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Published Monday, April 4, 2016

Homework Blues and How to Beat Them

By Terence Macken

Terence Macken teaches Humanities to grades 6 and 7 at Cohen Hillel Academy in Marblehead.

“This isn’t how I learned it when I was in school; you can’t possibly be finished already?! Just do your homework, you could be done in the time we’ve been arguing about it!” Do any of these sound familiar in your house? Parents and teachers are often confronted by students who either lack the appropriate tools and/or strategies to effectively complete homework, or seem unmotivated and/or frustrated by assignments. Without proper guidance, homework can create stress and friction between parents and children. However, homework has its place and this article will provide some guidelines and simple strategies to ease tensions and set your child on the path to success.

One of the most important skills that a student will develop from completing homework is the ability to organize and prioritize assignments. Many schools provide students with a homework planner, but if your school doesn’t, one can be created easily. A homework planner is simply a notebook, or even a sheet of paper, which has assignments broken down by subject area. Each subject has a space for recording assignments and their due dates. When a child is ready to do his/her homework, the first thing to do is check the planner, whether it is paper or electronic (some schools use This step reminds the student of every assignment that is due and no one (child nor parent) has to rely on what was remembered (or forgotten) from a busy day at school. While parents aren’t responsible for homework, it’s important to stay informed about the variety, scope, and length of assignments, both short and long term.

Now that you know what your child has to do for homework, let’s take a look at the when and where of the homework dilemma. Having a routine for when homework is completed is a preemptive strategy to prevent an issue from arising. Some children need a break after school, with a snack and some “down time,” they are recharged to start homework. Others prefer to tackle their work right away when the information is fresh in their minds. Every child is different so what works for one may not work for the other; what’s important is being consistent.

Knowing when homework is scheduled to be done helps fight against the most dangerous enemy of homework production, procrastination. Every one of us has pushed off an assignment to the point where it was too late to give our best effort. You won’t have to worry about this once there is an established homework time.

The where for homework also depends on your child. Younger children often benefit most from being in a quiet area where an adult is either present or nearby; adult proximity provides a sense of security just in case s/he has a question and help is needed. Older students should be in a place where any and all distractions are kept to a minimum. Cell phones, televisions, iPads are all too tempting for most adolescents to resist. A quiet room without these devices is not only a welcome break from the need to always be connected, but also a crucial factor for efficient use of time.

Next, we look at how homework should be completed. The optimal way to understand an assignment is to read, and re-read, all of the directions. Far too often, students rush to complete homework and fail to read the directions, which results in avoidable mistakes and wasted time. Reviewing examples in a text/notebook is essential after having read the directions; they are there for a reason! Parents should encourage their children to do both of these steps before starting an assignment. As students get older, homework assignments become more complex both in content and completion process. Students need to break down these assignments into smaller segments so that they do not seem so daunting; this step will provide some much needed confidence for more challenging work. This is especially true for assignments that are due over an extended period of time; due dates are in the future for a reason. Teachers understand that lengthy and complex assignments are time-consuming and will need to be completed over multiple days. If the teacher hasn’t “chunked” the assignment for your child, help him/her break it down and complete each part over the allotted time period. This is a life-long skill that your child needs to build and strengthen; it will be relevant in their careers and adult life.

Finally, there is the why question in our look at homework. Usually the question, “Why do we have homework?” is reserved for students, but it is also a good question for adults to consider. For younger students, most assignments are designed to practice new skills and/or reinforce concepts that have already been taught in school. If your child is struggling with an assignment and doesn’t understand and/or remember the lesson, it can be very tempting to teach them yourself – the way you learned. But actually, the best way to help your child is re-read the directions, look at the example, and if s/he is still stuck, have him/her write a note to the teacher saying s/he is confused and needs help. A teacher would much prefer a note from a student asking for help rather than completed homework that has been corrected or re-taught using a different strategy by a parent. Partnership between the school and the family is critical to success. Teachers use homework to gauge students’ mastery and ability to work independently. Strategies that parents grew up with may/may not be the same strategies as ones being taught in school today. It can be very confusing if your child is learning different approaches from different sources; remember your child wants to please you. S/he will feel like s/he is disappointing you when s/he is still confused after you’ve explained it again, and again - just differently from what was said in class. The frustration only mounts and an unpleasant afternoon or evening is inevitable for all.

Avoid this issue by assuring your child that it’s okay to need a second look or more help the next day in school. Encourage your child to move on to the next assignment or if s/he is done for the day, have your child go and play inside or outside as the weather gets warmer. In summary, remember to set a routine for where, when, and how homework will be completed in your home, and hopefully your child and you will avoid the homework blues.

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