Okay so just about a week after I wrote the article on a technique for curing test anxiety I encountered a new student who had all the classic signs. The Student seemed very bright, capable and hardworking yet of course completely flunked the first test they took. I offered the student a bit of tutoring after school and found that in fact the students math skills were very strong, and working on the assignment was not difficult for them at all. I taught the student how to overcome Test Anxiety, The student did all that I asked, studied hard and insulted the test, but yet still received an F.
Grade Anxiety Discovered
Because I just wrote an article on test anxiety I was determined that I could help this student. The parents also were concered and I had several conversations on the phone and in person trying to figure out what was going on. One of the parents was particularly concerned and told me that the student had a history of doing poorly in math ever since elementary school. The parent was quite nice to talk to and wanted the best for the student but I began to see a pattern in the conversations and in the behavior of the student that there was a lot of pressure being put on the student to perform gradewise. I knew I had discovered a new element to Test Anxiety, this student was not affraid of the test they were afraid of getting a bad grade.
Grade Anxiety Explained
Grade Anxiety Is a Kind of Test Anxiety that is Isolated more to the students fear of getting a bad grade. I think most students to a certain degree fear a bad grade but this is much more intense than the Typical “I don’t want an F” There is something more driving it like disapointing a parent or “I always get F’s on in Math.” It is accompanied by the same symptoms as test anxiety, Studying hard, working hard, understanding, doing well on homework, yet failing tests inexplicably. You might even be able to detect an anxiousness in the students body language and voice when you talk about about the test or their grade with them one on one. If this is the case I would read the article on Test Anxiety (pt 1) and try doing that first. If that doesn’t work read on for the cure.
Curing Grade Anxiety
Step 1: Create a positive association with doing their math work. Before I became a teacher I had delusions that I could be a salesman. In the process I became interested in the motivational speaker Tony Robins. On one of his tapes he is explaining one of his techniques and describes a student who always gets F’s and his parents made an appointment with the speaker. Tony sat down with him and started to talk with him about how he felt about school. The child’s body language tightened up and his demeanor changed, and so Tony started asking him what he liked to do and the answer was skateboarding I think. So tony kept talking to him about skateboarding and then he brought up school and then he brought up skateboarding and then back to school and soon the child’s feelings for skateboarding started to bleed over into talking about school. Tony also told the child that he thought he was very bright and intelligent and his grades and the huge file of paperwork the child brought with him didn’t reflect him at all and he tore all the information from other counselors and teacher right in front of him and threw them away. The child got A’s and B’s from then on. Now Tony is Tony and you might not have the same dramatic impact on a student in a half hour conversation but it is the first step to talk to the grade anxiety student in a similar manner. as they work some problems get them to talk about a subject they feel good about. Just ask them what they like to do for fun and get them to talk about it during a one on one session of doing math problems. You will probably see their body language change as they do the problems.
Step 2: Remove the Grade from the Test. This step takes a bit of faith but if you want to cure them you MUST do it. To do it work with the student one on one. (10-15 minutes after school a couple days a week will be enough most likely). Work with them specifically on the material that will be on the upcoming test and make sure they understand it to your satisfaction. Then tell them that because they put in extra time and you know that they did well you are going to give them an A on the next test, but, they can’t tell anyone not even their parents it will be a little secret, tell them that when they take the test it is really just a practice assignment because they already have an A. Then on test day give them the test like everyone else but subtly remind them of your deal. Then sit back and watch the magic. No matter what they get give them the A like you said you would but they will probably earn an A or B on their own. Make sure to make a big deal about it praise them give them their test to take home to show the person who was pressuring them call their parents and tell them how proud you are etc.
Step 3: Remove the safety net. Don’t do this too soon but when you are confident the student is ready remove the safety net of the A you are giving them. Don’t do this too soon because if the student fails again it may make the whole thing worse. you migh consider slowly lowering your free grade to a B at first and Then to C so the safety net is still there but have the opportunity to do even better than the safety net. This way they will feel like they can earn the grade on their own and thus they have the confidence to perform even if the pressure is there.
One More thing
One more thing: This will take some good judgement on your part. If the parents are the source of the grade pressure you may want to call them and explain what is going on with the student and ask them if they will help by not talking about their math (or watever subject) grade for a while. Perhaps you might even suggest that they not help the student whith their homework at all untill the student feels confident on their own. This is a bit risky in that you could offend the parents (not a good idea for you or the student you are trying to help), so you need to make sure you have the rapport witht the parents and have a good feeling that they will take your request as trying to help and not trying to meddle in their parenting.
Give it a shot, Let me know if it works for you! Happy teaching!