THE BENEFITS OF HOMEWORK Before discussing ways you can help your child with homework, it is important to discuss why teachers assign homework and how it benefits your child. 1. Why Do Teachers Assign Homework? Teachers assign homework for many reasons. Homework can help children: Review and practice what they've learned; Get ready for the next day's class; Learn to use resources, such as libraries, reference materials, and encyclopedias; and Explore subjects more fully than time permits in the classroom. Homework can also help children develop good habits and attitudes. It can: Teach children to work independently; Encourage self-discipline and responsibility (assignments provide some youngsters with their first chance to manage time and meet deadlines); and Encourage a love of learning. Homework can also bring parents and educators closer together. Parents who supervise homework and work with their children on assignments learn about their children's education and about the school. Homework is meant to be a positive experience and to encourage children to learn. Assignments should not be used as punishment. 2. Does Homework Help Children Learn? Homework helps your child do better in school when assignments: Are completed successfully Are returned with constructive comments from the teacher Are meaningful Have a specific purpose Come with clear instructions Are fairly well matched to a student's abilities Are designed to help develop a student's knowledge and skills In the early elementary grades, homework can help children develop the habits and attitudes described earlier. From fourth through sixth grades, small amounts of homework, gradually increased each year, may support improved academic achievement. In seventh grade and beyond, students who complete more homework score better on standardized tests and earn better grades, on the average, than students who do less homework. The difference in test scores and grades between students who do more homework and those who do less increases as children move up through the grades. 3. What's the Right Amount of Homework? Many educators believe that homework is most effective for the majority of children in: Blue Mountain Union uses the scientifically researched formula of ten minutes per grade level. Example 1st grade=10 minutes; 3rd grade=30 minutes. At the high school level, some students may have two hours or more on certain nights depending on how many classes they take and how well they have spaced out the work required on long-term projects. If a student is spending too much time on homework, call or e-mail the teacher and discuss the situation. HOW PARENTS CAN PROVIDE GUIDANCE FOR HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENTS The basic rule is Don't do the assignments yourself. It's not your homework--it's your child's. Doing assignments for your child won't help him understand and use information. And it won't help him become confident in his own abilities. It can be hard for parents to let children work through problems alone and learn from their mistakes. It's also hard to know where to draw the line between supporting and doing. Different teachers have different ideas about the best way for parents to provide guidance. Here are a few suggestions with which most teachers agree: FIGURE OUT HOW YOUR CHILD LEARNS BEST If you understand something about the style of learning that suits your child, it will be easier for you to help her. Does your child learn things best when she can see them? If so, drawing a picture or a chart may help with some assignments. For example, after reading her science book, she may not remember the difference between the tibia and the fibula. But by drawing a picture of the leg and labeling the bones, she can remember easily. Does your child learn things best when he can hear them? He may need to listen to a story or have directions read to him. Too much written material or too many pictures or charts may confuse him. Does your child understand some things best when she can handle or move them? An apple cut four or six or eight ways can help children learn fractions. As mentioned earlier, it's a good idea to set a regular time for children to do homework. Put up a calendar in a place where you'll see it often and record assignments on it. If your child's not able to write yet, then do it for him until he can do it himself. Writing out assignments will get him used to the idea of keeping track of what's due and when. You may want to use an assignment book instead of a calendar. HOW TO HELP: SHOW YOU THINK EDUCATION AND HOMEWORK ARE IMPORTANT Getting Kids to Do Their Own Homework Children need to know that their parents and adults close to them think homework is important. If they know their parents care, children have a good reason to complete assignments and turn them in on time. There is a lot that you can do to show that you value education and homework. 1. Determine the Best Time for Homework As you start a new school year, it's a good idea to plan with your child when homework is to be done. The goal should be to select a regular time that is workable for everyone — both the family's schedule and your child's needs. Think about your child's temperament. Does she need to run around and get rid of some pent up energy after school? Does he need some "down time?" Homework time should not be a punishment, and there are many different ways to schedule it. If you can find the right time with your child — and be consistent about it — the whole process will be more peaceful, as well as more efficient and productive. Finding a regular time for homework helps children finish assignments. The best schedule is one that works for your child and your family. What works well in one household may not work in another. Of course, a good schedule depends in part on your child's age, as well as individual needs. For instance, one youngster may work best in the afternoon after an hour of play, and another may be more efficient after dinner (although late at night, when children are tired, is seldom a good time). Outside activities, such as sports or music lessons, may mean that you need a flexible schedule. Your child may study after school on some days and in the evening on others. If there isn't enough time to finish homework, your child may need to drop some outside activity. Homework must be a high priority. Some families have a required amount of time that children must devote to homework or some other learning activity each school night (the length of time can vary depending upon the child's age). For instance, if your seventh-grader knows she's expected to spend an hour doing homework, reading, or visiting the library, she may be less likely to rush through assignments so that she can watch television. A required amount of time may also discourage her from "forgetting" to bring home assignments and help her adjust to a routine. 2. Pick a Place. A study area should have lots of light, supplies close by, and be fairly quiet. A study area doesn't have to be fancy. A desk in the bedroom is nice, but for many youngsters the kitchen table or a corner of the living room works just fine (and it is easier for parents to monitor). 3. Remove Distractions. Turn off the television and discourage social telephone calls during homework time. (A call to a classmate about an assignment may, however, be helpful.) Some youngsters work well with quiet background music. Try having all family members take part in a quiet activity during homework time. 4. Provide Supplies and Identify Resources. For starters, collect pencils, pens, erasers, writing paper, an assignment book, and a dictionary. Other things that might be helpful include glue, a stapler, paper clips, maps, a calculator, a pencil sharpener, tape, scissors, a ruler, index cards, a thesaurus, an almanac and a computer. Keep these items together in one place if possible. Check with the teacher, school guidance counselor, or principal about borrowing necessary supplies. 5. Set a Good Example. Children are more likely to study if they see you reading, writing, and doing things that require thought and effort on your part. Talk with your child about what you're reading and writing even if it's something as simple as making the grocery list. Tell them about what you do at work. Work together at the table. 6. Show an Interest. Read with your child as often as you can. Talk about school and learning activities in family conversations. Ask your child what was discussed in class that day. If he doesn't have much to say, try another approach. For example, ask your child to read aloud a story he wrote or discuss the results of a science experiment. Another good way to show your interest is to attend school activities, such as parent- teacher meetings, shows, and sports events. If you can, volunteer to help in the classroom or at special events. Getting to know some classmates and other parents not only shows you're interested but helps build a network of support for you and your child. Help Them Understand The Directions Many children do need help with homework, but it is important to help in ways that will lead to independence. Consider this: Before they've even glanced at the directions, kids often will show parents a worksheet and say, "I don't get it." Kids know what they're doing; why spend time figuring out directions if you can get Mom or Dad to explain what to do? In these cases, rather than reading the directions to yourself and then explaining them, ask your child to read the directions aloud to you. This strategy enables kids to hear the directions, which is often all that's needed to make the assignment clear. Offer Guidance and Support When Needed If your child is one who needs individual support and attention both at school and at home, tackle the assignments one at a time. Go over the directions and materials with your child, making sure he is clear about what needs to be done. Talk about what needs to be completed — even if it is only a portion of the assignment—and then disappear. As always, the goal is to nurture and help your child believe in her ability to be successful. However you help your child with homework, don't lose sight of whose assignment it really is. Editing, rewriting, and changing answers may enhance the quality of the work but not the learning experience. Though your child will be happier with the higher grades, he will become a less confident learner. Keep in mind that while we all want success for our children, the ultimate goal is independence. Children are more likely to complete assignments successfully when parents monitor homework. How closely you need to monitor depends upon the age of your child, how independent she is, and how well she does in school. Whatever the age of your child, if assignments are not getting done satisfactorily, more supervision is needed. HOW TO MONITOR HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENTS Here are some good ways to monitor assignments: 1. At the start of the school year, find out what the teacher expects. At the middle/high school level this is provided in each teacher’s course information packet. What kinds of assignments will be given? How long are children expected to take to complete them? How does the teacher want you to be involved? Teachers' expectations vary. Ask your child's teacher what you should do. Should you just check to make sure the assignment is done, or should you do something more? Some teachers want parents to go over the homework and point out errors, while others ask parents to simply check to make sure the assignment is completed. It's also a good idea to ask the teacher to call you if any problems with homework come up. 2. Be Available. Elementary school students often like to have someone in the same room when working on assignments in case they have questions. If someone else will care for your child, talk to that person about what you expect regarding homework. For an older child, if no one will be around, let him know you want him to begin work before you get home and call to remind him if necessary. 3. Look Over Completed Assignments. It's usually a good idea to check to see that your elementary school child has finished her assignments. If your middle school student is having trouble finishing assignments, check his too. If you're not there when an assignment is finished, look it over when you get home. After the teacher returns completed homework, read the comments to see if your child has done the assignments satisfactorily. 4. Monitor Television Viewing. American children on average spend far more time watching television than they do completing homework. In many homes, more homework gets done when television time is limited. Once you and your child have worked out a homework schedule, take time to discuss how much television and what programs she can watch. It's worth noting that television can be a learning tool. Look for programs that relate to what your child is studying in school, such as programs on history or science or dramatizations of children's literature. When you can, watch shows with your child and discuss them. THE BIG SIX Parents can play an important role in helping their children succeed in school, but they need an effective approach in order to do this well. The approach taken in the book, "Helping with Homework: A Parent's Guide to Information Problem-Solving," is based on the Big Six Skills problem-solving approach. The Big Six Skills apply to any problem or activity that requires a solution or result based on information. An abundance of information is available from many sources, and the Big Six can help parents effectively deal with that information to guide their youngsters through school assignments. The Big Six approach has six components: task definition, information seeking strategies, location and access, use of information, synthesis, and evaluation. (1) Task Definition: In the task definition stage, students need to determine what is expected from the assignment. (2) Information Seeking Strategies: Once students know what's expected of them, they need to identify the resources they will need to solve the task as defined. This is information seeking. (3) Location & Access: Next, the students must find potentially useful resources. This is location and access--the implementation of the information seeking strategy. (4) Use of Information: Use of information requires the students to engage the information (for example: read it) and decide how to use it (for example: in text or in a footnote). (5) Synthesis: Synthesis requires the students to repackage the information to meet the requirements of the task as defined. (6) Evaluation: Finally, students need to evaluate their work on two levels before it is turned in to the teacher. Students need to know if their work will meet their teacher's expectations for quality and efficiency. The Big Six steps may be applied in any order, but all steps must be completed. PARENTS' ROLE AND STUDENTS' ROLE The Big Six approach requires parents and students to assume different roles. The parent assumes the role of a "coach" and the child assumes the role of "thinker and doer." As a coach, the parent can use the Big Six Skills to guide the student through all the steps it takes to complete the assignment. Parents can help by first asking their children to explain assignments in their own words. This is "task definition"--a logical first step. Parents can also help by discussing possible sources of information. This is "information seeking strategies." Parents can then help their children implement information seeking strategies by helping their children find useful resources. This is the Big Six step called "location and access." Location and access may have to be repeated during an assignment because some children may not identify everything they need right at the beginning. Parents can facilitate by brainstorming with their children alternate places where information might be available. In the "use of information" stage, parents can discuss whether the information the child located is relevant and if so, help the child decide how to use it. In the "synthesis" stage, parents can ask for a summary of the information in the child's own words, and ask whether the information meets the requirements identified in the "task definition" stage. The end of any assignment is the final check--an evaluation of all the work that has been done. Parents can help their children with the "evaluation" stage by discussing whether the product answers the original question, whether it meets the teacher's expectations, and whether the project could have been done more efficiently. As children work through each of the Big Six steps, they need to think about what they need to do, and then they need to find appropriate ways to do it. This is their role-- "thinker and doer." Children should be encouraged to be as independent as possible, but they will often have difficulty beginning an assignment because they are confused about what is expected of them. Whatever the reason is for their inability to get started, students have the ultimate responsibility for getting their work done. When parents act as coaches, they can help their children assume this responsibility by engaging them in conversation about what is expected of them, and then by guiding them throughout the assignment using the Big Six Skills. TECHNOLOGY AND THE BIG SIX The Big Six approach recognizes the benefits of technology in education because computers are tools that help organize information. Software programs do a variety of functions such as edit written work, check grammar and spelling, chart and graph quantities, and construct outlines. Computers can also help with time management, setting priorities, and evaluating efficiency. Using the Internet, students can connect to many non-traditional sources of information and are not limited to information contained on library shelves. They can use e-mail to talk directly with specialists and experts who can add a personal dimension to an assignment. LEARNING TO STUDY: THE ELEMENTARY YEARS The most cumbersome task given to students is performed at home rather than in school: studying. It is a huge assignment, one that only grows larger and more difficult as kids move up through the grades. Studying, regardless of the subject matter, requires organization, self discipline, and a plan. For the majority of students, this does not come naturally. Hours are wasted simply staring at old assignments often leaves students with a grade lower than they think they deserve. Yes, they put in time studying, but it wasn't effective studying. 1. Teach kids to eliminate what they already know. This is not as obvious to young kids as it is to adults, and a lot of study time is wasted reviewing known facts. Whatever it is that your child has to memorize, give her an oral "pretest" before any studying has been done. Immediately eliminate the items that she knows from the list. As she goes over the information, more and more will be eliminated, and your child will see the task getting smaller, shorter, and easier—all great self confidence builders. Then the night before the test, review everything one last time. 2. Have kids create folded study sheets. These tools are good for memorizing definitions or number facts, and once they know how, kids can easily create their own. Take a sheet of lined paper, and fold it in half lengthwise. Unfold the paper, and have your child list the number facts or glossary words down the left side of the paper and the answer or definition to the right of the fold. Then, refold the paper and have him test himself. These folded study sheets are especially good because kids don't get a "split second" peek at the answer like they do when covering material with their hands. As your child reviews the list, have him put a dot or check next to any items he doesn't know. At the end, he will know exactly which ones to eliminate and which to focus on. This "list system" promotes independent study habits and also gives you a ready-made review test to use when your child is done studying. 3. Provide colored index cards. They are sold in any large drug store, come in multicolor packs, and are great for visual learners and kids who have difficulty organizing and sorting ideas. Use them to mark different sections of text books—for example, yellow cards to mark chapter review question pages and purple cards for chapter summary pages. This simple method enables kids to flip back and forth to reference pages quickly—it's amazing how much study time kids can waste finding the same pages over and over again. You can also used index cards to help kids who are comparing literature books or short stories—they give them an easy way to track each title's characters, themes, and conflicts. 4. Show kids how to make test grids. Even the earliest tests require kids to memorize and compare information. The easiest way to study for these tests is by setting up a one-page grid. For example, say your child has an elementary social studies test on the 13 colonies—who founded them, who settled them, and what the settlers did for a living. Together, create a test grid with four columns: Colony Name, Founder, Settlers, Making A Living. In the first column, have your child list the names of the colonies. Then have her complete each row, filling in the information under the remaining headings. Not only are test grids a great way to organize notes for studying, they also condense the information onto a single page—making the task look less threatening. Effective studying is a skill that evolves over time. Kids should use their test results as feedback for their methods: How well did I study? What didn't work? What could I change for next time? Help your kids ponder these questions and come up with a "game plan" for next time. Strive, though, to create independent study times. Begin pushing independence as soon as your child starts to study, but do it gradually—you don't want your child to feel like you've pulled the rug out from underneath him. Even if you begin with short increments, your message is still clear: Studying is something I expect you to do by yourself. LEARNING TO STUDY: THE MIDDLE AND HIGH SCHOOL YEARS Many parents regularly help kids prepare for tests during the elementary school years. However, when kids reach middle school and high school, circumstances change. Adolescence—that infamous age of struggle—rears its ugly head, and most kids actively discourage parents from going anywhere near their "school life." (With the exception of buying supplies or providing rides at a moment's notice, of course!) Plus the subject matter is no longer that which parents automatically remember—or want to relearn. If your child is working with formulas, proofs, or equations, having him create review cards can be a huge help. On the back of an index card, have him write the math statement that needs to be memorized along with a definition that includes both what it means and when it is used. On the front, he should add one or two problems, from the book, that can be solved using the statement. Then to review, he can look at the problems and practice identifying which statements. Reviewing vocabulary. In all areas of the curriculum, kids have terms that they need to learn to define. Prior to making her study sheet, have your child go through the vocabulary list orally to see which ones she automatically knows. Elimination is a key piece when studying—there is no reason for words that have been mastered to be put on her list. Studying for social studies and science. Very often, in both subjects kids are expected to compare qualities or characteristics and to defend their knowledge with examples. A great way to accomplish this is with a grid— a visual representation of comparisons between topics that teaches kids how to generalize information. Your child should summarize notes for the grid. Being able to review these notes and explain them more elaborately is the first step in demonstrating an understanding of the material. Also, once the material is on a single page—regardless of the amount of knowledge it represents—it will look less daunting. If your child needs help with the grid, discuss the headings of the rows and columns. You can also make sure he knows where the information is located. Then he should be able to proceed on his own. After your child has created and studied the grid—done the independent preparation—then you can ask him questions based on the grid's information. Managing chapter reviews and other large nightmares. The first step is to organize materials. Class notes and any other significant papers should be organized according to topics. Textbook headings help by organizing topics using boldface type. If the amount of information is overwhelming, making a list of general topics, dividing them up over several days, and tackling them a little at a time is much more effective than looking at the whole piece over and over again. An extra hint: Have your child look back at notes and highlight any topic or ideas every night that the teacher spent a lot of time discussing and explaining in class. Doing this every day is very helpful. Odds are it's on the test. BMU teachers make time to meet with students after school. Late bus nights run two nights a week. It is very appropriate for your child to stop in before a test, especially if it is an area of difficulty, and ask a teacher to help her compile a list of key elements to focus on when studying. Teachers are available from 7:30 AM to 7:50 AM. Often a teacher will work during lunch with student(s) who ask for extra help. A hint to your child: Don't wait until the last minute—your discussion with your teacher should indicate effort, not a desire to get a "free ride!" HOMEWORK HELPERS: AS CLOSE AS YOUR COMPUTER If you are a subscriber to America Online, visit the Homework Help area on the Kids Only channel. You can join a chat with teachers and students, or post a question for a teacher (grades K-6) on a bulletin board and receive and answer back. You also have access to an online thesaurus, dictionary and encyclopedia. www.ajkids.com Type in a question and Jeeves will provide an answer, or suggest other places to search. http://kids.infoplease.com The bestselling almanac comes to life on this site. You'll also find help with study skills, a broad list of topics, and a solid search mechanism here. http://school.discovery.com/homeworkhelp/bjpinchbeck This site, designed by 14-year-old B.J. Pinchbeck and his dad, is part of the Discovery Channel site. It contains links to just about any place students would want to visit to find information: newspaper sites, news organizations, book and author sites, grammar pointer sites, and more. At www.homeworkcentral.com students can search by subject and by age group (Kids, Teens, and College & Beyond) to research such topics as current events, history, geography and technology. On the lighter side, visitors will find games and contests, too. Teachers and librarians have plenty to choose from here as well. Blue Mountain Union School has subscribed to a new online resource that will be an excellent place for students to find reliable information for answering questions and conducting research. It is called the Virtual Library. It is located on the Internet at www.vlibrary.org. Online access to the Oxford English Dictionary, encyclopedias, almanacs, a huge full-text periodicals database, a children’s periodicals database, the world’s largest bibliographic database, a collection of 100,000 superior websites which have been selected and cataloged by real live librarians, over 9,000 e-books, and more. Username: learning, Password: tool.
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