In this post I describe the third of what I consider to be the five most important traits needed for success in school. By giving attention to these high-leverage behaviors and nurturing their development over time, teachers and parents can empower children to maximize their amazing potential.
Of course, no two children are alike, and not all high-achieving students will display the traits I am about to describe in the same way. Some of the following details may not be true of every successful student. My goal, then, is not to paint a picture of a single, rigid "type" that all children must emulate. Rather, it's to share the specific behaviors that, in my experience, have the greatest impact on a child's success. Focusing on these behaviors gives teachers and parents the greatest bang for our buck in our efforts to help children become better students.
I - Immediately Ask for Help When They Need It
In my previous post I described how successful students hold themselves to impressively high personal standards with regard to their work, effort, and behavior. These high personal standards also come into play when students encounter new material during instructional lessons and while reading. These children expect to understand academic content, and when they don't, it's as if an alarm bell goes off in their heads, and they immediately raise their hands to ask questions and gain clarity.
There are, of course, many reasons why children choose not to notify the teacher when they are confused. In my experience, I have found that the three most common reasons are that 1) kids may be shy, 2) they may be worried that their classmates will judge them, or 3) they may not be engaged enough in the lesson to identify what they "get" and don't yet get. Early in the school year, it's important to build with our students the type of classroom culture where everyone feels comfortable asking questions and seeking clarity without fear of embarrassment. As teachers, we model this for our students by openly admitting when there's something we don't understand and sharing times when we've needed to ask for help. If some kids are too shy to raise their hand in front of the whole class, then they definitely need to signal our attention during independent work time or some other time when they can interact with us one-on-one, away from the spotlight that's a part of whole-class lessons.
I believe that this trait may be the single most powerful differentiator between highly successful students and those who have yet to achieve consistent academic success. Everyone gets stuck at one point or another during class lessons, yet I find that it's almost always the most successful students who ask the vast majority of the questions. Not only do these kids ask the most questions, but also they ask the most specific ones. Their understanding of class concepts is usually very solid, and their need to achieve full understanding is so strong that they will ask questions to clarify highly specific points and close even the smallest gaps between their current understanding and full understanding. At the same time, children whose understanding is far less developed tend to be the least likely to raise their hands. I find this fascinating, and it's something that teachers need to address until everyone is comfortable asking for help freely. Successful students advocate for themselves.