LESSON PLANS-Students learn how to take charge of their homework and not seek help from their parents.

The following article appeared in the Sunday Edition of the Orange County Register September 29th 2003

Lesson Plans - Students learn how to take charge of their homework and not seek help from their parents.

The Orange County Register

Homework used to take Melody Hernandez a long, long, long time.   Mostly, because she would wait a long, long, long time to tackle it.  Especially when it came to long-term projects. 
"At the last minute, I'd be up until midnight doing my projects and homework. I'd feel like, oh, they give us way too much," Melody recalls. That was back in first and second grades, before she got the best lesson she's ever had in homework from "Mrs. O," her third-grade teacher at The Pegasus School in Huntington Beach. Melody is a sixth- grader now and still uses the techniques.

Vicki Olivadoti, Ms. O to her students, spent the first week of school explaining how to do homework: How to write down what they had to do in a planning agenda. How to ask teachers about something they don't understand.How to figure out how much time an assignment will take whether it was due the next day or the next month and where that fit in with other activities. How to organize paperwork so it wouldn't get misplaced or lost.

In other words, Ms. O put her students, not their parents, in charge of their homework. "She taught me how to be more independent," Melody says. "I'm a lot more responsible with, OK, I have to write this into my agenda, I have this much time, or, OK, I have a lot of homework tonight so I'm not going to invite a friend over."

Olivadoti believes many parents are at a loss to teach children strategies to handle their own homework. So parents get too involved, ready to jump in the minute a child starts to stress. 
"That takes away ownership and responsibility from the child," Olivadoti says. "They don't even have to listen in the classroom because they'll get instruction at home." Too often, she finds, nobody is asking the right questions. Students don't ask their teachers questions about their assignments when they get them. Teachers don't ask the students if they understand what they are supposed to do. Parents don't ask what their role should be.

She knows it may be hard to find the time, but Olivadoti recommends that teachers try to give students time for questions before the homework leaves the classroom. And parents should encourage children from the early grades on to talk to their teachers about work that is troublesome. "In defense of teachers out there, we only know what our children tell us. If the kids go home, the parent helps, and they bring back completed papers with the right answers, the teachers think they are doing a great job."

Her approach departs from that of many homework experts when she recommends letting children choose within their free time - and within your own reasonable parameters - when and where to do homework. "When I was in school, I had to be out in the middle of the living room to do my homework," she says. "If I was in my bedroom, I'd be wondering what was going on out there."

Olivadoti's uncomplicated system is outlined in her books "Homework Solutions for the Weary Parent" and "Homework Solutions for Weary Students & Their Parents." She teaches parents and other teachers at seminars. She instructs students from grade school to college that she coaches privately, and in some cases she tutors entire schools and school districts. If something isn't working, evaluate it and trust the child to see that they may need to make changes. Have them write out a weekly plan and see what they learn from it. "I haven't met a child yet who didn't want to succeed," Olivadoti says. "Children who get into power struggles with their parents don't feel like they have choices."

And to teachers, she says, homework should not be graded, except on effort and turning it in. "Homework is a great opportunity to learn from mistakes and develop strategies to deal with challenges. When you give them F's or don't accept unfinished work, it puts a lot of pressure on the parents to step in and do it."


Author Vicki Olivadoti finds that children need the most training in time management and organization. Some tips:

  • For time management, have them mark off 15-minute increments on a daily calendar, highlighting spaces taken up by other activities or responsibilities - anything from piano lessons to showering.
  • For long-term projects, show them how to back-plan. If a book report is due in 30 days, they need to plan time to read the book and time to write the report. Use a monthly calendar to show how they'll need to read 10 or 15 pages a night to finish on time.
  • Mistakes are an opportunity to change behavior. Rather than berate a child for getting an F, ask what could be done differently next time.
  • Teachers don't want to hear "I don't get it." Instead, say, "I tried doing it this way; can you show me what I'm doing wrong?"
  • Disorganized children who have a desk or backpack that looks like it threw up need a specific organization system. Try this visualization exercise to get started: Close your eyes and see the assignment on the board. Record it in the planning agenda. Ask the teacher for the handout. Put the handout in the front pocket of your notebook. Put the notebook in your backpack. Take the backpack home. Take it out of the car.See yourself pulling the planning agenda and homework assignment out of the notebook. Find a place to study. Number the assignments in your planning agenda starting with the one you hate the most. Do that one first so it isn't hanging over you. See yourself finishing it and marking it off with a highlighter in your agenda. Put it in the back pocket of your notebook. Repeat each step with each assignment.Put the notebook with the finished assignments in your backpack. Put the backpack by the door. See yourself taking the backpack to the car the next morning. See yourself handing in the homework.Repeat the visualization exercise several times as children put it into practice.

For more information on Vicki Olivadoti's homework books and seminars, go to http://www.homeworksolutionsseminars.com/.

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