomed to this year, your family probably felt the buzz of excitement in the early weeks. But as your student settles into the rhythm of school, their energy inevitably starts to dip.

Effort works the opposite way. The first several weeks (up to 6) of school are mostly introductions and concept reviews. As a result, coursework may not be especially challenging, which can lull students into a sense of complacency.

But then, just as energy starts to dip, classes get harder. Your student may not have even realized their energy isn’t matching the effort required—until they get a bad grade on a paper, bomb a quiz, or find themselves totally lost on a homework assignment.

Midterms are on the horizon, but there’s still time to make sure your student’s semester stays on course. We recommend a thorough mid-semester review.

Take stock of your student’s academic situation. Pull out and refer back to any early semester planning you may have completed. Your student will now have more information about what’s expected in each course, the difficulty level of their classes, and more. If you didn’t do any semester planning, there’s still time! Use this Semester Reflection Tool to get you started.

Evaluate your student’s progress. This evaluation should be based on a student’s understanding of content AND their grades on tests, papers, and assignments. Particularly this year, it may be easier to skate by on assignments without truly grasping concepts. Set your student up for success by making sure they’re on track in both areas. Use discussion, past assignments, practice problems, and teacher check-ins to guide you.

Look at the bigger picture. Juniors and seniors should also be evaluating their college process efforts, including college lists, standard test prep, application timelines, and essay-writing. And all students need to think about their own mental health. Are they getting what they need in terms of emotional support and self-care? This Mental Health Checklist is a great tool for beginning that conversation.

When you identify problems, take action. Getting to the root cause of your student’s academic issues is crucial—but so is working together to develop solutions. Here are some common examples of academic challenges and potential ways to address them:

  • Missed or incomplete assignments in one or more courses. Help your student get a clear picture of every assignment they’ve overlooked and make a plan to remedy the gaps. This probably involves a conversation with their teacher, completing the homework, and turning it in. Even if they can’t get credit for the assignments, completing them instill accountability and ensures that they’re caught up on relevant concepts.
  • An unexpected poor grade on a quiz or test. Bombing a test isn’t usually a fluke. You and your student should review the test with a fine-tooth comb to understand where they went wrong. Reworking problems can also be valuable. Talk to a teacher or tutor if needed; if your student is on shaky academic ground, they need to be shored up for the future.
  • Lack of feedback from the teacher. If your student isn’t having homework graded or taking frequent tests, they may not be sure how they’re doing in a particular class. Help your student put together a plan to check in with their teacher. They may be overwhelmed with the uncertain school situation and will likely appreciate your student’s proactive effort.
  • Difficulty getting what they need from a course (or school altogether). If a student doesn’t seem to be engaged with the course materials, or if they’re struggling to adapt to a teacher’s particular style (especially in a virtual or hybrid school model), then it’s time for extra support. An outside third party, such as one of Signet’s academic coaches, may be the best bet for getting to the heart of the issue and identifying learning challenges that could be at play.

No matter how your student seems to be faring this semester, a mid-semester check-in is well worth the effort. Whether you’re remedying current issues or preventing future ones, it’s an important step in ensuring that your student’s fall semester is a success!

Picture of Jay B.

Jay B.

Jay Bacrania is the CEO of Signet Education. As a high schooler, Jay won awards for chemistry at the state level in his home state of Florida, and at Harvard, he initially studied physics. After graduating, Jay spent two years studying jazz trumpet at the Berklee College of Music.

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