Wednesday Wisdom: The Disintegrating Student
Updated: Mar 11, 2021
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege to virtually connect with Jeannine Jannott, the author of The Disintegrating Student, during our monthly Atlanta HECA meeting. Dr. Jannott is an academic coach and a college instructor, based in Metro Atlanta. Before our meeting, I devoured her book. I found it applicable to many of the students I’ve worked with at the high school and through my independent practice. She focuses on students who are “super smart & falling apart,” something that is all too common in our high-stakes, over-scheduled, race to nowhere culture. This book is a must-read for parents and educators alike.
Rigor Tipping Point
A concept Dr. Jannott describes is one that I have seen on countless occasions, but never had a term for, Rigor Tipping Point. Students eventually hit a wall where their school workload is no longer easily manageable. According to Dr. Jannott, the most common times for this to happen are 8th grade, 10th grade, and the second semester of freshman year in college. I often saw it during October of Junior year, when students felt overwhelmed by their AP course load. At my school, the only AP class available to 10th graders was World History. However, by Junior year, almost every subject area was available AP classes in the core, and some students even added AP electives, like Computer Science or Psychology. I often had students double up in AP math or science courses, solely because their teacher(s) recommended them for more than one class. I had to remind students that teachers make recommendations in isolation, and they aren’t thinking about your course load as a whole. During our call, we discussed the rigor tipping point is shifting, though, due to so many students accelerating in middle school. I’ve seen rising freshmen who already have high school credits for English, Math, Science, World Language, and then they do Health over the summer before they even start high school. A lot of times, these students not only hit their rigor tipping point, but they also run out of rigorous courses. These students are often aiming for highly selective colleges, and these schools typically want to see an upward trajectory of challenging courses in all core subject areas.
Growth vs. Fixed Mindset
Dr. Jannott also discusses the Growth vs. Fixed Mindset, based on the work conducted by Dr. Carol Dweck. Many parents praise their students for “being smart” or “talented.” These phrases focus on things that are not within a student’s control (like innate talents or gifts). When we instead praise the effort the student puts in, we are encouraging a growth mindset. This will help students see challenges as something “fun” and feedback as a way to “improve.” An interesting point brought up during our call was that disintegrating students exhibit a fixed mindset in their academic work, but will often experience a growth mindset in another area of their life (like sports or music).
Another prominent topic of the book and our conversation was on procrastination. Dr. Jannott identifies attributes that trigger procrastination, like a task being boring, unstructured, challenging, or isn’t personally rewarding. When we can recognize our triggers, we can prevent procrastination. I feel like most high school students struggle with procrastination. Many live by the mantra, “if you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute.” Not only does procrastination lead to a low quality of work, but it can also lead to stress/anxiety and self-defeating behaviors.
Dr. Jannott does a great job advising parents in a non-disparaging way. She backs everything up with research. While some of the tips may be difficult to implement, especially if you have had lax rules in the past, they are vital for your student’s success. She discusses the importance of boundaries, structure, and expectations, and how your role as a parent changes over time. Another concept discussed is overparenting or helicopter parenting. Often, parents who engage in such behaviors are operating out of fear: fear that their students will make a mistake. However, I’ve seen the opposite happen. I’ve had parents tell me they accidentally put their names or contact information on their student’s college applications. Another parent used their social security number instead of his son’s number. The application wasn’t processed since the dad already had a degree from that institution. Also, when parents complete tasks for their students, they are sending their kids a message that says, “you can’t handle this.” This mindset will cause them to doubt their abilities, choose not to take manageable risks, or not be willing to put in work on a difficult task.
My favorite section is 77 Tips to Be Productive and Well, since I’ve found a balanced life is a happy life. Dr. Jannott gives practical and specific recommendations for topics like organization, time management, study habits, mindset, stress, sleep, and screens. I highly recommend this book to parents and educators alike.