Guiding high performance students through academic blunders

26 August 2015 The Alchemy Team

We all make mistakes. All of us. There are those mistakes that have a significant impact upon our life, but luckily, most mistakes we make are fairly insignificant in the scheme of things. Sure, that’s an easy statement to make, because I know that at the time it can feel like your world is crumbling around you, but a few days later it will hopefully be a faint memory that will soon become just a story to one day share with friends.

I want to talk specifically about when high performing students make mistakes because they are the ones who usually feel them the hardest. As a private tutor, in the last ten years I have worked with every type of student you could think of – Type X, who couldn’t care one bit less about school, Type Y, who wants to do well but really struggles with the concepts, and Type Z, the A-range student who just wants fine tuning. Of those three it is the latter who will take the longest to bounce back from a mistake they make. They put just as much pressure on themselves to perform as there might be from external sources, so a mistake is perceived as a failure in their eyes.

To a high performing student, their academic ability (and result) is part of their identity. If they mess up an exam or assessment it can be a huge hit to their confidence and self esteem, and in some cases, if it is left unaddressed can lead to a downward spiral of disappointment which will often reveal itself in disinterest, social isolation or academic withdrawal. It is crucial that if your child falls in to the high performance category that you are there to support them when they make mistakes at school and show them that there are lessons to be learnt.

Here are the 5 steps I use with my A-range students when an exam or assessment doesn’t go to plan:

1. Remind them that mistakes are universal.
The chances are that they will be feeling lonely and isolated – like they are the only ones stupid enough to make that mistake. Step one is reminding them that they are not alone – that we all make mistakes. I will share with them some of my own failings so they can see that these things happen to everyone.

2. Identify exactly what went wrong.
This an important process as it can help the student pinpoint the reasons for the disappointment. This is also something they can work on to ensure it doesn’t happen again. It could be time management or crafting a stronger argument; whatever it is, it needs to be actionable and improvable.

3. Reassure them of their strengths.
I remind them of what they are good at. At times of discouragement it is really important to let them know that you think they are amazing and capable.

4. Let them know I am there for them.
As mentioned, they will probably be feeling alone, so knowing they have someone who is on their side makes a huge difference. I am someone they can trust and depend on. I equally trust them and believe in their ability. Note – this is a unique benefit that a private tutor can bring – a parent will often be seen as disappointed, but the private tutor is in their court standing with them.

5. Let them know that they are more than their mark.
This is not always what they want to hear, but it is worth letting them know that they are far more valuable than the mark they receive. An ATAR does not define the future, and high performing students will often forget this.

As I said, it is important that when things go wrong at school that this is swiftly addressed. Failure to do so can result in much deeper problems for high performing students. These 5 steps will ensure they learn from their mistakes and bounce back stronger next time.
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