Don’t Let Your Kids Give Up on that Homework – Part 2
By Elaine Ernst Schneider
There it is again – that worksheet that just goes on and on. It would be one thing if your child understood it and whipped right through it. But it’s the same sort of stuff that kept you at the kitchen table for hours last night. Sometimes you feel like just telling him the answers and being done with it. Well… you’re not so far off, even from a teacher’s point of view.
First of all, let’s talk about kids and how they learn. The child who excels in everything is unusual. Most kids have a dominant brain side and are more successful in certain areas of learning than others. I have a right brained, left-handed, language oriented daughter who will graduate from college this year with a degree in Journalism/Broadcasting.
But, oh, you should have been at our kitchen table the nights we struggled through the math homework. Does her weakness in math make her less successful? Certainly not. She already has a job waiting for her. Will she need to compensate for math skills? Yes. She knows that she has the weakness and compensates by surrounding herself with mechanical aids and people who can help her. That’s what we learned at the kitchen table.
As a teacher, I knew that my daughter was given the homework to give her extra practice with a math concept she would have to understand later when she was tested. But we never really got to address the concept because by the time we finished the homework, we were both so tired and drained that there was no time or energy left. The test day came and she didn’t perform well – even though she had completed every single problem on her homework worksheet. I knew we had to do something differently.
I began to change how we handled homework. I sat with my daughter and worked through the first few problems with her, step by step. Then, once we had the concept, I asked her to verbalize what she was going to write before she actually wrote anything down. If I knew what she was going to write was wrong, I stopped her. This saved lots of time in erasures and lots of frustration for my daughter. Sometimes she was “close” with an answer, maybe only a tenth of a point off. I just flat out gave her the right answer, because what that told me was that she was beginning to grasp the concept but her calculations were just off a bit. That saved her the agony of working the problem again and gave me the opportunity to applaud her for beginning to get the concept, which, after all, was more important. Sometimes, when the concepts were beyond my scope or remembrance from high school, I hired a tutor to come in and teach us both! Her confidence rallied and she performed better on tests. No, she didn’t become the top student in the class, but she wasn’t so frustrated that she felt she was doomed to fail before she even began.
Now I have a daughter in an Honors English class with vocabulary that sometimes even stumps her mom, the live-in English teacher. I noticed that she was spending hours on the vocabulary homework but doing poorly on tests over the same material. I asked to see the workbook. The format was so difficult to understand that I stopped and asked in several places, “What is it that they want here?” My daughter had a general idea – enough so that when she explained what she knew to me, I was able to figure out what needed to be written in those blanks. But then, as I looked through the pages she had done, I noticed mistake after mistake. I asked her what she studied for the tests. You guessed it – the worksheets. That meant she was studying wrong answers.
We began doing the homework together, and yes, when one was wrong, I told her.
Sometimes we both went to the dictionary together. I didn’t want her to not have the skills of finding out when Mom wasn’t around, but I also knew that hours of having to look up every word was going to leave her tired and drained – too spent to study the words and actually
learn anything from the work she had done. After we finished the workbook pages, then we went back over the words and studied together. Sometimes I offered suggestions on ways to remember the definitions or spellings. In this case, my daughter’s grades did soar to the top of the class. She began to make 100’s on the tests.
A few things I learned:
1. Remember that the purpose of homework is to practice a concept. Don’t bog down in the homework so much that you and your child are too tired or frustrated to study the actual material that the homework was intended to practice.
2. As the parent, you can praise your child for every “close” answer they come up with on the homework. In class, close answers don’t count. Some children take longer to grasp ideas and they will give up if no one ever encourages them along the way.
3. If your child is lost in the format of the work and just doesn’t understand “what they want on that line,” do a few for him or her. Sometimes seeing the process produce an answer jogs the wheels in the mind and you’ll often hear, “Oh, so that’s all they wanted.” Don’t feel guilty – it’s something teachers do. Sometimes kids just need to see a few answers and it’s okay to do that. You can even make it into a game where you answer one and then it’s the child’s turn to answer the next one. As the child gets better, change it to you answering one and your child answering two.
4. Try to reduce the time you spend doing the homework so that you have time afterwards to address the concepts. Make up a review game. Often, a few hints at home will make your child more at ease in the classroom the next day.
Above all, remember that your child needs your support and encouragement.