Permanent improvement requires time, will, effort as well as rational, honest character from student, teacher and parent. The beauty of teaching is to bring these 3 participants to the same table and work consistently towards a common goal. Improvement.
My experience is that the most successful students are usually not the smartest ones, but the ones who are able to improve the most over a certain time period. The most tenacious ones, and the ones who have the curiosity to explore, the drive for getting better and those who have no fear of making mistakes, because they know that they can fix them. What do I mean by this? For instance: A kid who is talented, because this is how she/he was born, but has no self determination to get better, sooner or later will realize that the advantage she/he was born with has disappeared. Other kids, who were not so talented in the beginning, but had the will and put the effort into their improvement, often close the educational gap and get ahead. Talent is just a gift that students have to maintain to take advantage of it. It is not a permanent stage of anyone's life. If Einstein would have been addicted to computer games, probably our world wouldn't know about the general theory of relativity.
So how can we help our student/child to become tenacious and self driven to getting better? Here are few of my ideas.
Because each child is different, the methods have to be different too. Different types of positive reinforcement usually work if it is not just about spoiling the child with a lot of “gifts”and boosting her/his ego without control. Raising a child, building a character with values is more important than to buy temporary attention and support extreme self confidence without real comparison.
I believe that every kid wants to be good, loved, admired and recognized by her/his parents, friends, teachers, coaches etc. This is a really strong drive that we adults can use to teach and show them how to become good, loved, admired and recognized. Instead of buying stuff, we can show them how proud we are when they practice, when they work for their dream. We can show how much we admire them when they work for their goals and keep their promises. Instead of paying extra attention when they do something wrong, we can pay extra attention when they do something good ! Tell them how many people they can make happy just doing their homework, or describe the consequences that will happen after not doing their duty. You can bring up your own life examples and explain to them how many tasks you have and what would happen if one day you would decide not to do them anymore. They will understand and they will make the right decision. Attention creates attention, love creates love. Helping our kids to put effort into something, teaching them to manage their time and how to be tenacious will make them succeed in education and later in their own lives. Giving a good example will shape them more than any treat or gift.
In the next paragraph, I'd like to illuminate a less recognized psychological attitude that influences student's improvement maybe more than we think. This behavior is related to fear. The fear of making mistakes. I don't want to analyze here from where it develops, but my experience shows that if it already exists in a child, it influences her/his success, confidence and further improvement.
To correct/maintain this attitude on the child side, I usually ask questions and talk to my students on their own level. I try to bring up as many examples as many I can to support and illustrate my opinion.
For example: If they have problem with any math concept, they often think "I don't know this, I'm not good in math ..." This is a typical behavior and if we don't interrupt this kind of thinking, fear can develop towards math and will be just worse. When I hear this, I often say something like : "Do you think walking is simple?" They usually say “yes.” So I go on and remind them that it took usually 1.5 years for everyone on Earth to learn it! Something that looks simple because everyone can do it does not mean it is simple. All of us learned it once, and learning is just about time and effort! How many times did you fall during that 1.5 years? Probably many! But you always got up and you didn't think “Oh! Walking is hard! I'm not good at it. I'm not going to learn it.” If you practice something at least 3-4 times a week, you will learn it, no doubt. Math is the same. A teacher explains it, shows it, a student pays attention, ask questions and practices. The only difference is that when we were infants, we did not learn yet about failure and we did not know that we have choice. We did not know these things exist at all! Summing up my opinion about this topic, I would say that learning is simple. You just have to do it! Be curious, listen to your teachers and parents, practice and don't even think about giving up! This is the way of learning I believe. It is simple.