Episode 6: If Your Teen's Grades Dropped For No Reason
LISTEN AND FOLLOW ON:
Students' grades dropping, even though they’re still putting in the same amount of effort, is a common yet often perplexing situation for many students and their parents.
This common challenge is especially prevalent when moving up from Years 7 & 8 into Years 9 & 10 and then again as they move into the Senior years.
If you’ve had this happen (or you just want to make sure it doesn’t happen!), then listen in for the two ‘behind-the scenes’ reasons why this happens - which have nothing to do with the subject content getting harder - and how to turn things around.
YOU WILL LEARN:
- Why 'what got them here, won't get them there'. What achieved success in Years 7 and 8 is not the same as what's required in high year levels.
- The subtle but super-important changes in requirements and demands of questions and their mark schemes as students move up through the years in high school and college.
- The two specific ways students need to operate at a different level (literally!) in Years 9 & 10 and then again in Senior Years.
You’re listening to the Parents of Hardworking Teen Podcast, episode 6 - and if you’ve ever had the situation where your teen’s grade have gone down as they move up through the year groups, even though they’re still putting in the same amount of effort, OR you just want to make sure it doesn’t happen, then stay tuned because I’m going to reveal the 2 behind-the scenes reasons why this happens - and I it has nothing to do with the subject content getting harder.
Hi VIP’s it’s mid year here in Australia and that means Semester reports and mid-year assessment results are coming through for many students and parents.
And what I’m hearing a lot right now in emails and in consults is that their teen is not getting the same grades as they were in lower year groups. Things seem to be slipping a bit as they’ve moved into a new year group. Something along the lines of, “well in Y7 and 8 they were getting A’s, but now, in Year 9 they’re getting Bs and Cs.”
Or my teen was always getting Bs and C’s up til Y10, but has had a couple of Ds already in Y11.
Now, this is not unusual, and I actually hear this a lot, every year. But it can feel like a bit of a mystery both to parents and to students. And it can be a little worrying for parents, and disappointing and confusing for students. After all, they didn’t suddenly become lazy, stop paying attention in class or stop doing their homework.
And we have to be careful, because when this happens, it can, if left unchecked, actually then lead TO those things... a lack of effort, less motivation or dedication. Because after all, if even when they are trying, they aren’t getting the grades they used to, then it’s not surprising that this can turn into feelings of … “what’s the point of putting in in all that effort?” or “maybe I’m not as good as I thought.” or the worst one I’ve heard “I’m dumb.” or “I’m just not smart enough.” Like their smartness was only Y8 or Y9 level of smart. They aren’t smart enough for the tougher subjects or high level courses.
And of course we want to make sure that negative spiral doesn’t happen.
So I want to share with you in this episode are the TWO main reasons the two things most likely happening if students find their grades drop as they move into a higher year group, even when their effort levels have stayed the same.
Number one is that what got students great grades in lower year groups, is not what’s required as they move further up. In other words, what got them here, won’t get them there.
For example, often in Y7 or Y8, students will get extra marks and credit for going over and above what is asked of them. Adding extra information in a project will get them bonus effort marks, red pen smiley faces or house points or positive feedback comments. Whereas, when students get into the senior years of Year 11, 12 or 13 , I’m constantly coaching them on how to only give what the exam question or essay title is looking for. The marking criteria become much more strict and there are no smiley faces for extra things that weren’t asked for. In fact it will more likely result in the comment of - you’ve gone off track here’. Going beyond the specific scope of a question or task won’t earn them any credit, and actually could be detrimental - for example, it could mean that they don’t actually have a ‘sustained argument’ in an essay, or it could simply be they’re using up word count or exam time on that needed to be allocated elsewhere.
But the more subtle, but SUPER important reason - is the change in the cognitions of the tasks, assignments and exam Qs they’re being set.
So, if we take that example of the Year 7 or 8 project, very likely, they were having to describe and explain information. Perhaps writing a book review and explaining what made it a good book, or explaining how a character changed or taught us a lesson about life. Maybe for History they were describing a period in History - what people wore, what jobs they did, who the rulers were, how society was organised. All descriptive information. And in Science, they might be describing and explaining tectonic processes or stating the different types of forces or the characteristics of different elements.
But, as we move up the years, the requirements of assessment tasks and exam questions and even of textbook or homework questions, move higher up the cognitions, up the levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy and require more advanced levels of COGNITIVE ability.
So , instead of just describing and explaining, as students progress, the expectation is that they will operate at the higher levels of apply, analyse, evaluate and create. I train students in this as command words and the levels of different commands. Command words go from state or define or describe at the bottom levels most frequently found in Years 7 and 8, up through explain, account for, up to analyse and compare and contrast and then at the top, those extended response and essay level commands like ‘to what extent’.
And this change in commands and the levels of them is a very structured system that the people who write the curriculum and text books, teachers who are writing assessments, and the examiners who write exams all use and refer to.
However, the problem is that students, are VERY rarely ever told explicitly that this is the case and EVEN less likely to have it explained or be trained in all this, so that they actually know HOW to do it - HOW to operate and produce work at these higher levels. Some students are told about them, what they are, but still aren’t totally sure of how to really respond differently. Which is why it’s one of the biggest things I love to train students in EXPLICITLY. It’s kind of subtly dripped in for students, or they’re just kind of expected to ‘get it’ and uplevel themselves and their answers, but its very rarely explicitly taught to students.
This is one of the reasons why I say my 10 Week Grade Transformation Program is aimed at students in Y9 upwards, because it is often enough to produce work at the ‘describe’ and ‘explain’ levels in Years 7 and 8 and to some extent also Y9, where you’d probably be able to still achieve C’s just with that sort of level of info.
However, as students move into Y10 and the Senior years, they are expected (even if they’re not actually told- Which is why I’ve made it MY job to tell and explain this to students!) they are expected to be providing responses and undertaking investigations and inquiries at the ‘analysis’, ‘application’ and ‘evaluation’ levels.
That’s why they might get the feedback ‘add more detail’ but writing more facts and descriptive info won’t work. More detail actually means moving up those cognitions, up those levels of Blooms’ Taxonomy. It does not mean tell me more facts. And a beautiful front cover or slide design may be a part of the quality of the delivery or having an engaging presentation if that is a part of the marking guide, but it will be a TINY part in relation to the actual content and the significant differences in the levels of response.
A really significant change that I see happen from Year 8 to 9 and definitely into Year 10 is the requirement to analyse.
Students need to move from explaining to analysing - and the difference between those two command words is bigger than many students and parents realise.
As I’ve said before, if your teen isn’t TOTALLY clear on the difference between those two commands, then getting that in place will make a huge difference to their results.
I like to simplify it to there being two steps to an explanation - they need to link two things together, like cause and effect- and three steps to analysis: evidence, explain and then the IMPACT. For example in a novel, here is the quote, explain why or how it was used, and then what is the IMPACT on the audience - how does it make them think or feel in relation to the topic of the question. Or with data, state the statistic, explain how or why it occurred, or what the relationship is, and then what is the impact on the conclusion? How does it prove of disprove the original hypothesis. And this can be applied in ANY subject for analysis at ANY level.
And another significant change is then moving into the senior years - ATAR in Australia, A-Levels in the UK, the IB Diploma, where there will be a lot more questions and assessments at the evaluate level. In fact, if your teen ever has to come up with their own inquiry question or idea for an investigation, which often happens these days with coursework and internal assessments, I actually encourage high achieving students to pitch their questions at this level so they give themselves access to the highest marking criteria. But that’s a whole podcast episode in itself. So what I’ll say here, is simply that evaluate is where questions that start with ‘to what extent’ come in, or give a statement and then finish with ‘do you agree’?
They require judgement AND they require analysis in order to make that judgement. Like I said, I’ll probably go into these specific levels of commands in more detail on a future podcast. But hopefully you can see why this is a big level up for students. How their responsews really need to take account of these changes in the wording of questions - and how it’s possible that many students and parents don’t even realise this is happening.
And if you’d like to learn more about this and get lots more insights into how your teen can uplevel their performance in exams and assessments, from the 18th to the 22nd July, I’m going to be hosting a 5 day Facebook Group for parents of teens aiming high in exams - where I’ll be sharing - for free - some of my very best and most effective techniques and proven strategies each day from Monday to Friday. Make sure you’re on my email list to get your invite - just sign up for the free guide on the website www.rocksolidstudy.com and you’ll be added to my list - and of course you’ll receive the free guide which will be a great place to start with all this.
And through the 5 days, as well as other critical skills and concepts, I’m going to explain what these command levels are, how they all fit together and what they look like with real Qs from exams and textbooks.
Because, I want you and your teen to know that if this is happening or has happened, I want you to know that it’s NOT that they’ve just gradually gotten worse at Science, or they’ve just stopped being good at History.
Or that they’ve stopped concentrating or working hard along the way. There are other factors and subtle but significant changes and expectations at play here. The changes in expectations and marking criteria PLUS the differences in levels of cognitive ability required are REALLY important are not as easy to be aware of when the usual focus is more on the actual subject knowledge and the content. And if your teen is in this position, and they haven’t yet found a way to get back to where they were, or they’re trying to do it by studying in a way that’s just not sustainable, by just trying to study harder and later each night, then the good news is that it is likely NOT that they need to learn more subject content, they more likely need to master mark schemes and truly understand the different levels of commands, not just knows not just what they are, but critically HOW - there’s that HOW again! - how to identify them in any question and then how to respond to them. You’ll be so surprised at how quickly things turn around and get back to and most likely even beyond their previous levels of performance once they have those skills.
And these are skills that can be learned. So if you’d like your teen be trained in this and much more, then get them enrolled in the 10 Week Grade Transformation Program. And if you’d like to learn more yourself about what goes on behind the scenes with all this, then look out for your invite to my 5 day free parent event: It’s called Parents of Teens Aiming High in Exams and will run in a private Facebook Group from the 18th to 22nd July. And don’t worry if you’re not on Facebook - there’ll be a private web page where we’ll put all the recordings from each day’s session as well, so you can definitely still get in on this.
So I hope to see you at that event soon and if you resonate with anything I’ve talked about in this episode, please email me and tell me your experience and your thoughts on the two reasons I explained. And in the mean time, I’ll see you back here on the podcast again next week.