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Praise Achievement or Criticise lack of effort?

(25 Posts)
Lemen Thu 23-Feb-17 15:48:34

Not something that is keeping me awake at night, but I have a small dilemma about what to do regarding DS and I wondered if anyone has any advice?

DS is 14 / year 10 and very good at maths. Last year he got a merit on the Grey kangaroo with no prep at all for the first round on UKMT and only a quick run through of a past paper for the kangaroo round.
The issue is that he never has to make any effort at all for maths. Added to that, the school are preparing everyone for GCSE and so far there's been nothing that DS hasn't known for a long time. Other subjects - like English - require some work, but he doesn't exactly work hard at school IMO in any subject.
So, UKMT is the only thing where he could challenge himself, if he wanted to. I wanted him to try to get into the Olympiad just as something to aim for. Maybe he could achieve it, maybe he's not good enough but I wanted him to put in a bit of effort just for the sake of knowing what it is to try hard. Anyway, he wouldn't and now that the results are back he's got a gold medal and grey kangaroo entry.
He couldn't even be bothered to go and find out how he did. The other DC in the school scorn those who "try hard"? So there's no support there.

So, the HoY mentioned DS's high score in an assembly and he's quite pleased, which makes a nice change from the usual shrugging indifference.
He wants me to make him his favourite dinner tonight to recognise his achievement. If he'd put in a bit of effort, i'd be glad to, even if the score wasn't that great but I'm actually concerned that the attitude he's been displaying recently is going to turn round and bite him one day when he is actually required to break into a sweat, and the results matter.
So, should I reward achievement without effort or rain on his parade and tell him that what is a very good level of attainment isn't good enough because he could have done better if he'd tried?

GoodyGoodyGumdrops Thu 23-Feb-17 16:14:30

I think I would leave this one. Give him the special meal, but go no further than to say "If this is what you can achieve with no effort, I wonder what you could achieve if you really put the effort in?" But in a positive, not a critical way.

I was in a similar position with my ds at that age. Everything seems to come easily to him, and he was getting a bit slapdash - just doing as much as necessary to get a decent mark.

Two things changed: one was that I talked to his Form Tutor, she had noticed his attitude in her subject, and investigated with his other subject teachers. Result was that they started throwing more at him. Not just in lessons, but extra-c, too. So ds was asked to tutor Y7s and Y8s who needed extra help in Maths and Science; he was used by staff as a runner and visitor mentor - deliberately taking him out of lessons so that he would have to find out what he had more asked and make the effort to catch up; he's a techie, so they involved him in the tech side of performances across the school, again off-timetable. The other thing was that a new child joined the school, who was better than him in some subjects, and was much younger than him. This really fired ds's competitive streak!

Meanwhile dh and I were challenging him outside school, with various clubs as well as asking him difficult questions. We also let him série rewarding younger siblings. When ds asked why he didn't get a reward for xyz, despite getting a higher achievement, our response was "How much effort did you put into getting that achievement?"

It paid off, and 2y later ds challenges himself. He now rarely judges how well he has done by being interested in what others have achieved. Instead his aim is generally to achieve a higher mark than last time.

GoodyGoodyGumdrops Thu 23-Feb-17 16:16:03

Typos blushhmm

Lemen Thu 23-Feb-17 16:59:49

That's good advice. Thank you. Its really useful to hear from people who've been there, done that, got the t-shirt.
It was worried I'd be accused of stealth boasting. Or first world problems! So, I'm especially grateful for sound advice instead.

JustRichmal Fri 24-Feb-17 08:28:28

Set some time aside to talk to him and most importantly to listen to him: What does he want to do for a career? Why does he not want to put in effort? Is it peer pressure, a feeling that if he tries and fails he will have to face having failed to achieve his goal? What challenges would he like? If he were a parent, what advice would he give?

A lot is going on in teenage years and what teenagers need most is to know there is someone to listen and help them make decisions, rather than telling him how to improve.

GoodyGoodyGumdrops Fri 24-Feb-17 09:09:14

JustRichmal makes good points. You have to decide what approach, or combination of approaches, fit better for your ds's personality.

Lemen Fri 24-Feb-17 09:42:36

We had a chat, I ressured him that its his life so his choice and his DF and I will support him in his decisions and help him make them to the extent that he wants our help. Then i asked a lot of those questions.

Q: What would you like to do as a career? Or degree? Or A levels? (I didn't put it like that).
A: Don't know, don't know and not sure about A levels. Definitely Maths A level, definitely not English. Not keen on science. Maybe a MFL and either History or Geography? But don't know really.

Q: I know you don't take well to not doing well. Maybe you should play to your strengths for your day job and then have lots of interests in your spare time?
A: Yes, that makes sense.

Q: Why didn't you challenge yourself to do well on the UKMT paper?
A: It seemed like an effort for no gain. I mean, what's the point? I'll still have to sit in class every day doing the same old stuff. Do you know what we've been doing this week? Sin, cos and tan ... again! We spent an hour today saying which was the opposite, which was the adjacent and which was the hypotenuse. Some people still don't get it. What's wrong with them?? We've got a student teacher and she's sooo boring. I tried rolling my eyes and putting my face in my hands with my elbows on the table but she didn't take the hint.

and then he trailed off clearly feeling irrelevant to the decision about what the class does and that no one cares about him so why should he care about them?

GoodyGoodyGumdrops Fri 24-Feb-17 10:30:28

Do they set at school? He sounds desperately bored.

JustRichmal Fri 24-Feb-17 10:39:54

Well, all I can say is I sympathise with him over the maths lessons. I used to have dd coming home in tears over the boredom turning her favourite subject into a trial of tedium. Is he in the highest set or could he be put into a more higher set? Is working on maths at a higher level at home something he would like doing?

It can be difficult with teenagers to get them talking sometimes. It can sometimes seem that trying harder to talk just seems to push them away. I think just let them know you will listen and keep gently encouraging him to do well in his GCSEs and see these are key to giving him more choices for his future.

Lemen Fri 24-Feb-17 12:57:45

Yes, they set. There are 8 sets and he's in the top one.

TBH I was a little surprised that top set maths students could spend an hour trying to revise basic trigonometry and still not have worked it out, but I believe DS so the class must have quite a wide ability range.

DS is perhaps unusually able at maths. I suppose it would be hard to find a bunch of similarly able students in a comprehensive. You might be lucky and get one or two others, but the chances of finding enough to justify a challenging maths lesson aren't high.

So, he is bored and even though 14 sounds terribly grown up when your Dc are 6, they still have a limited world view that doesn't really see that far into the future or much outside the bubble that is their school. Its a lot to ask DS to plan his own future when his entire experience of the world is limited to home life, friends, nursery, primary school and secondary.

GoodyGoodyGumdrops Fri 24-Feb-17 14:06:44

Unfortunately, he is, in a way, irrelevant to the decision about what the class does. We're lucky in that our school pushes for every pupil to achieve their personal best, but I know that not all schools are like that. In some, the brightest pupils are relied upon to do well enough, and the focus is on getting the less able to achieve a minimum standard.

Have you spoken to the school about your ds? What is their attitude? His progressive disengagement is worrying.

What are his interests?

Lemen Fri 24-Feb-17 17:12:27

He's targeted for a level 9, and unless he can't be bothered checking over the paper for not having read the question properly etc, then he should definitely get it.

So, if the school's objective is to get students through the GCSEs at as good a grade as possible, if that's what the government pays them for, then its job done.

DS's teacher is also HoD for maths, and she knows that DS is not being challenged. Last year's teacher knew too. They both acknowledged it at parents evening and both said that they have nothing to offer by way of challenge. DS's current teacher even said she appreciates how DS doesn't make a fuss about always being given work that is far too easy for him.

The teacher hasn't said anything the indicates she is aware of DS's disengagement, apart from suggesting that he take more care to always get 100% by reading the question properly every time in exams. I don't know if the school is aware or not. The teachers seem to sympathise with DS given their spontaneous remarks about how easy the work is for him.

I could contact the teacher seperately, but unless the school can and would do soemthign about it, then what would be the point? Until now, we've just told DS to regard maths lessons as an easy hour each day and to save his energy for English,

DS's interests are really general knowledge - history, geography, politics, psychology etc and football. He's got an encyclopedic knowledge of football. John McDonnell was being interviewed on the radio this morning and DS recognised his voice even though I switched the radio on after the introduction. He recognised Nick Robinson's voice too even though I don't usually put on radio 4. Then DS was able to give a view about why Labour lost in Copeland and what Stoke means for UKIP. That's the sort of level of general knowledge that DS applies to a wide range of stuff, which I don't think is that common amongst 14 year olds.

GoodyGoodyGumdrops Fri 24-Feb-17 17:35:00

Yes, you have an unusual 14yo! (And quite young in his year, I suspect, as my 14yo is in Y9.) What a fabulous range of interests he has.

Sadly, I think your school probably have the good-enough attitude: even if ds doesn't hit a 9, he'll still get a very high mark, so there's no quantifiable benefit in throwing more resources at him.

Not sure what to suggest. Was hoping you would say that he had an interest compatible with Maths, that the school might permit him to study independently during maths lessons.

Google 'Potential Plus'. They used to be called the National Association For Gifted Children, and have a lot of experience with these situations.

Witchend Sat 25-Feb-17 00:51:58

I'm not quite sure how you've reached the conclusion he didn't try in the maths challenge.

I assume there probably are schools that train them up for the maths challenge and do lots of preparation, but I've never come across them in several schools.
For my dc they go and do it one morning and see how they've done. There's no practice other than if they sat last year's one. They usually get 4-5 sitting the Olympiad in dd1's year not sure about dd2 as she hasn't got that far yet.

Saying he did well, but you think he could have put effort in and done better does sound a bit like asking what happened to the 1% when he's scored 99%.
The not going to find out how he did could be he couldn't be bothered, could be not wanting to be teased about doing well, but equally well could be that he really wanted to do well and was afraid he would be disappointed.

I'd have thought if you wanted to encourage him to put the effort in making a certain amount of praise about his achievement might make him want to do better next time. Saying well he didn't put the effort in, he may well think that he might as well not bother.

KeyserSophie Sat 25-Feb-17 01:20:57

I think this can be the issue with schools without a culture of aspiration. I was similar to your son ( different subject) and tbh I was already getting quite a bit of 'boff', 'swot' stuff so wouldn't be sticking my head any further above the parapet. Like your son, I was already acing it in my subject ( by my school's standard) so why do more? I think the problem with that, as it developed for me is that even though I did make Oxbridge, I found it really hard to get out of a culture of doing a bare minimum so I probably did underperform at Undergrad and even into the first few years of working. The thing is that I am not and never have been, a lazy person. I just couldn't get out of the mindset of not appearing to be 'keen'.

Lemen Sat 25-Feb-17 06:25:32

@Witchend the answer to your question is that he didn't try some sample questions first. The school doesn't train them up but I wouldn't expect it to.
Only 500 across the UK qualify for the Olympiad so your school must be very unusually high represented to take multiple places each year.

Lemen Sat 25-Feb-17 06:35:56

@KeyserSophie that's a really interesting post. DS tells me he's lazy but I think he's being hard on himself because I don't see much evidence of it, school work aside.
Apparently, the new name for "swots" is "try hards" and it's definitely a perjorative term and something to be avoided being called. I have some sympathy with DS there but it is frustrating that he complains of the boredom he experiences in maths classes but then won't take a once a year challenge when he gets the chance.
As an aside, "special" has also become a perjorative term, apparently, which I guess is the unintended consequence of giving a well meaning catch all name to ADHD etc

SallyInSweden Sat 25-Feb-17 07:11:35

I think you should tackle the fact he is a victim of peer pressure.

"Try Hard" like swot, is a way of manipulating your friends to being as shit as you are.
Seriously can you get him to try to see the manipulative aspect of it, and to stop perpetuating it among his own friends who maybe do need to work hard to do well.

Of course the other thing he will find out, is that a surprising number of those who bleat Try Hard at others, will be using it a diversionary tactic to the fact of their own paid for extra tuition. (I.e. They too are try hards but are snakes about it)

I would start to get him to think about rowing his own boat, and making his own decisions, without being a sucker.
I would have long since lost my shit over this.

BertrandRussell Sat 25-Feb-17 07:23:41

A couple of things- I don't can be anything to do with not wanting to be labeled a swot or something like that if he was pleased that his maths achievement was read out in assembly, surely?

And I thought that the Maths Olympiad thing just "happened"- not something you prepare for. Or is that just our school?

And I would always go direct to the teacher with an issue like this. There is always some sort of extension work that can be offered. It may not be very inspiring- if he's level 9 standard already then it might be difficult. But they must b able to find him something to do!

Lemen Sat 25-Feb-17 07:54:26

Bertrand - the school doesn't prepare them for ukmt but you can loosen the rusty bolts in your brain by doing a couple of past papers from the ukmt website.

The teachers know. It's not even that they are ok with it but given that they seem to think sympathy and appreciation that DS takes it so well is the appropriate response, then I'm thinking that they are out of options. And, well, it is a comprehensive so they do have lots of kids whose grades will improve if the teachers give them their attention instead.
@SallyinSweden as far as I can tell the attitude is widespread. My other DC report exactly the same. It's not good but the school supposedly is.
It's not just my DCs friends. I think they have quite a nice bunch of friends, but I know what you mean.

BertrandRussell Sat 25-Feb-17 08:46:12

"think you should tackle the fact he is a victim of peer pressure"

Is he? His achievement was read out at assembly and he was pleased. Doesn't sound as if he's getting "swot" type hassle.

Lumen- what would you like the school to do?

OutwiththeOutCrowd Sat 25-Feb-17 09:05:52


Like you, I have a DS of 14 in Y10 who took part in the UKMT maths challenge and got a gold certificate but didn’t qualify for the Olympiad. He didn’t prepare for the challenge. I’d quite like him to look at Kangaroo past paper questions now, but I don’t think it’ll happen!

Nevertheless, I said ‘well done’ and gave him a hug when he told me his result. He thought the challenge was ‘fun’ and I’ve no reason to think he didn’t put effort in on the day.

Are you sure that your DS didn’t have a good go at it? I think a kangaroo-level result or just scraping Olympiad qualification is about the most you could hope for coming into the competition ‘cold’.

I’ve looked at the UKMT website and there is a mentoring scheme for DC who have ‘reached Olympiad follow-on rounds’. I’m actually wondering about asking my DS’s maths teacher about this, even though DS is ‘only’ kangaroo level. Maybe this is something you could ask about too?

If your DS isn’t keen on UKMT style maths puzzles, perhaps there are other avenues he could explore. Writing code. Investigating ciphers. Reading popular maths books.

GoodyGoodyGumdrops Sat 25-Feb-17 09:30:10

In theory there's always extension work. In practice, not at this stage.

My ds is scarily off the scale in Computer Science. His teacher loves the work ds produces, but has had to teach him to under-perform in order to produce the answers that the examiners want. Often ds answers questions twice: first time is a text-book answer that ticks all the boxes to hit A*, the second one will propose a more sophisticated, or complex, or simpler solution, possibly using more advanced skills or non-GCSE languages, that would be superb in real life, but would get a poor grade in GCSE. If he wasn't allowed to do this, CS would be dreadfully boring for him.

So to extend your dc in Maths, at this stage, could create a similar dilemma: either teaching him something which he mustn't use, or moving him on faster than the others and he'll always be bored by being ahead.

I wonder about Statistics. I don't think Stats is gone into in much detail at GCSE, so could it be an area for him to explore independently? Could fit in with his general knowledge interests - particularly football!

junebirthdaygirl Sat 25-Feb-17 09:35:37

14 year old boys are notorious for not trying and for being under peer pressure but that changes as theey mature. I think you should make a fuss over him as otherwise he may think what have l to do around here to get some applause and decide its definitely not worth bothering. If he was a talented footballer you would cheer his every victory and not overthink how he achieved it.

JustRichmal Sat 25-Feb-17 10:17:58

I think you have to not take the UKMT results too seriously. Dd has made the olymiads a year younger, then not got in at the right age. Her results are very up and down. Sometimes she does practice, sometimes not. The practice does make a difference. She likes doing them anyway, so it is up to her if she wants to practise.

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