Most students who don't succeed in their school subjects have plenty of ability but instead lack the desire to do their best. Maybe they believe that they don't have the natural, genetic, brainpower to succeed (read Mindsets by Carol Dweck). Maybe they have problems at home that make their schoolwork seem very unimportant. Maybe they have a fear of failure. I contend that most of the time, it isn't ability that is holding them back.
Here is the most common teacher phone call to parents:
Teacher: Hello Ms. Thompson.
Parent: Hello Ms. Salero. Is there a problem with my son, Donald, in your class?
Teacher: Donald has lots of ability; he just needs to put in the effort.
Every teacher knows that their job is two-fold:
(2) Encourage students to learn
If learning isn't taking place, the best teachers with the best lesson plans won't make any difference in the lives of their students. Hence, teachers spend a lot of time thinking and experimenting with the best ways to motivate students to do their best.
When parents ask, "What can I do at home to help my child?", the best answer is to encourage your child to do their best everyday.
Students need to understand that learning takes time and learning is hard and learning requires struggle. But a lack of understanding after the first try does not mean that you are unable to learn. In fact, it's the struggle that helps your brain to make more connections and to retain what you are learning. Stanford educator, Jo Boaler, talks about this all of the time (see video). Students need to understand the value in making mistakes--it isn't an excuse to give up. In fact, mistakes are excellent learning opportunities.
Some students are anxious to learn and don't mind making mistakes. But others are so focused on "getting-the-right-answer" and "winning" that they are quick to give up when they don't understand something the first time. We need students to understand the value of productive struggle.
Keep trying; keep struggling; keep making mistakes; and keep learning.