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Question: No matter what I try to do, I can't get my son to care more about doing his best in school. I know if he just tried harder, he would do better. What can I do?

Answer: There's no magic solution, but two things to consider include making sure the demands in school are appropriately challenging and that he understands his own learning style. Also, sometimes kid's explanations for why they did well or poorly are maladaptive, which leads them to put in less effort on the next assignment or test. Some of the scientific theory explaining kid's Attribution can be found here. Some concrete suggestions of things you can do to help keep your son motivated are here.

Study Session
Question: I got a note I got from Evan's teacher earlier this week. The problem is memorizing basic addition and subtraction facts to make more advanced calculations easier. When I have worked on it with him, I think he is struggling with the part where you cross out the 10's place and reduce it by 1 to make the ones place a 10, etc. Visually it gets cluttered, and there is just a lot going on with all that crossing out, carrying digits over, etc. I suspect that if he does not have auto recall on the basics, it slows him down more because he has to think about calculating that, count on fingers, etc. My husband and I both tried the subtraction flash cards on different nights this week and he re-calculates the answer every time instead of having automatic recall. What can I do?

Answer: The way to overcome math procedural errors and fact retrieval automaticity is not drill alone. It feels like banging your head against a wall! Instead, I use kids' processing strengths to scaffold these weaknesses. Specifically, I would build on some of Evan's strong language skills to help talk himself through the problematic procedures; for instance, when regrouping: "More on the Floor? Go next door" (or even better is a phrase he comes up with). In terms of subtraction fact retrieval, kinesthetic routes work well for many kids (e.g., touch math) or spatial skills to visualize facts (e.g., sometimes I cut off the end of an egg carton so it's 2 x 5 and place marbles into 4 cups to visualize 10 - 6 = 4. Then he can try revisualizing them with his eyes closed). Regardless of the approach, work with Evan, like fellow scientists in learning, to see what makes math meaningful, and makes numbers stick.

Question: My school just recommended that I don't get a private evaluation because they do the same thing at school, and it's free. Is that right?

Answer: In my experience, private evaluations and those conducted in the school have a different intention, a different depth, and a different breadth. Many school evaluations are aimed at determining eligibility for special education (a "gatekeeper" function), as opposed to private evaluations that can examine learning strengths and weaknesses (a sense of what's happening "under the hood") and secondarily consider support options to address weaker areas. Also, while I might make the same choices in their shoes, in-school psychologists are constrained by caseload, time and budget constraints, and the prevailing educational model du jour (see RTI), whereas private evaluations can be more child-based.

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