Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Helping with Homework? Have a Highlighter Handy

It always happens when you are most busy trying to get dinner ready, getting some work done, or hustling the kids toward bed time. “I need help on my homework!” The worst part is that helping your kids with homework the right way takes a lot longer than you would like.

When I was teaching 8th grade, I had a lot of parents ask a lot of questions, but they almost never asked the most important question: how should parents help with homework? If they did ask, my short answer would be: help with a highlighter.

The worst thing a parent can do is just give the student the correct answer. First, it gives the student an easy way out without having to learn the lesson in the homework. Secondly, it leads the teacher to believe that the student has mastered the material when he or she has not. Lastly, it subtly gives the message that the parent does not believe the student can get the answer. But, it is a lot easier and faster for the parent.

The best thing a parent can do is show the student how to get the right answer. If the student doesn’t understand the concept, a few minutes of explanation can make all the difference. It may only take ten minutes, but rarely does a classroom teacher have ten minutes to devote to each student.

Parents should also teach their children how to catch their own mistakes. When my students wrote essays, I asked their parents to “Help with a highlighter” because highlighters are good at marking a spot on the page but bad for writing corrections. Parents should mark where a mistake is, but let the student figure out what was incorrect and how to fix it. When my son has math homework, I always look it over afterward. If I find errors, I tell him how many mistakes there are and let him find them. I might add that it is on the bottom half of the page if the homework is long. By training students to catch and repair their own mistakes, parents prepare them for the times when they are not around. 

This is especially helpful since kids need feedback as fast as possible. If a student knows there are spelling mistakes on tonight’s homework, he or she is motivated to make the corrections. If that same student gets a paper back a week later with spelling errors marked, it means nothing. This was a motivating factor when we were developing our Clickademics Essay Engine. If we could teach a student to write an introductory paragraph as they were writing their essay, it would be meaningful to the student and, hopefully, stick in their long term memory. In most classrooms, students learn how to write an introductory paragraph a week before writing the essay or a week later when the teacher reviews the corrected essays in class. By then it is ancient history.

So helping your student with homework is pretty much like everything else about parenting, there is an easy way that pays off now, and there is a harder way that pays off later. Usually pays off longer, too.

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