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Help a Mom: Bright sixth grader lacks motivation

Posted November 8, 2011

Today on Help a Mom, we're taking a question from a grandma, who is concerned about her 11-year-old granddaughter.

Here's what she wrote:

"My granddaughter is 11 years old and in sixth grade. She is smart and the students love her, but her teachers are having a difficult time with her.

She lacks motivation and organization. She has a short attention span, gets bored easily and seems to always forget to bring homework to class or bring it to school. Her parents try to teach her to be organized, but nothing seems to work.

This year, her math teacher says she raises her hand in class often and almost always gives the right answer, but does poorly on class exams. She reads well, at levels higher than most students her age so it's not that she doesn't understand the directions.

How do you teach someone to be motivated? Not sure if you can and it is so frustrating. We just don't know what to do at this point."

Do you have advice for this family? Please share in the comments box below. (If you don't see the comments box below, you'll need to log in or sign up for a WRAL account. You can do that by going to the top of the page and clicking on either "log in" or "register").

Help a Mom features questions from readers every Wednesday. If you have a question that you'd like to ask Go Ask Mom readers, click here to email it to me.


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  • melindahawkins Nov 15, 2011

    Request an evaluation for special needs services in writing if it has not been done or suggested by the school. They will be required to TEST her for potential issues as well... If you have questions about that process you can talk to the ECAC about having a child considered for special services in the school. they really are a great resource for any parent that has concerns about their children potentially needing extra services or accomodations in school that may pertain to special needs.

  • melindahawkins Nov 15, 2011

    My daughter is in 6th grade and she has a lot of the same issues, and she is considered to be ADHD and is possibly Aspergers (high functioning Autism). She has a 504 plan with the school to address these issues and she takes medication to help manage the attention span. It really has helped tremendously. If she does have some sort of undiagnosed issue like ADHD, she needs to be evaluated by the school and possibly her pediatrician to come up with an appropriate plan of action for her. I have two kids with ADHD and both forget their homework, both struggle horribly with organization, and seem to not be able to pay attention or listen. School can provide her with extra test taking time, coping mechanisms for test taking, breaks, and come up with a way that will help her stay organized, and being more proactive with teachers via email, or signing her agenda. Also there is SPAN to help keep track of grades and missing assignments. Hope this helps!!!

  • SaveEnergyMan Nov 9, 2011

    I was the same way in school - bored and disinterested. I much later learned I needed stress to perform well - so I stressed myself out by not studying or by rushing through tests. Didn't figure it out until late college that that was what I was doing. Now I see some of the same things in my 10 year old son.

    The point is to work with her and some professional help to establish structure and coping mechanisms (that hopefully don't involve rushing or not studying!). People learn in different ways and now is the time for her to figure out her style - and learn to play to her own strengths. Maybe her mom or dad had some of the same issues and can help, if they think about their childhood.

  • Mom2two Nov 9, 2011

    I agree that she should be tested for any type of learning disability. But it is also important to remember that for most 6th graders, a leap into middle school is a BIG CHANGE and can be very overwhelming. Just a change in the time they go to school can make a big difference (along with not getting enough sleep and possibly little time for exercise). I would suggest that the parents form a team with her teachers, outlying expectations for the child, and having weekly check-ins by email with the teachers to check on her progress. This DOES mean that parents have to sit down with their child each day to review their planner, and make a plan for which subject will be tackled first (and then what is 2nd, 3rd, etc.) When all is complete, the child is responsible for placing the material in her backpack in a location that it can be easily retrieved. It is extra work for all, but the child's success should be worth the time investment.

  • shall6 Nov 9, 2011

    From my inbox:
    "If child has any cell phones, i-touches, i-pods, electronic games of any kind...they are gone immediately. TV is gone immediately. child can earn back these items, slowly (with the least desired item earned back first) over a period of months as her responsiblity and grades improved.

    List out specifically, in writing, posted on the refridgerator what her responsibilites are and what the expectations are. There is no "I didn't know" recourse...just point to the document on the refridgerator.

    If child "forgets" homework then child goes to bed early (since forgetting your homework definately is a sign that your are not getting adequate rest).

    If the parents do not nip this in the bud now, they will have a horrendous problem on thier hands in High School."


  • sat123 Nov 9, 2011

    I'm not a mom, but she kind of sounds like me. I was a bright child, but have been diagnosed with ADD as an adult. Raising her hand in class may be helping her pay attention - if I didn't raise my hand, I probably wasn't going to stay actively engaged with the class. Testing is just question after question.

    You mention that she reads well, so her testing problems can't be from lack of understanding the questions. Well, it depends. Does she struggle with a particular subject or question formulation in particular? If she has ADD, she may get distracted from answering multi-part questions, or focus on one part of the question to the exclusion of the other parts.

    A non-medication recommendation that tends to help ADD people is LISTS! When she's answering a test question (assuming it's not multiple-choice), encourage her to physically check off or cross out portions of the prompt as she addresses them, to make sure she's answering all parts of the question.

  • kw00634 Nov 9, 2011

    continuing my previous thread....
    Gifted kids are highly prone to drug/alcohol abuse and dropping out of school because they are bored. Punishment does not always work. Communication is the key here. I used to drive my girls to school through high school just to have a few minutes of uninterrupted 'listen' time. No ipods, no radio ... just talking. What a godsend. Don't expect help from the schools (especially public schools) ... they have no idea about these kids. Your best bet is to reach out to parents (as you are here) who have been through it. There are a lot of resources out there depending on your child's passions, but you will need to dig them out. And be very pro-active. No one is going to hand you anything. You are good to be concerned now ... if not addressed now, it will get worse. Hope this helps.

  • kw00634 Nov 9, 2011

    I have two just like this! Both my girls were reading at 11th-12th grade levels in 1st grade. What you are describing is a highly gifted kid who is just bored out of her mind in school. She doesn't see the point. Mine were also highly creative and found the regurgitation of facts to be meaningless. One of mine is also clearly ADD, but not that you would want to medicate. You need to find the hook ... the one (or more) things that sparks her interest academically and creatively. Theatre was a great hook for mine. Academically challenging (to memorize Shakespeare and understand it) as well as challenging their creativity. Both of mine loved books and short stories ... not just reading but writing their own ... they are both published at this point. My younger daughter also loved animals and we translated this into volunteer opportunities to keep her time and mind challenged.
    Gifted kids are a lot more work for the parents than a lot of people of understand ... and they are

  • toffton Nov 9, 2011

    I was the same way when I in about 5th grade. Unorganized and unmotivated. I forgot or lost my homework. It was mostly because I was extremely bored. If your student isn't challenged they start to give up. It took a lot of my mom forcing me to stay organized, checking homework and making sure it was in my backpack. My teacher's made sure I had my own locker, so that the disorganization was minimized. Also never underestimate the power of meeting a goal. 2 Weeks with homework turned in equals a trip to the movies. If school performance isn't motivating her, find something that will. Also outside activities (sports, dance, gymnastics, etc) can help them learn to focus and can give them an outlet.

  • Twittyfan Nov 9, 2011

    I am an organized person and I have struggled with my daughter getting her things organized but this year has been a breeze and she is in 7th. They are preparing them for high school in 7th and stress how important it is to be organized so next year may be a great year for her. I do know my daughter did not test well and had some of the same signs as this child. I started taking my child to sylvan to get her some one on one help with math and that was the best thing and she has done very well in school. She learned the concept of how to do it and with her knowing how to do everything on paper made her more confident in herself and turned her around to love school more and she never had a problem paying attention again. it is so hard for students today because the teachers and students are stressed out about the tests like EOG etc. You may want to get with other parents because it could be the teacher.Best of luck.