Beat the Blahs

Originally Published: February 1998

This is a good time of year to take stock of what’s worked and what hasn’t. If your kids are not progressing in some area, or are generally complaining and putting out little effort, you will need to consider the materials in use and, equally as important, the method used in teaching. Sometimes resources do need to be replaced with something more appropriate. Often, however, adjustments to the pacing of the school day and the method used in teaching the information can make all the difference in helping a student experience success instead of continual frustration.


  1. Are the materials moving at a pace that is too fast? Too slow?

If too fast, stop and supplement with other materials and activities. If too slow, don’t assign anything already mastered. If you want to cover it for review, do it orally.

  1. Are the materials too difficult for him to understand?

If you want the student to study the subject at all independently, find another resource. Otherwise, teach the material in your own words through discussion, continuing to assign the problems or discuss the questions. In other words, teach from the materials, but consider them yours, not the student’s.

  1. Have there been distractions during school time that may have interfered with the student’s progress?

What distracts one child, may not be a problem for another. Many students have difficulty focusing on paper/pencil work, or even on listening to a speaker, if there are even slight distractions. Make a mental check-is the toddler napping or tended in another room during the periods of work that require the most effort from the student? Is the room he works in silent-no music, television, or other students to tempt into conversation? If the distractible student is in a room with others, is the teacher present to remind him to concentrate?

  1. Are the distractions minimal, but the student still has difficulty following written directions and completing written work?

Is the student a chatterbox? Does he try to be funny and the center of attention? Does he have plenty of excuses for everything he doesn’t do? Does he seem more intelligent than test scores indicate? Does it seem as if he has no sense of time?

These are possible characteristics of an auditory learner. In this case, the method of teaching may be the key:

  1. Tell the student what to do, rather than having him read instructions.
  2. Speak directly to the student, keeping directions simple and repeat them as needed.
  3. Let him tell you answers – use discussion – rather than asking for written answers.
  4. Read aloud to the student-literature, nonfiction-before asking comprehension questions. (Books on tape and videos save the teacher some time.)
  5. Explain steps clearly when he must solve a problem or complete a task requiring organization. (This will have to be done again and again.)
  6. During handwriting practice, be specific about what is expected: correct formation of letters, correct size of letters, proper space between words, writing left to right, leaving left and right margins of at least 1/2 inch, not writing in the bottom space (top and bottom margins.) Perception of space is sometimes difficult and these skills don’t seem to come quickly or easily. Supervise by checking work often so that he doesn’t spend much time doing something incorrectly. Require incorrect work to be done again.

As the student matures, increase written work as he is able. It may take continued reminding, but help him develop the habit of using lined paper with the holes on the left as side one, lining up work with the red line margin, leaving about 1/2 inch space on the right side (not running letters into the edge) and not writing in the very bottom space.

Auditory learners are not only easily distracted by sound, requiring a quiet place to work, but seem to always be looking for distractions. He is often sociable, and while he needs a quiet place, wants people around, and someone to talk to. It may help to assign handwriting in short doses followed by a lesson allowing him to talk!

By the time this student reaches junior high, he should be able to read and write a good deal. However, discussion is still important both for comprehension and enjoyment of learning. If he has trouble understanding something he has read, have him read it out loud. When studying for a test, have him tell you what he’s read. (You don’t need to comment-he just needs a sounding board.)

The junior-senior high student is still likely to need help in organization. His compositions may be witty and make use of an extensive vocabulary, but meander or include much that is not relevant to the point. His bedroom may still be a disaster, and his school materials left everywhere but where they should be. Simply add these to your list of continued goals. Progress may be slow, but with patient persistence, you can correct these weaknesses.

  1.  And finally, has the student had an opportunity to work in an area he finds interesting, he a way he enjoys (write a report, give a presentation, teach a lesson…), or does he spend hours every day reading books and filling out workbook pages?

Sometimes the student does not dislike the materials, he just needs something else, something he can really enjoy, to work on as well. For students who have clear goals in a sport or music, which, therefore, consumes a great deal of time and effort, are quite content with texts and workbooks because they want the school day trimmed to the basics. For kids without that focus, however, nothing but seatwork becomes tiring.

Hopefully, one or two of the ideas here will prove useful, enthusiasm will grow, and progress will once again move steadily forward.