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homework strategies

Becoming Your Child’s Learning Coach

Blog Type:  Learning Date Posted:  Thursday, August 13, 2020

father and son doing homework

“Homework sucks!”

I am sure you have heard this before. So have I. I have heard it from students who would like to be doing anything other than more schoolwork. And I have heard it from parents who feel that homework is driving a wedge between them and their children. I hope to help you develop some strategies to structure at-home-learning time to keep emotions in check and to promote better learning. While parents can implement these strategies at any time, they are particularly useful when students are learning remotely with less structured learning time and without the close support of a teacher.

Provide Structure for Optimal Learning 

optimal learning graphic

Some learning tasks can be completed with relative ease because they are clear and engaging. Students say “Homework sucks!” when they are thrown out of the optimal learning zone and into the zones of boredom or frustration. 

Students become bored if tasks do not interest them or seem below their level. Even if too easy or uninteresting, the practice of learning is worthwhile. (Tip: If your student is bored, have them stand up to get a physiological boost to compensate for low demand on mental energy.)

Frustration Creates Avoidance Behavior

Frustration happens because, well, learning is hard work! It is hard mentally and emotionally. Students often become frustrated with tasks and develop the negative behavior of task avoidance. This is a regularly observed phenomenon and is studied by motivation theorists around the world. Being motivated to avoid difficult tasks is often thought of as procrastination or laziness, but it is actually a result of students not having a strong growth mindset to help them persist through difficulties or not having strong help-seeking abilities. In this post I want to focus on coaching students through their academic tasks so they achieve success through the use of strong learning habits that will provide greater confidence and fewer avoidance behaviors.

Planning Your Learning Time

Intentionally structured learning time is intended to keep the student in the optimal learning zone as much as possible. Establish set times for learning each day and make sure that you are available for some of the learning time to support your student with more difficult tasks. 

At the beginning of the learning time, take 15–25 minutes to make a plan for the learning session. 

Establish set times for learning each day and make sure that you are available for some of the learning time to support your student with more difficult tasks.

Students should work on the tasks that they are most interested in and are most competent with when you are the least available. More challenging tasks that cause the student frustration should be planned for a time when you are free to provide the patient guidance and support of a learning coach. In time, you can encourage your student to work on these more difficult tasks independently if you feel that they will be able to use metacognitive strategies to identify where they are having difficulties and then share those difficulties with you to debrief and receive guidance.

Creating the Learning Task List

  • List all learning tasks that must be completed during the learning session.
  • Put the tasks that the student feels most comfortable with at the top of the list. These are tasks that the student can do on their own without support. Acknowledge this independence to help boost their confidence and let them know you would be interested in seeing their completed work to celebrate their independent learning abilities.
  • List the tasks that are challenging for the student. These are tasks that the student needs support to accomplish. They need a task attack plan! Sometimes adequate support can be delivered in helping the student structure the task. Ask the student:
    • Do any of these tasks need to be broken down into smaller component parts? Writing down this plan of attack will help the student maintain effort and focus without escalating into frustration. For example, if a student is assigned an essay, have the student plan to spend 25 minutes on pre-writing with a graphic organizer, 40 minutes on writing the essay, and 10 minutes proofreading. For an elementary student, directions for completing an assignment can be confusing. Rewriting multi-step instructions as numbered bullet points can help students tackle each discrete task in the assignment.
    • Are there instructional resources from the teacher that might support you with this task? Teachers have often created or curated resources and shared them through the learning management system (like Google Classroom, Blackboard, Schoology, or Canvas) or as physical resources. Students may also have other resources that they are familiar with like Khan Academy, Study.com, and ReadWriteThink.
  • If the student is not aware of any resources or is still uncomfortable completing the task without support, let them know when you will be available for a set period of time to assist them. Write down the time that you will work on the activity together on the learning task list so no further mental or emotional energy is spent considering how and when that work will get done.

Task Management During Learning Sessions

To stay on task, we must help our students avoid distractions, keep their emotions in check, and not overburden them! Creating a learning environment free from distractions is hard, but by using a task management strategy you can use behavioral practice to keep distractions at bay while you are on task and then reward your student with a break to check social media, play a quick game with a younger sibling, or practice a new dance step. 

One way to track time-on-task and provide regular breaks is through the Pomodoro Method. This time- and attention-management strategy has the learner set a timer to self-monitor 25-minute work sessions followed by a 5-minute break. After completing four sessions successfully, the reward is a longer break. This provides a physical and mental break at regular intervals as well as a rewards structure—strategies supported by research for all students and particularly those who experience challenges in executive function, attention, and self-regulation.

Be More Than Their Learning Coach

I hope that these tips are helpful for you as you work to help your child with their learning, but remember that you are more than a learning coach. If you are working from home, try to make time to have lunch with your kids during a longer break. And if you do need to ask a question about learning, don’t ask them about their schoolwork…ask them how their learning methods are working. Revise until you have a plan that keeps them in the optimal learning zone.

About the Author

Michael Hildebrandt, Ph.D., is the founder of RenewED Learning–educational consultations and coaching. He teaches courses in special education and educational psychology at Gordon College and the University of New Hampshire and has over 15 years of experience providing educational support to students and families.

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Being an Efficient Homework Helper—Part II: Strategies, Organization, and Dealing with Fatigue

Blog Type:  Learning Date Posted:  Wednesday, September 25, 2019

mother and son working on homework at table

By: Regina G. Richards
This is the second installment of a multi-part series about helping children manage homework. The first post is about establishing good habits creating an optimal learning environment and the third motivation and tools.
This article originally appeared in LDOnline.

Basic Strategies

One of the best gifts that we can give to our students is an appreciation of and ability to use strategies. Strategies enable us to pre-plan and organize activities and tasks. We use strategies to pull in our processing strengths while compensating for processing weaknesses. This ability is very beneficial in a wide range of situations throughout our lives.

Some strategies are obvious, such as mnemonic phrases. Students learning music use the mnemonic "Every Good Boy Does Fine." The first letter of each word in this phrase stands for the notes on a music staff: E, G, B, D, F. The mnemonic "Never Eat Shredded Wheat" can help students remember directions in sequence: N for North; E for East; S the South; and W for West.

"One of the best gifts that we can give to our students is an appreciation of and ability to use strategies. Strategies enable us to pre-plan and organize activities and tasks. "

Other strategies are less obvious. For example, if you have dinner plans for 6 p.m., you need to determine how long it will take to get to the restaurant so you know when to begin your travel. You also need to determine how long it will take you to get ready so you know when to start preparing. This time-orientation strategy helps us pre-plan an activity backward from the goal and is valuable for determining how much time is needed. It can be used in planning any project. It is wise to encourage your child to use a time planning strategy such as this.

As we help our students use strategies, we initially need to model how to use the strategy and then provide practice. The end goal is for students to develop independence in automatically using strategies. No two people have the same learning style and every individual is a unique combination of strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, a strategy that is extremely beneficial for one student may not be useful for another. In developing a toolbox of strategies, parents can help their students learn when and how to select the appropriate tool. Some valuable resources for tools can be found in the books noted in the References section at the end of this article.

Organization

Some ideas for helping your student organize their book bag or backpack follow. To help increase your child's follow through, initially you may want to check the bag every few days, providing comments and suggestions to help maintain the organization.

  • Use different colored folders for different subjects.
  • Have a special place for papers that need to come home.
  • Have a special place for papers that will be returned to the teacher.
  • Develop a consistent routine for your child to replace homework in the appropriate spot in the book bag immediately upon completing it.
  • Have a specific place for your child to place the book bag when it is ready to return to school and encourage your child to use this location consistently. It is valuable to have them place the book bag in this location the night before.
  • Praise your child for following through with the routine.

Understanding the task

Review the basic assignment with your child to ensure that they understand what is required. Many children miss the overall message or global concept. Visual organizers, also called mind maps, are very efficient in presenting the global view in a concrete visual manner. Below is an example of a visual organizer comparing frogs and toads. It identifies some characteristics of each, as well as characteristics similar to both.

homework blog

Figure 1: A comparison mind map provides a global view in a visual format.

In previewing the assignment with your child, be alert to their understanding of vocabulary used. Misinterpreting vocabulary words is a frequent source of frustration for students. Many books describe various forms and use of graphic organizers, including those listed in the References section below.

Fatigue Issues

Students may often interpret feelings of fatigue as boredom or a desire to escape the situation. There are many different types of fatigue and, consequently, many reasons for it. Exploring the reasons is beyond the scope of this article. However, it is helpful to have some basic strategies in your "Parent Tool Kit." Then you may select a tool to help your student manage their feelings of fatigue during homework time.

If your child continues to ask you for help even though you are confident that the task is within their skill level, you can play a game with them. Begin by placing 10 pieces of candy in a bowl. Tell them that every time they ask you for help, they will give you one piece of candy. When the candy is gone, you will not help any more. Assure them that they will keep whatever pieces of candy remain in the bowl at the end of the homework time. When playing this game with your child, be sure that the task is within their ability to work independently. You may vary the number of pieces of candy, depending on the task.

Another important component of encouragement is to provide statements of demystification (as discussed in Part One of the series). These help remove the mystery of why one task is difficult while another is easier while increasing your child's understanding of her processing strengths and weaknesses.

Use concrete statements to emphasize strengths, such as:

  • "I saw that drawing you did; you are really great at that kind of artwork."
  • "Very few kids your age can draw like this; you have wonderful talent."

Use concrete statements relevant to your child's struggles, such as:

  • "Many kids struggle because they do things too quickly without thinking enough. This may get them into trouble or cause them to do schoolwork too fast and carelessly. Sometimes you are like these kids because you do things too quickly. Let’s try and slow down.”

Use concrete statements relevant to your child's efforts to overcome their specific difficulties, such as:

  • "I like the way you have continued to work at this when the other kids have already learned it. It's particularly hard to do something when you're the last to get it done, but you have persisted — and you are almost there."
  • "I can see it’s hard to keep working on that letter, and you are continuing to persist. Thank you."

In the book, Eli, The Boy Who Hated to Write, Eli describes multiple benefits he experienced due to the impact he felt from encouragement. As parents and teachers, we need to listen to our children about this very critical point.

 

About the Author

Regina G. Richards, MA, is a board certified educational therapist and former director of Big Springs School, specializing in multidisciplinary programs for language learning disabilities. She teaches regularly at University of California Riverside Extension.  She’s written several books, among them The Source for Dyslexia & Dysgraphia; The Source for Learning & Memory; Eli, The Boy Who Hated To Write; LEARN – Learning Efficiently and Remembering mNemonics, Visual Skills Appraisal2; and Classroom Visual Activities2. She is active in her local IDA branch, is a past president, and is the parent of an adult son who experiences dyslexia and dysgraphia and is currently successful in business, working with computers.

References

Brooks, R. and Goldstein, S. (2002).  Raising Resilient Children: Fostering Strength, Hope , and Optimism in Your Child.  Amazon.  

Levine, M. D. (1990).  Keeping A Head In School: A Student’s Book about Learning Abilities and Learning Disabilities.  Educators Publishing Service (eps.schoolspecialty.com).

Richards, R.G. (January, 2008). Being an Efficient Homework Helper: Turning a Chore into a Challenge. Written for LD OnLine (www.ldonline.org ).

Richards, R.G. (2001).  L*E*A*R*N – Playful Strategies for All Students.  RET Center Press (http://www.retctrpress.com/).

Richards, R.G. (2003).  The Source for Learning and Memory Strategies.  Pro-Ed Publishing (https://www.proedinc.com).

Richards, R.G. and Richards, E. I. (2008).  Eli – The Boy Who Hated to Write.  RET Center Press (http://www.retctrpress.com/).

 

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Tags:  homework homework strategies Executive Function organization

Being an Efficient Homework Helper—Part III: Motivation and Tools

Blog Type:  Learning Date Posted:  Tuesday, October 1, 2019

father and son working on homework

By: Regina G. Richards
This is the third installment of a multi-part series about helping children manage homework. The first post is about establishing good habits creating an optimal learning environment. The second post covers homework strategies and dealing with fatigue. This article originally appeared in LDOnline.

Some children need external motivators to help maintain focus on the task. Some useful suggestions include homework contracts, devices to help monitor time on task, or rewards. It is important that you are setting realistic goals for your child and that they are not overly stressed in their area of a learning disability. Some children, for example, take longer to write by hand or to calculate sums so you need to be realistic about time allowed.

Contracts

Homework contracts may take many forms. Write the contract with your child, making sure it is within your child's ability level. Focus on one goal at a time. Examples follow.

  • "I, Johnny, will complete my homework without argument for five nights in a row. When I accomplish this, I can watch 30 extra minutes of TV."
  • "I, Susie, will mark off a square on my chart each night that I complete all my homework assignments. When I have marked off five squares, I will select a reward from my list."

The criteria in your contract should change as the child's skills change. Furthermore, it is important to be specific regarding your expectations regarding homework completion. Indicate definite starting and stopping points as well as minimum requirements.

Monitoring Time on Task

A timer is a useful device for monitoring time on task. It makes the passage of time more concrete for your child. Identify a reasonable time for your child to complete an assignment (or a given part) and set the timer to ring after that time. It is useful for your child to be able to observe the passage of time, on either the timer or hourglass. Example statements follow:

  • "You have agreed to practice typing for five minutes every night. This means five minutes with good focus. I will set the timer and if you focus and practice appropriately the whole time, you will be done. Remember, I will have to restart the timer if you fool around in the middle."
  • "You have a half-hour to complete this part of the assignment. I'm setting this timer for 30 minutes. If you finish your homework correctly by the time the bell goes off, then you will get X reward (or sticker)."

If your child is earning points or stickers for appropriate follow through, you may want to allow them to earn rewards for a given number of stickers. To phase out their dependence on the stickers, require a larger number of stickers for a reward as they becomes more responsible.

Spinner

Young children respond well to games as motivational aids. You can develop a customized game spinner by using cardboard and brads, or you may purchase blank spinners from an educational supply store. Fill in each section of the spinner with a reward. Use tape so that you can occasionally change the awards. Be sure to vary the prizes on the spinner so that some are more desirable. You may want to have a space marked "no-win."

Establish criteria with your child, such as completing a homework assignment appropriately or finishing all of the homework tasks for the evening. When your child meets the criteria (i.e. completes the task), allow them to spin the spinner and earn the reward indicated. Be sure to use an appropriate positive statement such as, "Great job tonight! You've earned a spin on the spinner."

To phase out dependence on the spinner, change the rewards to points. These points will then accumulate towards a specific prize. Increase the number of points needed to earn the prize as your child becomes more responsible. An example of a spinner follows.

homework task spinner

Mistakes Can Be Valuable

Learning from mistakes

Another critical tool for parents to have is to help their children learn from their mistakes. This is important because too many students are afraid to be wrong. We give our children a valuable gift by helping them understand that mistakes are valuable because they help us learn how to adjust and improve our approach as we move through a task.

Robert Brooks and Sam Goldstein in their book, Raising Resilient Children: Fostering Strength Hope and Optimism in Your Child, devote a whole chapter to learning from mistakes. They discuss various obstacles that interfere as well as some valuable guiding principles for parents to keep in mind. Following is a summary of Brooks's and Goldstein's Obstacles and Guiding Principles:

Obstacles to a Positive Outlook About Mistakes

  • Temperament and biological factors
  • Negative comments of parents
  • Parents setting the bar too high
  • Dealing with the fear of mistakes in ways that worsened the situation

Guiding Principles to Help Children Deal With Mistakes

  • Serve as a model for dealing with mistakes and setbacks
  • Set and evaluate realistic expectations
  • In different ways, emphasize that mistakes are not only accepted but also expected
  • Loving our children should not be contingent on whether or not they make mistakes

Use Growth Mindset statements (instead of Fixed Mindset statements) as in the following graphic.

growth mindset chart

 

About the Author

Regina G. Richards, MA, is a board certified educational therapist and former director of Big Springs School, specializing in multidisciplinary programs for language learning disabilities. She teaches regularly at University of California Riverside Extension.  She’s written several books, among them The Source for Dyslexia & Dysgraphia; The Source for Learning & Memory; Eli, The Boy Who Hated To Write; LEARN – Learning Efficiently and Remembering mNemonics, Visual Skills Appraisal2; and Classroom Visual Activities2. She is active in her local IDA branch, is a past president, and is the parent of an adult son who experiences dyslexia and dysgraphia and is currently successful in business, working with computers.

References

Brooks, R. and Goldstein, S. (2002).  Raising Resilient Children: Fostering Strength, Hope , and Optimism in Your Child.  Amazon.  

Levine, M. D. (1990).  Keeping A Head In School: A Student’s Book about Learning Abilities and Learning Disabilities.  Educators Publishing Service (eps.schoolspecialty.com).

Richards, R.G. (January, 2008). Being an Efficient Homework Helper: Turning a Chore into a Challenge. Written for LD OnLine (www.ldonline.org ).

Richards, R.G. (2001).  L*E*A*R*N – Playful Strategies for All Students.  RET Center Press (http://www.retctrpress.com/).

Richards, R.G. (2003).  The Source for Learning and Memory Strategies.  Pro-Ed Publishing (https://www.proedinc.com).

Richards, R.G. and Richards, E. I. (2008).  Eli – The Boy Who Hated to Write.  RET Center Press (http://www.retctrpress.com/).

 

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Tags:  homework organization homework strategies Executive Function
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