Being an Efficient Homework Helper—Part II: Strategies, Organization, and Dealing with Fatigue

By: Regina G. Richards
This is the second installment of a multi-part series about helping children manage homework. The first post is about establishing good habits creating an optimal learning environment and the third motivation and tools.
This article originally appeared in http://www.ldonline.org/

Basic Strategies

One of the best gifts that we can give to our students is an appreciation of and ability to use strategies. Strategies enable us to pre-plan and organize activities and tasks. We use strategies to pull in our processing strengths while compensating for processing weaknesses. This ability is very beneficial in a wide range of situations throughout our lives.

Some strategies are obvious, such as mnemonic phrases. Students learning music use the mnemonic “Every Good Boy Does Fine.” The first letter of each word in this phrase stands for the notes on a music staff: E, G, B, D, F. The mnemonic “Never Eat Shredded Wheat” can help students remember directions in sequence: N for North; E for East; S the South; and W for West.

“One of the best gifts that we can give to our students is an appreciation of and ability to use strategies. Strategies enable us to pre-plan and organize activities and tasks. “

Other strategies are less obvious. For example, if you have dinner plans for 6 p.m., you need to determine how long it will take to get to the restaurant so you know when to begin your travel. You also need to determine how long it will take you to get ready so you know when to start preparing. This time-orientation strategy helps us pre-plan an activity backward from the goal and is valuable for determining how much time is needed. It can be used in planning any project. It is wise to encourage your child to use a time planning strategy such as this.

As we help our students use strategies, we initially need to model how to use the strategy and then provide practice. The end goal is for students to develop independence in automatically using strategies. No two people have the same learning style and every individual is a unique combination of strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, a strategy that is extremely beneficial for one student may not be useful for another. In developing a toolbox of strategies, parents can help their students learn when and how to select the appropriate tool. Some valuable resources for tools can be found in the books noted in the References section at the end of this article.

Organization

Some ideas for helping your student organize their book bag or backpack follow. To help increase your child’s follow through, initially you may want to check the bag every few days, providing comments and suggestions to help maintain the organization.

  • Use different colored folders for different subjects.
  • Have a special place for papers that need to come home.
  • Have a special place for papers that will be returned to the teacher.
  • Develop a consistent routine for your child to replace homework in the appropriate spot in the book bag immediately upon completing it.
  • Have a specific place for your child to place the book bag when it is ready to return to school and encourage your child to use this location consistently. It is valuable to have them place the book bag in this location the night before.
  • Praise your child for following through with the routine.

Understanding the task

Review the basic assignment with your child to ensure that they understand what is required. Many children miss the overall message or global concept. Visual organizers, also called mind maps, are very efficient in presenting the global view in a concrete visual manner. Below is an example of a visual organizer comparing frogs and toads. It identifies some characteristics of each, as well as characteristics similar to both.

Figure 1: A comparison mind map provides a global view in a visual format.

In previewing the assignment with your child, be alert to their understanding of vocabulary used. Misinterpreting vocabulary words is a frequent source of frustration for students. Many books describe various forms and use of graphic organizers, including those listed in the References section below.

Fatigue Issues

Students may often interpret feelings of fatigue as boredom or a desire to escape the situation. There are many different types of fatigue and, consequently, many reasons for it. Exploring the reasons is beyond the scope of this article. However, it is helpful to have some basic strategies in your “Parent Tool Kit.” Then you may select a tool to help your student manage their feelings of fatigue during homework time.

If your child continues to ask you for help even though you are confident that the task is within their skill level, you can play a game with them. Begin by placing 10 pieces of candy in a bowl. Tell them that every time they ask you for help, they will give you one piece of candy. When the candy is gone, you will not help any more. Assure them that they will keep whatever pieces of candy remain in the bowl at the end of the homework time. When playing this game with your child, be sure that the task is within their ability to work independently. You may vary the number of pieces of candy, depending on the task.

Another important component of encouragement is to provide statements of demystification (as discussed in Part One of the series). These help remove the mystery of why one task is difficult while another is easier while increasing your child’s understanding of her processing strengths and weaknesses.

Use concrete statements to emphasize strengths, such as:

  • “I saw that drawing you did; you are really great at that kind of artwork.”
  • “Very few kids your age can draw like this; you have wonderful talent.”

Use concrete statements relevant to your child’s struggles, such as:

  • “Many kids struggle because they do things too quickly without thinking enough. This may get them into trouble or cause them to do schoolwork too fast and carelessly. Sometimes you are like these kids because you do things too quickly. Let’s try and slow down.”

Use concrete statements relevant to your child’s efforts to overcome their specific difficulties, such as:

  • “I like the way you have continued to work at this when the other kids have already learned it. It’s particularly hard to do something when you’re the last to get it done, but you have persisted — and you are almost there.”
  • “I can see it’s hard to keep working on that letter, and you are continuing to persist. Thank you.”

In the book, Eli, The Boy Who Hated to Write, Eli describes multiple benefits he experienced due to the impact he felt from encouragement. As parents and teachers, we need to listen to our children about this very critical point.

Regina G. Richards, MA, is a board certified educational therapist and former director of Big Springs School, specializing in multidisciplinary programs for language learning disabilities. She teaches regularly at University of California Riverside Extension.  She’s written several books, among them The Source for Dyslexia & Dysgraphia; The Source for Learning & Memory; Eli, The Boy Who Hated To Write; LEARN – Learning Efficiently and Remembering mNemonics, Visual Skills Appraisal2; and Classroom Visual Activities2. She is active in her local IDA branch, is a past president, and is the parent of an adult son who experiences dyslexia and dysgraphia and is currently successful in business, working with computers.

References

Brooks, R. and Goldstein, S. (2002).  Raising Resilient Children: Fostering Strength, Hope , and Optimism in Your Child.  Amazon.  

Levine, M. D. (1990).  Keeping A Head In School: A Student’s Book about Learning Abilities and Learning Disabilities.  Educators Publishing Service (eps.schoolspecialty.com).

Richards, R.G. (January, 2008). Being an Efficient Homework Helper: Turning a Chore into a Challenge. Written for LD OnLine (www.ldonline.org ).

Richards, R.G. (2001).  L*E*A*R*N – Playful Strategies for All Students.  RET Center Press (http://www.retctrpress.com/).

Richards, R.G. (2003).  The Source for Learning and Memory Strategies.  Pro-Ed Publishing (https://www.proedinc.com).

Richards, R.G. and Richards, E. I. (2008).  Eli – The Boy Who Hated to Write.  RET Center Press (http://www.retctrpress.com/).

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