HOMEWORK! OH, HOMEWORK!

This article appeared in the Woodland Hills Elementary School's Newsletter following Vicki Olivadoti's Parent Teacher Seminar at their school.


"Homework! Oh, Homework!"
by Melanie Moore Khoury

Can you answer "yes" to any of these questions?
(a) When your child experiences frustration, makes mistakes, fails, forgets, or loses things, you feel bad for him/her.
(b) You sometimes say something like, "Let me help you", "Let me do it for you", "I'll read the directions for you", Let me explain this to you", "You should do it this way".
(c) You feel anxious or frustrated about your child's performance compared to his/her peers, and want to help.
(d) You want to help your child turn in homework with few or no errors.
(e) You feel relieved on nights when homework is not assigned .

Victoria Olivadoti's excellent Homework Solutions Workshop (at WHES on 9/26, sponsored by SAS) taught parents how to remove themselves from this stress of daily homework while building their child's confidence and sense of independence. Participants learned how we got into this mess, why homework is important, where to start (with a profound shift in attitude!), how to put it into action (with specific strategies for dealing with common problems), and what kids have to say about all this!

How did we get into this mess?
Homework has evolved into what it is today … it wasn't always a stressful activity!
- The '70s was considered the "Age of Unquestioned Confidence", when parents provided us a place to study, expected us to complete the work, and offered consequences if we did not cooperate.
- The '80s became the "Age of Anxiety", when parents became more involved in new classroom volunteer programs, started noticing differences in student performance, began to help students do homework.
- The '90s gave way to the "Age of Frustration", with parents doing more and more of their children's homework.
A vicious cycle has evolved. When a child turns in work with few or no errors from his parent's assistance, the teacher moves on assuming the teaching methods used were effective, and assigns more challenging homework next time, causing more frustration, and the parent feeling more pressure to give assistance!

Why do children even need homework?
Homework offers several positive benefits, including:
- Fostering independence
- Testing a student's understanding of a concept
- Placing time between a concept taught and the practice
- Encouraging purposeful listening
- Encouraging responsibility to listen for directions, to ask for clarification, to get the work home, to do the work, and to get it back to school on time - Teaching time management and preplanning
- **Allowing the instructor to evaluate the effectiveness of the previous instruction**

Sounds good. Where do I start?
A shift in perspective can give your child endless benefits!
1. Have faith in your child's abilities to do the work him/herself, and to meet and overcome his/her own problems. Instead of giving your child answers (the end-product), give your child the tools (the process).
2. See the opportunities in every difficulty. For example, your child's frustration is an opportunity for the parent to teach problem solving techniques. Mistakes are an opportunity to further learning and to clarify understanding. Failing is an opportunity to learn how to change behavior to avoid like results. And, forgetting/losing things is an opportunity to learn how a negative feeling can result in a behavioral change.

Okay, I get the idea. How do I put this into action? You can start by giving your child choices that you feel are acceptable about where he/she is going to study. Then sit down with your child and share that you know that homework has been a problem for the two of you, that you now realize that homework problems are the child's, and that you will be removing yourself from the picture because you now realize the child is grown up enough and capable of doing homework all by his/herself. Reaffirm that you expect the child to do the best job possible at all times, and that he/she deserves your confidence. Your child will continually test you, but you must stand firm. (The longer you have helped your child, the longer it will take to break this habit.) Instead of getting hooked into your child's tears and attacking comments, calmly acknowledge that you know this will be frustrating at first, but that you know he/she can do it, because you love the child and want him/her to be independent.

These steps will help next time there is a problem with homework.
1. Acknowledge that the problem belongs to the child.
2. Ask the child how he/she feels about it (using words, pictures, etc.)
3. Ask the child, "What do you think you can do to avoid this next time?" (children will have a vested interest in his/her idea succeeding!)
4. Discuss the results. If the problem was successfully solved, have the child identify the new feeling, and reinforce what was learned in the process. If the problem was not yet solved, remind the child that this is an opportunity to try another way, and repeat the above steps affirming that you have faith in the child's abilities.

For example:
- When your child is frustrated over homework, instead of helping them get the correct product, acknowledge that this (problem, etc.) is hard for the child, teach how to take a deep breath to calm down, and focus the opportunity to learn the process. ("Did you listen when your teacher gave instructions?" Try asking the child to read directions again, maybe many times and/or out loud. Teach the child to look at key words to cue what needs to be done. Ask the child to read the question, do the work, then go back to the instructions to see if everything was completed. Whether or not any of these things work, don't let the child hook you into the frustration!)
- Instead of correcting problems that are viewed by you as being incorrect, try redirecting the child to go over the work by using with questions that focus the child's attention. ("Rethink problem #s 3, 6, and 12." "Check your spelling, you have a few misspellings." "Look at the word ___." "Make sure you have read the questions carefully. Did you do everything the question asked? Highlight the parts you have done and see if anything is left unfinished.")
- When corrected/graded homework comes home, instead of focusing on the product, focus on the feeling the child has about it, and connect that feeling to the process and lessons learned. ("I see you got a ___ (high grade) on your work. How do you feel about it? Sounds like you feel great about all that practice/studying!)

"Falling down is easier when you are little. You don't have as far to fall and it is easier to brush yourself off and pick yourself up. Allowing your child to make mistakes when they are young will prepare them for falls when they are older." --Victoria Olivadoti

What do children say about this?
Eight, 9, and 10 year old students in Ms. Olivadoti's class, who have learned to solve problems by figuring it out on their own, have described that they felt "independent", "like I could do anything!", "responsible", "successful when I finally got it!", "grown-up", "proud of myself". Some have said, , "I wasn't afraid anymore", "I don't think I'll get as frustrated next time", and "At first I was angry with you because you wouldn't give me the answer, but after I figured out what to do, I was glad you didn't help me."
Bottom line: It works!