It all Starts with a Pencil- What Makes a Great Student

It all Starts with a Pencil

When I look back on my middle and high school experience, it feels like I was in one of those dryers at the laundry mat where you can watch the various articles of clothing dry. That familiar whump whump, whump whump sound of the cycle of and hypnotic pattern whirling by. Most of the clothes would be dry by the end of the first cycle, but I was always that one stubborn sock that remained wet. What would you do? Some people would put the sock through the cycle again and become irritated when by some magical reason, the sock remained damp. Others would throw the sock away in irritation; who has time to do the same cycle all over again on one single sock? At school, I would get thrown into a study cycle with the other students. Most students would get what the cycle was supposed to do. Then there were those of us, that no matter how many times that cycle was run, we just didn’t follow the plan.

Working with kiddos that are struggling students is my passion. They may struggle because of learning/attention disabilities, giftedness, or they may simple need to look at studying in a new way. The common thread with each of these students is feelings of unease, defeat, and lack of confidence. The typical routine at school is: Listen, write, read, retain knowledge, do homework, take a test and repeat. Why should we as parents or educators expect these students to change their view of school, when everyday they are asked to approach school in the same way? Has this routine worked for struggling students so far? If it hasn’t, how do we break them out of this cycle?

I tell my students to stop looking at the large picture. If you are a struggling 7th grade student, what good will it do to look at the next 5 years you have of school? Instead I ask them, what is the one thing every good student needs? Typically, they respond by saying they need to be smarter, they need to be a teacher’s pet, they need more time in the day, or they need a better teacher. Notice these are all things that neither I, the child, nor a parent can control. I stop them, and I ask if they want a much easier answer. I then pull out the answer to all their problems. A pencil.

Why a pencil? When a student is asked what it takes to be a good student they immediately think of things outside of their control. They don’t believe they can ever be a good student. I work with the student to break down those ideas. What if the smallest thing a person needs to be a good student is a pencil? You show up everyday ready to write something down. The next question is, what else does a good student need? Now that the student gets the idea, they typically suggest things like a notebook, planner, paper, computer etc. As their Academic Coach, we look at what they are bringing to class right now. Do they have pencils, pens and a well-organized notebook? Usually the answer is no. We then form our plan for the week. For one week, can the student be a good student simply by bringing a pencil and notebook to every class? This sounds simple, but it gives the student a glimmer of hope that maybe there is a chance to change. I had one teacher pull me aside in the hallway at a middle school I interned at and say, “I don’t know what you told this student, but keep doing it.” The truth was, I didn’t tell him to do anything; we shifted his perspective.

If we talk to students to gain their perspective of what it is to be a good student, we may find another source of their frustration. Some students believe that a good student is one who earns straight A’s. If you are a student caught in the current cycle, would you feel you could ever achieve straight A’s? If not, what would be the point of trying? What if we encouraged our children to thrive in school? Instead of shooting for this “perfect imagine,” what if we worked on improvement? My philosophy as an Academic Coach, is that we work toward change each day. Working towards change is far better than standing still. That is why, I believe the start to breaking the cycle, is starting with something as simple as a pencil.

Stay on point,


Marni Pasch

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