Whether you’re a teacher, parent, or student, a new school year may seem to have more in common with a marathon than a sprint. However, Thomas Guskey, Professor of Educational Psychology in the UK College of Education’s Department of Educational, School, and Counseling Psychology, raises the point that the first weeks of school set the tone for how a student will cross the finish line.
Those first two weeks in particular are filled with expectation and uncertainty, which continues until teachers administer the first quizzes – often near the end of the second week of school.
“When teachers assign grades to those first quizzes, the grades put students into categories. And getting out of a category is really difficult,” Guskey said. “Students who receive a C on that first math quiz, for example, begin to see themselves as C students.”
Those lowered expectations for success can influence the way students perform academically the rest of the year.
“When the second quiz or test occurs, they expect to receive another C. When they do, it reinforces their perception. Similarly, if they receive a failing grade on that first quiz, they think all following grades will be the same,” Guskey said.
Conversely, students who experience learning success and receive high grades at the beginning of the year tend to view their school experiences positively and see themselves as more capable of success.
“This means that teachers must do everything they can to ensure students’ success in the first two weeks. And not fake success, but success in something challenging,” Guskey said.
This is key to motivating students, he notes. “Students persist in activities at which they experience success, and they avoid activities at which they are not successful or believe they cannot be successful,” Guskey said.
He points to attendance as an indicator of students’ attitudes toward school. Attendance rates tend to falter after the first few weeks, soon after the first quizzes are administered. In the minds of students who receive low scores early on, the question may be, “Why come to school if there is so little chance of doing well?” Guskey said.
Parents, too, must be genuinely involved in their children’s education during the first two weeks.
“Routines established at home in this critical period profoundly affect the likelihood of success,” Guskey said.
He offers these tips for parents to help their children map out a strong finish to the school year from the beginning:
* Having daily conversations about school activities help children recognize that their parents value success in school.
* Providing a quiet place for children to work on school assignments and limiting the time they spend watching TV or playing on computers further increase chances for success.
* Checking with teachers to make sure children are well prepared and ready to succeed also can help.
While positive experiences during the first two weeks of school will not guarantee that the entire year will be a success, “they are a powerful and perhaps essential step in that direction,” Guskey said. “Teachers and parents need to take advantage of this critical time and use it well. It can make all the difference.”