What are the consequences of failing a class? Picture: flickr.com
The first term is over and your child’s report just isn’t great. To make matters worse, poor performance at school is eroding your child’s self-esteem.

Parenting a primary school child is complicated. Questions about when you are helping or when you are helicoptering loom large. But there’s still time for improvement.

I’ve taught English at secondary level, tutored primary school pupils in writing, and I’m a parent myself. Here are practical suggestions for helping your child become more self-directed in a way that’s not hovering.

FIRST: Learn as much as you can.

What are my child’s marks in each class?

What are the consequences of failing a class? How can I/should I monitor those marks? Many schools use an online mark or grade book where teachers, pupils, and parents have access to scores. This makes for fewer surprises when reports are distributed. Find out what the consequences of academic failure are. Most schools address failing marks by removing pupils from extracurricular activities. If your child is highly invested in the musical or soccer team, this policy can be an effective motivator to improve those grades.

* In each class, how is the final mark for a marking period computed? Not all grades count equally. A quiz usually counts for far less than a test, project, or research paper. This information was probably outlined at the beginning of the school year. And while it's likely that each department calculates marks differently, it's unlikely that your child will remember how the marks in each class work.

* What units will the teacher cover next term? What are the big assignments? Many teachers already know due dates for projects or can approximate dates for tests. Teachers plot out each marking period with learning objectives and assessments.

* Does the teacher or school have his/her own website where pupils and parents can access information? When I taught English, I had a simple website. I uploaded PDFs of short stories, assignments, graphic organisers, and informational handouts. I updated my site regularly with homework assignments or housekeeping items (ie field trip money due). Browsing teacher websites is a good way to keep yourself informed about what's going on in the classroom without having to e-mail the teacher multiple times and wait for replies. Moreover, you can synthesise the information on the websites along with your child.

* Where does my kid lose the most points? Is she crumbling on tests? Does he hand in essays late? As a teacher and tutor, I can usually identify the defining factor in a pupil's failing performance. If you want a full picture, this is a conversation to have with your child's teacher by phone or in person.

SECOND: Make a plan with your child

* Choose what to focus on. If you get answers to the questions above, you can use them to help your child budget her time. If your child knows what big assignments are coming up, he can focus on tackling one task at a time.

* Get extra help. You don't have to hire a tutor or pay tuition at a learning centre. Those are viable options, sure, but many teachers offer extra help. Extra help is typically a smaller group, so there's more opportunity for your child to build rapport with her teacher and get questions answered.

* Invest in a planner. Transitioning from one teacher in Grade 3 to six or seven teachers in Grade 4 is jarring to pupils. When I taught new high school pupils, I spent some time at the beginning of the year going over the school’s planner. Maintaining an organised planner is not intuitive to most adolescents.

THIRD: Work the plan

Consistent and clear dialogue is key as you move forward. I’m willing to bet that once you have the necessary information and a plan, you and your child will feel less anxious. Less anxiety will make conversations with your child go more smoothly. I’m a believer in front loading: Invest a good amount of time in the beginning and you’ll be able to pull away the scaffolding as your child builds his/her own study skills. Good luck!