Bad grades: How best should parents give feedback?

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Students will soon be breaking off for holidays, and as the tradition, each will be given a report card indicating how they have performed. Also in these report cards will be remarks on the child’s general conduct at school.

However, most parents react negatively when their children have not performed well. Education Times’ Lydia Atieno explores how such remarks affect the wellbeing of such students and what the best approach towards this matter should be.

What’s expected of parents?

Lillian Mbabazi, a teacher at Little Angels in Kicukiro, Kigali, believes that whether a student has performed well or poorly, teachers should be mindful about the comments they write on a learner’s report card.

For instance, she points out that if a child has performed poorly, giving a positive advisory comment can motivate a parent to help this child to improve next time.

“A parent can feel overwhelmed and thus find it hard to help their children if the recommendation from the teacher is negative. But a parent can be more willing to co-operate and get more involved if the comment concerning their children’s weakness is a positive one,” she says.

Mbabazi, however adds that stating a child’s strength first then followed with their weakness is more ideal. She asserts that the weak part should still be expressed in a constructive way that shows all hope is not lost.

On the other hand, Fred Atinga, the deputy principal-academics at Riviera High School, Kigali, is of the view that a report card should have information on the child’s ability, effort and achievement.

He says, if a child of high ability underperforms then both the school and child need to be held to account, adding that the parent is encouraged to consult with the school instead of starting a fight.

For struggling students who put commendable effort in their work, Atinga says parents should by all means appreciate more the effort than just focusing on the grade scored.

Paul Swagga, a tutor at Akilah Institute for Women in Kibagabaga, Kigali, says parents should engage their children in discussions about the latter’s performance, as well as ensure that the children feel free to explain the trends in their performance.

“Even if the performance is not good, as a parent, you should be in a position to first listen to the analysis of your child. Thereafter, guiding them on how to set smart goals for better performance is important,” he says.

Swagga adds that it’s better to assure children that they are capable of performing better if they stick to their goals. Also, encouraging them to set action plans which can enable them to achieve their goals is essential.

Further, Swagga points out that carrying out regular visits to your child’s school may also enable the parent to determine what may be causing the undesirable performance of the child.

John Nzayisenge, the director, Good Harvest School in Kigali, says most of the parents, who react negatively when their children perform poorly, do so because they haven’t been making a close follow-up on their child, and as a result, they get surprised by the results.

“The best approach is to make a close follow-up before the end of the term. This will enable you to talk to teachers and find out how the child is progressing, which gives the parent a clear picture of what to expect,” he says.

Nzayisenge adds that sitting with both the teacher and child to discuss solutions to what could have caused poor performance is important.

How negative feedback affects students

“Negative reaction only shut doors for positive progress. Learners are affected by many factors, some of which include parenting. Before reacting negatively, it’s important for parents to do self-evaluation,” says Atinga.

However, Swagga says criticising students whenever they do not perform to the expectations of the parents demoralises them, leaving some of them to think that their parents do not acknowledge their efforts.

“Much as it’s good for parents to demand for accountability from their children, it’s counterproductive if the parent exerts a lot of pressure on the child when their performance is not good,” he says.

Sometimes the poor performance may be caused by other factors beyond the child’s control, like high turnover of teachers in the school or inadequate teaching materials, Swagga adds.

“Parents ought to establish the conditions at school by listening to their children’s views and talking to teachers and school administrators,” he says.

Besides, Swagga says putting pressure on a child because they didn’t perform well can make them develop trauma, which can result in total failure.

For Dr Charles Mudenge, a psychiatrist at the University Teaching Hospital of Butare (CHUB), there are many factors that influence a child’s performing at school.

For instance, he points out that the environment where the child comes from and also at school, family issues, as well as the friends the child has are the main things that should be assessed first before pointing a finger at the child or school.

“The best way to approach this as a parent is to first be close to their children and try to find out what could be the reason behind weak performance. Secondly, after identifying where the problem is, being on their side and motivating them can work wonders to this child’s next performance,” says Mudenge.

He notes that showing a bad attitude and negative reaction simply because the child has not performed well does not help because they will feel demoralised, which also lowers their self-esteem.