Parent-teacher conferences are an excellent forum for addressing questions and concerns about student progress. Yet, when face to face with a child’s teacher, a concern such as “I think that my child is bored in school,” can be difficult to articulate. Here are a few suggestions for parents with concerns about insufficient challenge:
- Be specific: Children’s academic strengths can vary with respect to subject area. If you feel that your child is insufficiently challenged, is there a certain subject, such as reading or math, that is of concern? Is there a particular topic such as spelling or multiplication that your child feels is too easy? If available, bring examples of your child’s work in these areas. The more specific your concern, the better able the teacher will be to address it.
- Focus on Growth: We want children to be challenged because every child deserves to grow academically and be engaged in school. With respect to growth, here are a few questions to ask your child’s teacher: What are my child’s areas of strength and/or extra focus? How can I provide support at home? How are areas of growth/strength communicated to my child at school? What improvement has been observed in my child’s work since the beginning of the school year?
- Share What You Know: If you have them, bring in samples of stories, writing, or projects that your child creates at home. This can provide the teacher with valuable information about your child’s interests and academic potential.
- Avoid “Side-Stepping”: A child’s complaint about “boredom” may sometimes indicate struggle with the less “glitzy,” but important aspects of learning such as proofreading, revising, computation practice, or even problem-solving. It is true that “skill practice” needs to be balanced with opportunities for exploration, creativity, and fun. Yet, attention to detail, perseverance, and accuracy are important for success in school and beyond. When advocating for your high-ability child at conferences, do not sidestep these “challenges” — ask your child’s teacher about ways to support and encourage your child in these areas at home.
- Keep Your Child Accountable for Behavior: For parents and teachers of high ability children, behavior issues in the classroom can be a “red flag” indicating that the child needs more challenge. In light of this, it may be tempting to empathize with your child’s feelings of frustration and look away from negative behaviors. But this response undermines learning and can even encourage underachievement. Addressing behavior issues associated with insufficient challenge takes a “two-pronged” approach. Hold your child accountable for behavior, but don’t stop there; teach your child how to advocate for challenge in a positive way. Does your child have a story to write or a topic of interest that she could to explore if class work is finished early? Are there meaningful ways to improve his or her work? If possible, consider a follow up meeting with your child and the teacher to discuss ways to access more challenge in the classroom, as well as to “start over” and make positive behavior choices.
- Ask what resources/opportunities are available for differentiation in the classroom for high ability students: Schools have different approaches to meeting the needs of high ability students. Ask about what kinds of opportunities are available in the classroom and are/may be used to meet your child’s needs for challenge.
- Investigate Opportunities for Acceleration: If insufficient challenge is an ongoing issue for your child, the teacher or the principal may be able to provide information about other academic options, such as acceleration.* Are there opportunities for grade-level and/or content acceleration at your school? Is this an appropriate option for your child?
*For a recent study on the benefits of acceleration, see:
Assouline, Susan G., Susan G. Assouline, Nicholas Colangelo, and Miraca U. M. Gross. A Nation Empowered: Evidence Trumps the Excuses Holding Back America’s Brightest Students. IA City, IA: Connie Belin & Jacqueline N. Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development, U of Iowa, 2015. Print.