Winning The Homework Battle

Sabine Hutcheson – Academic Director – TutorsPlus

Even children who achieve well at school and parents with the best intentions can experience tedious conflicts over assignments. A few changes to the structure and environment of the evening can empower you to alter your child’s attitude and make for a productive and positive homework experience. Instilling good habits along the way improves the quality of their work and fosters independent learning skills for the future.

There are growing calls in Europe to move away from homework altogether because in some households it has become such an adversarial struggle. Some charities and political figures have called for schools to scrap formal homework, warning that it can lead to rebellion and burnout. However, there are still a significant number of education professionals who argue that homework provides vital reinforcement of classwork, as well as a host of useful life skills to equip children for success later on. Feedback from teachers on work that children have completed on their own can also raise a child’s self-esteem and, if it is not seen as a punishment, it can be worthwhile and positive in improving a child’s performance in lessons. Where homework continues to be set, it is widely agreed that the quality, not quantity of your child’s work is what really matters.

Learning life skills

Homework teaches children to become responsible for their own learning and to organise themselves. These skills are best developed with the right kind of supervision and support – the key is to find the best balance between helping them, and allowing them to help themselves. A good routine, a suitable environment and encouraging independent learning skills are crucial in avoiding the homework battle.

No excuses please

Establishing an evening routine early on in a child’s school career sets an expectation that homework is part of daily life, as unavoidable as brushing teeth. If you can create consistency in the homework routine, children know to expect it, which will help to reduce resistance. It is normal for children to come up with colourful excuses to try and avoid homework, but it is important they know there is no possibility for them to be doing anything else during that time every day. For example, if there is no school work set one evening, stick to the routine by encouraging them to read or go over spellings and times tables. Alternatively encourage them to do something quiet and creative, such as writing a story, or completing quizzes. Homework and quiet study needs to be the only option at the same time each day. If your child is not well behaved one evening, re-set the next day and continue with the routine.

Homework time!

Homework should be prioritised and not left to the last minute in the evening when children are tired and less able to concentrate. It is best to allow children a short break to relax when they get home from school, and make sure they have had something healthy to eat before settling down to work, at the same time each day. This also leaves enough time to do something to relax afterwards, creating an incentive for homework to be done without a fuss. The consistency from day to day is as important as the time you choose for homework.

Get organised!

We can do a lot to help our children master good organisational skills, be able to prioritise tasks and become independent learners from an early age. This is very much linked to establishing a good routine, but there are other things that can help. Primary school is not too early to be introducing good filing habits, homework diaries and revision schedules. In the Swiss public system, for example, children are given the week’s homework in one go. The responsibility to complete a large volume of work by competing deadlines can seem daunting and often paralysing. But sitting with your child, working out the week’s priorities and breaking down the work into manageable chunks will teach them to take responsibility for their own timetable, and develop their own schedule. Well organised homework and honest conversations about time consuming or difficult pieces in advance of deadlines will stop the workload seeming overwhelming.

As your child progresses through school, good organisational skills become even more key to academic success. Older students need to be able to keep a large volume of work to refer back to especially in exams. Encourage them to create their own summary cards to add to their revision resources and make it easier to understand the key points in their work later on. Clear, visual resources and well-ordered work will help them when re-visiting content. When study leave begins, older students may still need a level of supervision and support to create a good study timetable and to organise their notes.

The right environment

Homework can take twice as long when children are unfocused or distracted. Whether it is their bedroom desk or in a quiet space downstairs, the right environment impacts hugely on a child’s ability to concentrate. It is also helpful if this area contains resources, such as stationery and dictionaries, to minimise the need for them to get up and disrupt their work. The association of homework with a quiet study environment builds good study skills for later, when revision and independent learning become essential for success.

Ensuring the right kind of study in this quiet time requires varying levels of supervision. We often hear parents concerned that their child spends hours working in their room, but still has issues completing their homework. Teenagers in particular will often be trying to combine concentrated study with checking Facebook, watching TV and using their phone. Bringing the studying downstairs where a parent or helper is close by (and indeed where other children are doing their homework) can help you ensure they are not being distracted by technology.

The internet adds a new dimension to the homework conundrum. Children need to be directed to the rightresources and carefully informed about the potential for erroneous information and that plagiarism will not help them in the long run. While the internet is undoubtedly useful for research projects, it is important to encourage the use of reference books, particularly those provided by school, as they contain the core material that children will be tested on.

Studies have shown that children who see their parents read or concentrate on quiet activities are more likely to find it natural to spend time over books. Completing work or admin while your children are doing their homework reinforces the good study environment for homework and encourages them to think that taking time to study is part of normal life.

Helping them to help themselves

A recent UK poll showed that 83% of parents of 9 to 13 year olds struggled to help with homework because they found the tasks too hard (The Guardian Online, 23.03.10). However, parents do not need to be an expert in year 7 Mathematics or year 12 Chemistry to be helpful. In later life, a child will feel much more control over their studies, satisfaction in their work and perform better in exams if they have been encouraged to think through problems and work through difficult questions. Telling them the answer won’t help them. Identifying specific areas they do not understand and finding the answer in their reference books, class notes or internet is much better than giving them the answer on a plate. Eventually this will empower them to do the same by themselves.

Communication is the key

Children can often become defensive and uncommunicative about areas they find difficult. Talking through with them the specific problems about their work will equip them with the skills to approach teachers for help. Children also need to be encouraged about areas they are good at, so they become confident in their academic abilities, as well as self-aware and able to express problem areas. Praise and constructive criticism helps to encourage honesty in a child about their strengths and weaknesses, and should help to breakdown reluctance to accept help or admit there is a problem. Making sure they know not to feel embarrassed and allowing them a degree of autonomy to express where they feel they are underperforming are the first steps to solving the issue.

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Ending The Homework Battle

What do you do when your child won’t do schoolwork without an epic battle every.single.day?

What happens if you throw gifted in the mix, just for fun?

Motivation is a tricky thing, and every child is different, but here are 11 ideas for how to get kids to do homework without raising your blood pressure thirty points.

The Question

This topic was prompted by a question that appeared in the Facebook group that Mensa has for parents and educators of gifted kids, some in Mensa and some not.

The question was this:

[My] eleven year old son is In the profoundly gifted range (IQ of 162) and he is failing in school. He refuses to do class work and is falling so far behind I have no idea how he could ever catch up. He HATES writing and constantly says he doesn’t see value in literature webs or essay assignments. Our nightly homework has become such battle that I feel like giving up and letting him fail, but then I don’t want him to think he can chose what matters at 11 years old. Has anyone else had this experience? What did you do? Any and all suggestions will be greatly appreciated.

Also I would like to mention he does not have ADD or ADHD or at least he didn’t a year ago when we had him tested. We were told he is just a genius and just bored.

The Answer

Let’s start with this: Being  highly intelligent does not come with one-to-one correspondence with boredom or low motivation or refusal to work. It’s not a pathological condition.  It is just as harmful to gifted children for people to think that if you’re really smart you can’t function in the world as it is  for people to perpetuate the idea that gifted children have no special needs with regard to education, in my opinion.

That’s not what this parent is implying; I just wanted to clarify that that’s the angle from which I’m coming: gifted children can be successful in cognitive and affective domains, even doing homework. Parents who secretly (or not-so-secretly) harbor the idea that their children are “above” homework will have kids who overtly rebel against it in ways that are not helpful.

So with that, let’s look at 11 ideas for how to stop the homework battle with gifted kids.

1. Eliminate the Physical

If a child hates writing, really hates it, sometimes it’s the actual physical act of writing that is problematic.  An evaluation by an occupational therapist can eliminate that as an issue.

Additionally, you can be gifted and have another underlying condition, so if I really felt my child had a serious disconnect between genotype (what he/she is at the core) and phenotype (how that’s appearing on the outside), I would fork over the cash for a serious and quality assessment by the best psychologist I could find who knew about gifted.

An evaluation by someone unfamiliar with giftedness is not ideal because you are so likely to get a misdiagnosis.

My favorites are Paul Beljian, Ed Amend, Timothy Gunn, and Dan Peters. If they lived far away from me, I would create a family vacation around a trip to them, and I’m not kidding.

2. Support Executive Functioning

There’s a lot to manage in homework completion: supplies, prioritizing work, planning the time and energy, storing and organizing completed work properly, transporting back to school, and turning it in (Yes, that is actually a step. Who knew?).

That’s a whole lot o’ executive functioning.

Parents can support kids in this by:

  • helping them break down projects into manageable components and timelines
  • establishing routines and create checklists (see Tips #5 & #8)
  • being a sounding board before homework begins, allowing kids to talk through what needs to be done
  • familiarizing themselves with the expectations of the teachers (all work done in pen? pencil? wide-rule paper? one side of paper only?)

If your child has executive functioning struggles, homework will definitely bring those issues to the surface.

3. Natural Consequence

Right now the child in the question above can’t possibly see the value in doing the work because he isn’t doing it and nothing horrible is happening.  I know how hard it would be (believe me), but if he fails or has to stay in for recess or whatever and sees what happens when he doesn’t do the homework, he will see at least one side of the value of work.

Too many parents worry about students’ grades and end up completing the homework themselves. This is theft. These parents are stealing their child’s opportunity.

This is academic dishonesty, and is not defensible. Ever. If you are doing this, stop immediately. If homework isn’t done, the consequence will come.

Many parents think, “But if he doesn’t do this assignment, he’ll fail the class, and then he’ll never get into college.” This may be catastrophizing, but even if it’s not, think about this: if not now, when? When will he/she learn to do the work him/herself? If you’re not planning to cheat in college, too, the time to have the child learn to work on his/her own is now.

Let the consequences fall where they may.

4. Back Off

This is natural consequence on steroids.

Just back off.

Stop checking to see what homework there is. Stop emailing the teacher about it. Don’t check the backpack. I know, I know. But just stop. Don’t ask. Don’t even ask.

Allow time in the schedule for the completing of homework (see Tip #7) and have the needed supplies available, but other than that, back off. This is a temporary solution to reset the dynamic. It’s not a long-term strategy for younger students.

This works in three situations:

  • The relationship between the child and the parent is so stressed by the homework headaches that it’s causing real damage. The relationship is the most important thing, always.
  • The situation has become an oppositional defiance thing, and the child is rebelling. Removing the pushback can allow the child to feel less backed into a corner. Sometimes the child feels like the parent “wins” (meaning she loses) if the homework is done after a battle.
  • The child does not have some issue (ADHD, Autism Spectrum, etc.) that affects executive functioning. (see Tip #2)

5. Establish Routine

Routine is the key to conquering bad homework habits, which is what most homework hassle boils down to. It’s all habit, and habit is powerful.

Make sure the routine includes breaks. Some kids work best after a snack and some physical exercise. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that nearly all kids work best after a snack and gross motor exercise.

Routine includes establishing a place for homework completion. Some kids like to work at the kitchen table, and this can be okay, but it can also cause problems with distraction, with having to clear work away before it’s done, and with too ready access to parents ready to leap in and interfere. Consider if this is really the best place for your child to do homework.

I don’t recommend the bargain that some parents make of work in exchange for screen time. That sends a message that homework is undesirable. Homework is not undesirable. Homework is part of life. Even if you disagree with the idea of it (and I strongly disagree with too much homework), it’s not going anywhere anytime soon in most cases. Sending negative messages about it won’t help.

Routine also includes what kids are wearing. This sounds a little crazy, but for kids with sensory intensities, and even those without, changing into really comfy clothes can help. Tight or pinching waistbands or too-tight necklines can create issues.

6. Find the Reason

Have a non-confrontational discussion about what’s really behind the resistance to the work.

Avoid stopping at the low-hanging fruit of boredom. Look, no one finds doing dishes cognitively challenging, yet there are many of us with master’s degrees up to our elbows in suds. Being smart is no get-out-of-work free card.

What is really going on, cop-outs aside?

Some kids actually enjoy the negative attention, especially if it’s the only attention they’re getting or is the fastest way to get a parent’s attention.

Sometimes impostor syndrome can make kids worry that if they don’t remember how to do the work, it proves they’re not really smart.

They may be physically tired.

Sometimes they don’t understand the why behind the work (see Tip #10).

Do they struggle to really know how to study? (I have ideas about that)

The reasons go on and on. Discover them by asking respectful questions.

This conversation should not occur at homework time. Make sure everyone is happy and calm before bringing this up unless you need more drama in your life.

Sometimes there is no reason, or at least not one the student can describe. If that’s the case, it’s important that parents and teachers make the case for homework effectively.

7. Allow time in the schedule

Kids feel time pressure, too. If you’ve got your family so overscheduled that you’re rushing everywhere every day, homework stress goes way up. The child becomes the focus of the homework headache, but really it’s the parents’ overscheduling of the family that is the problem.

Kids can’t be rushed from practice to rehearsal to lessons and back again without feeling that pressure.

Slow down and let the magic begin.

8. Use Charts & Checklists

Charts and checklists can help kids with executive functioning, but also just with general homework management. You can poke around for checklists that work for you.

John Rosemond’s bookEnding the Homework Hassle has checklists (I haven’t read it, but I’ve heard that it does).

Make sure you have a checklist that includes the routine. For example, unpacking and repacking the backpack, planning out the homework time, etc.

You may want a checklist for each day or one for a week. You may want subjects listed separately. Try out a few of them and pick the one that works best for you.

Should I make one? I should make one. Stay tuned.

9. Communicate

How much time should the homework be taking? You know who knows? The teacher.

Ask.

When I was teaching, I would indicate how long the assignment should take. It’s important to know so that you can plan. It’s also important to know so that you don’t get mad at the teacher because he assigned three hours of homework to a six-year-old when really he thought it was fifteen minutes’ worth of homework. I write about this more deeply in my book.

What projects are coming up that need to be planned for? You know who knows? The teacher.

Pay attention to the communication coming home from the teacher. Actually read the website and newsletter, if they exist.

Homework is harder when the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is supposed to be doing.

Parents should communicate with kids and teachers. Teachers should communicate with parents and students. Students should communicate with parents and teachers. I think that pretty much covers it.

10. Find the value:

One key cause of rebellion against homework is that kids (especially our GT kiddos) struggle to find value in the homework. Why should I have to do it? They can have an existential crisis over a single sheet of math facts practice.

Homework has a number of purposes:

  • Review and practice: The brain remembers what it thinks it needs to remember, and reviewing what was learned in class is a key strategy to getting information consolidated into long-term memory. Even material that seems simple when learned, can fall out of mind during the cerebral clean-out known as sleep.
  • Mastering materials: sometimes homework is not about content, but rather about process – using materials or working with a book or video.
  • Going beyond: Sometimes there simply isn’t time in class for a worthwhile activity. It’s hypocritical for a student to say that he/she doesn’t want to listen to people read out loud, and at the same time won’t read at home. Dude. It’s got to be read somewhere. Same for writing. As a teacher, I often found myself mystified by students’ not taking advantage of time given in class for assignments and then complaining that they had too much homework. Pick one, because you can’t have it both ways.

Soft Skills:

I love John Rosemond‘s beliefs about the “hidden values of homework”

  • Responsibility- The ability to assume ‘ownership’ of that which rightly belongs to you.
  • Autonomy- To be self-governing, to stand on your own two feet.
  • Perseverance – Become “The Little Engine that Could”
  • Time Management – “The ability to organize time in an effective, productive manner, to complete tasks on schedule without compromising quality.”
  • Initiative- “To be self-motivated and assertive, to be decisive in defining and pursuing personal goals.”
  • Self-Reliance – “To have trust and self-confidence in your abilities.”
  • Resourcefulness – “The capacity to find, invent, or adapt creative means of solving problems.”

Before homework is begun, have the child figure out what value and purpose is available in the assignment.

11. Do your own homework

Kids shouldn’t be the only ones doing homework. It’s important for kids to see parents working on cognitive practice at home. I don’t mean checking social media. I so don’t mean that.

What I mean is working on learning a world language or some kind of other learning. Calligraphy. Woodworking. A musical instrument. Knitting. Something that takes practice.

Parents can practice when kids are practicing. Pull out your own homework, and send a powerful message that you never outgrow learning.

Ending the Battle

The fighting itself can become a habit, so the first step in ending the homework battle may be some self-reflection about what habits have become entrenched and need to change.

I hope you’ve found these tips helpful, and good luck ending the battle!

 

 

 

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