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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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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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Being an Efficient Homework Helper—Part I: Turning a Chore into a Challenge

Blog Type:  Learning Date Posted:  Thursday, September 19, 2019

parent and child doing homework at table.

By Regina G. Richards
This is the first installment of a multi-part series about helping children manage homework. The second post covers strategies, organization, and dealing with fatigue, and the third motivation and tools. This article originally appeared in LDOnline.

"The secret of education lies in respecting the pupil."
— Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882, U.S. poet, essayist and lecturer)

Homework is a constant for most children — it is always there. And for many children, it is often a chore. Just the concept of "homework" can cause multiple anxieties and negative feelings. To assist parents and students, this series of articles presents some tools to help turn this chore into an enjoyable challenge. It focuses on some general preliminaries, basic strategies, and motivation.

To begin, we must keep in mind the characteristics of our own children, because each child has his or her unique strengths, weaknesses, and needs.

When embarking on any project, there are first some questions we need to ask ourselves. These apply whether the project is a page of math facts or a full report.

  • We need to make sure we understand the project: what is the child trying to do?
  • We need to assemble our tools: what materials will be needed for this project?

Working successfully with our children on schoolwork requires respect, and respect begins with understanding. If a child struggles with and/or resists homework, ask yourself, "Why?" As you discover the reasons, share them with your child so he or she better understands the issues. Doing so takes the mystery out of struggles or frustrations. Pediatrician Mel Levine calls this "demystification," which he describes as eliminating mystery by explaining the child's strengths and weaknesses and guiding them to develop more accurate personal insight.

"Working successfully with our children on schoolwork requires respect, and respect begins with understanding."

Students may struggle with and/or resist homework for a variety of reasons. These may include any of the following:

  • Your child is experiencing some aspect of a learning disability or learning difference.
  • Your child is inefficient in a skill needed to establish a solid foundation related to the concept and/or task.
  • Your child struggles to process one or more components of the task.
  • Your child lacks or is not using the appropriate strategies or tools.
  • Your child is experiencing fatigue, either processing fatigue or general fatigue.

As parents, we should attend to how our student approaches the task. Help them identify and sort through the different components and determine the needed sub-steps. You can delineate these using a concrete chart or graphic organizer.

Many students express the idea that homework is "stupid" or a "waste of time." Even if you do wonder about the value of the given task, it is critical to communicate an optimistic belief that homework positively affects achievement in school and teaches many valuable skills critical for success throughout life. For example:

  • Following directions
  • Independent work habits
  • Time management
  • Use of strategies
  • Follow-through
  • Responsibility

Keep in mind that you and your child are laying an important foundation that will guide their routines for years to come. Starting in early elementary school years, each child begins to establish habits for time management and task completion.

Preliminaries

Location

Establishing a consistent workspace is a critical beginning. The precise location for doing homework does not matter as long as it is free from distractions. For example, trying to read a chapter in the middle of the kitchen while a parent makes dinner and siblings run in and out creates a recipe for failure. In the early grades, you and your child should select the homework location together, identifying a place where you can be close by and available for help. As the child matures, she can be more independent in selecting his own workspace.

"Establishing a consistent workspace is a critical beginning. The precise location for doing homework does not matter as long as it is free from distractions. "

Supplies

At the beginning of each school year, help your child create his own Homework Survival Kit with the necessary supplies. If the child receives accommodations for learning disabilities at school — such as a particular pencil grip, a type of paper, or an electronic speller — try to allow their use at home too. Children should learn to take care of the supplies in their Homework Survival Kit, therefore sharing is not advisable. Your child, even at age five, should have a large calendar with enough space to note assignments. This is a critical habit that students will need to use through high school and college.

Lighting and posture

Use of an appropriate writing posture should be encouraged. Therefore, a desk and chair of appropriate size are necessary. The desk should have adequate lighting. Some children enjoy reading in a different position, such as in a beanbag chair. Ensure that there is also adequate lighting by that location.

General environment

Keeping in mind that each student may have different needs and preferences, following are some ideas to help students enhance their ability to focus while doing homework:

  • Quiet or soft background music
  • Silence
  • Small crunchy snacks, sour candy, or chewing gum
  • Carbonated beverages (preferably without sugar)

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.

 

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Executive Function 101: Information

Blog Type:  Teaching Date Posted:  Wednesday, April 11, 2018

This is the third post in a five-part series about Executive Function. Each post includes downloadable templates to use at home and in the classroom. The first article is about managing time. The second addresses managing materials, the fourth achieving independence, and the fifth finding balance between school and extra-curricular activities.

Teaching students how to organize class content and assignments will help them manage their workload, reduce stress, and achieve academic success.

executive function information download tearoffs
Download these templates.

Managing the flow of incoming and outgoing information is at the root of why study skills are so valuable and effective. Students benefit immensely when teachers show students how to:

  • Pre-read using headings and subheadings in textbooks, write two-column notes to identify the main idea or topic, and take time to include supporting details.
  • Actively read by highlighting, using sticky notes, and jotting notes in the margins.
  • Learn to write a summary and follow a structured template for the five-step writing process. (Download the template.)
  • Predict test questions and employ a variety of test-taking strategies to teach students how to manage the large volume of information related to their academics.

Two-Column Note-taking

Two-column notes are a way for students to extract the main ideas from the supporting details of a selection or lesson. Students are often asked to fold their piece of paper in half down the length of the sheet to create a useable format for note-taking. When done correctly, these notes are helpful in studying for tests and writing papers.

 

 

“In all of our classes we teach content but never without first teaching the skills necessary to access this content.” — Robin Day-Laporte, Director of the Landmark High School Study Skills Department

Tips

  • Use two-column notetaking.
  • Utilize templates.
  • Pre-read text to become familiar with the content.
  • Set up well-marked electronic and paper filing systems.
  • Clean and sort files and folders regularly.

 

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Executive Function 101: Materials

Blog Type:  Teaching Date Posted:  Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Materials for school

This is the second post in a five-part series about Executive Function. Each post includes downloadable templates to use at home and in the classroom. The first article is about managing time, the third addresses managing information, the fourth achieving independence, and the fifth finding balance between school and extra-curricular activities.

Managing the countless print and digital materials for school and work can be overwhelming, but a simple process and plan will help.

Setting up systems to manage paper materials (binders, dividers, reserve folders, portfolios, etc.) and electronic materials (naming and storing files and folders, submitting work through course management platforms such as Google Classroom and CANVAS) are skills that should be taught in ALL subject areas to help students tackle academic and extracurricular responsibilities and to learn productively. Not all students can figure this out on their own, so it's important to takePrepared for class the time to teach these habits and reinforce them in all courses.

"We use cueing and guiding to get students to use the tools at their disposal. For example, I might say, ‘Based on our agenda, what materials will we need for class today?’ Relying on Landmark’s Teaching Principles™, we model effective strategies across all academic subjects and provide opportunities for our students to practice skills until they become automatic—second nature."    —Deirdre Mulligan, Elementary Science/Social Studies Department Head/Elementary•Middle School Training Coordinator

Tips

  • Set up binders, tabs, and pockets for each class.
  • Write down key words in an assignment notebook, and mark off tasks. Use a clip to identify current day/week.
  • Build time into the day to “clean and sort” these materials.
  • Use color coding.
  • Make daily and weekly checklists and review them throughout the day/week/month.
Ready for school checklist
Download the Ready-for-School Checklist and Reminder List.

 

 

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