As any parent knows, homework time can be stressful for both the parent and the student.
While it is true that some students have excellent executive functioning skills, i.e., know how to prioritize and can do their homework in an efficient and effective manner, many others struggle with homework from first grade through high school. In fact, many students develop a “learned helplessness” and begin to depend on their parents to answer textbook and teacher questions, read and explain challenging material to them, collect and organize research material, and remind them of upcoming assignments. This cycle can begin very early in a child’s school career and may morph into a full fledged dependency with increasing amounts of frustration for both the parent and child.
A typical scenario might be your child coming to you to help him/her understand the directions to an assignment. After you explain what is involved in the assignment, your child then says he/she doesn’t know where to begin. You then help with the initiation of the assignment and leave the room. Within a few moments you can hear cries of frustration and desperation followed by the sounds of video games. When you peek in to see what is happening, you discover that the homework/project/essay is put aside and your child is on the computer connected to social media, games, etc. You then run interference and turn off the distractions and tell your child to get to work.
It’s at this point that you discover that he/she has no idea not only how to begin but does not comprehend what he/she has just read. You then sit down for the long haul and begin to prompt, explain, reread, and then just take over so that the assignment can be completed at a decent hour. Tempers may flare during this exchange with both parent and child feeling annoyance which quickly escalates into high anxiety and anger.
However, if students are taught effective study skill strategies and content area reading techniques, chances are that this dependency cycle can be halted. These strategies can be implemented by children at all grade levels, from elementary school through high school. For example, the previewing of chapters in a systematic manner before students read the material tricks the brain into thinking that the reader has prior knowledge.
Since prior knowledge plays a large role in both comprehension and retention of information, previewing can be a very powerful tool if done correctly. Another example of an effective study skill is learning how to read “actively” as opposed to “passively”. For example, students can develop their own marking code which can delineate main ideas, supporting details, examples, and conclusions. In this way they are more apt to stay alert and interact with the material than if the only thing moving is their eyeballs across the lines of print.
These study techniques also can serve as a signaling device that it is time to take a break since students will not be able to apply the strategies unless they are focused and attending to the task at hand. There is no point at staring at a page of print if one is not fully engaged with the material. That is simply a waste of time.
Eventually students will take ownership of these study skill strategies and use them throughout their schooling including college and graduate school. College life, with its many hours of unstructured time and increasing responsibilities left to the student, can play havoc with students who come unprepared to be independent learners and thinkers. Counseling offices are often filled with students who find it difficult to adjust to being more on their own academically. On the other hand, if students come to college prepared with “internal tools” they have a much greater chance of success.
Thus parents can begin to serve as a “guide on the side” instead of a “sage on the stage” and feel comfortable that their children are well equipped to tackle their homework and research projects independently and successfully throughout their school careers. Many more strategies can be incorporated in a student’s tool box (also known as the brain) to help children become successful lifelong learners.