Should Parents Help With Homework? A How-To Guide

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One of the toughest parts about seeing your kids through school is deciding to “let go.” To let them take responsibility, make mistakes, and “learn how to learn” under their own control.

But what happens when they get stuck, and aren’t able (or willing) to figure it out on their own?

Whether that’s on their first algebra assignment, a year-long science project they don’t know how to start, or a lingering book report where the due date has come and gone…

Sometimes it’s really hard to know when to step in and how to direct them without helping too much.

Ultimately the question we’re asking is:

Should parents help with homework? And if so, how much?

It’s one of the first questions we get from the parents we work with, so we put together a guide that you can use to find an answer that works for your family. Below is a breakdown of when it makes sense to lend a hand, and how to do it effectively.

Should parents help with homework? 5 common questions

First off, let’s address some common questions. Then we’ll outline some more general recommendations on what to do.

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Question 1: How involved should I be when I review my daughter’s math homework and I see that there might be a wrong answer? Should I correct it or let her bring it to school with incorrect answers?

When your child starts a math assignment, it’s a great idea to make sure she understands the directions and watch her do the first few problems so she’s off to a good start and knows how to solve them.

A parent’s job is to make sure a child’s homework is complete, but not to critique it for accuracy – that’s the teacher’s job.

If it’s every now and then and your child is receptive to help, asking her to fix one or two answers is fine, but often what happens is that parents get in a power struggle over making sure the entire assignment is correct. Again, because you just want to aim for completion, don’t worry about one or two answers being wrong. I would let it go and let her get feedback in class from her teacher and classmates.

Question 2: What do I do when my daughter has a math question on her homework and I have no idea how to do it? The way that she is learning math is completely different than the way I learned. How should I direct her?

When your child is stuck, you have three options:

First, you can say, “Let me show you how to do it. This is the way.” However, it’s likely that your child will say, “Mom, that’s not how Mrs. Smith does it,” and there may be an argument or two on how to do it correctly.

You could also say, “You know what, honey? I already went to fourth grade. It’s your homework, not mine. You figure it out.” That’s probably not a great option either because your child won’t feel supported when they are frustrated with work.

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The third and best way to assist with homework struggles, is to ask, “Are there other examples like this one in your book or in your notes? Have you ever seen this type of question before?” By encouraging your child to look for examples or similar problems, she’ll be more likely to solve the problem on her own.

Question 3: It takes my son a loooong time to complete his homework because he is constantly distracted or unfocused. How can I help him get it done in a reasonable amount of time?

Kids who toil for hours on seemingly simple assignments can be difficult to handle. And we actually have a name for them: “Super Bowl Kids” – the game is on for four hours, but they only play football for an hour.

Interestingly though, it isn’t that they’re not working diligently when they do finally sit down to work. They’re just easily distracted and taken away from that work frequently.

Research shows that when a task seems too large or difficult for kids (and students of any age), they often procrastinate more.

So in this situation, a timer is a surprising effective solution. Set the timer for 15 minutes at first, and let your child know that if they work as hard as they can for that 15 minutes, they get to take a 5-minute break when it’s done. Then repeat that process, slowly increasing the working time up to 25 minutes. Before they know it, the assignment is done, their confidence is up, and they’re onto the next thing.

Question 4: My daughter doesn’t write down her assignments since she thinks she can remember them. What are some tools we can use to work on this?

This one is much more common than you would think. The best solution?

First, set the expectation: they need to record there assignments somewhere. Then (and this is the key) allow them to choose how they’d like to do that. Whether it’s a good old fashioned pencil and paper in a planner or agenda book, or by using an app on their phone, when kids get to choose the method, they’re much more likely to follow through.

Now keep in mind, writing down assignments is an important first step, but it’ll only take you so far without learning how to get organized and prioritize. Organization starts when your child walks through the front door after school get home, and should be an integral part of the evening routine each school night before they go to bed. Here are some easy organization tips you can implement in addition to recording assignments.

Question 5: My son struggles with tackling long-term assignments, so he procrastinates. How can I help him start his projects early?

As it turns out, this problem is actually very similar in nature to the “Super Bowl Kids” problem, in that students often procrastinate more the larger the project. And long-term assignments that may span an entire month or quarter exacerbate this tendency.

Because these projects are so large though, simply jumping into work generally makes the issue worse rather than better. Instead, we need to add in some planning into the process, and this is where you can help.

A great way to do this is to make Sunday dinners the jumping off point for planning. They’re already at the table, away from distractions, so start by tacking on 15-20 minutes either before or after dinner to review upcoming assignments for the week.

You can ask “What is coming up in class that you might need to start working on?” If your child says, “I have a test on Friday” or “I have a science project due in two weeks,” you can then take the opportunity to help them talk through some forward planning. You can ask, “What might you do to break down that project into smaller tasks?” And then have them outline the steps they need to take.

Now, keep in mind that this may not apply to elementary students, who are going to need more parental help planning out long term assignments until their executive functioning skills are developed enough to plan weeks ahead.

Your role as a parent: How to oversee homework and studying without going too far

When it comes down to it, our problem as parents is this:

It’s incredibly tempting to check online or in your kid’s backpack to see what’s due… or to jump in to help with homework at the first sign of struggle, especially if our children aren’t forthcoming about their workload or issues they’re having in class.

And on top of that, when our students struggle with motivation, it’s common for them to do the bare minimum or avoid homework altogether.

But in an attempt to “help” we often go too far. We end up enabling our children by constantly checking to see what homework is due, and helping them get it done on time, even though this task should be their job.

Here’s what we recommend:

1. A certain amount of involvement is appropriate for elementary-school students.

Like I mentioned above, kids who are elementary school age haven’t fully developed their executive functioning skills, and so aren’t quite ready to go it alone when it comes to planning and working through long assignments independently.

All this means in practice is that when you know there’s an assignment coming up, sit down with them and ask “What are the steps you’re going to need to do to complete this ?”

Then, instead of fully leaving it to them to work it out, open up a dialogue and try to let them come up with the steps. Then, when they get stuck, assist along the way. As they get the hang of it, you can help less and less over time. But don’t be afraid to help the process along when they’re young. The question shouldn’t be “should parents help with homework?” but rather, “how much should we help?” at this stage.

2. If your kids are in middle or high school, resist the impulse to help.

I recently spoke to one mom who called our office in Fairfax looking for a tutor. She was in quite a quandary. She was making it a regular practice to tap into her freshman son’s school portal each day and print out his assignments so they would be ready for him when he came home from school. When asked why, she responded, “If I didn’t he would never do them.”

should parents help with homework image5One of the most important gifts a parent can give to their child is the ability to navigate life, including schoolwork, independently. Middle school is definitely the time to start. And in high school it’s a must.

They’ll never have the opportunity to develop the skills they’ll need to do that if you don’t set the stage for them to do these things on their own. So again, work with them to get the process started, but then adopt a “hands-off” philosophy so that they have the chance to work through it themselves.

3. Give them the tools.

Now once your kids start working through their homework independently, inevitably you’ll run across some issues with staying organized, getting their work done on time, and studying ahead of time for tests.

So it’s not usually enough to just set them loose on their work without helping them develop the skills they’ll need to make their way through it. These include:

  • Organizational skills, which help kids feel more in control of their work and confident that they have a handle on all of the homework and studying they have to do.
  • Time management skills, which will help them get started on their work, stay focused, and understand how long things actually take to finish.
  • Study skills, which help them make better use of the time they do dedicate to homework and studying.

As the old allegory says: “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” And that couldn’t be more true when it comes to studying and doing homework, so it’s worth the investment.

4. Give them a choice.

should parents help with homework image6Expect that your student has a system in place to track assignments, projects, and dates of quizzes and tests. It should be up to the student to determine which system works best for him or her, so give them a choice on how they want to accomplish this.

Some students find that apps that run on smartphones or tablets are ideal for this application where they are permitted. Others, although very few these days, prefer the old-fashioned assignment notebook.

5. Trust but verify.

Trust that your child has completed his daily assignments and planned out those that are long-term, but be wise enough to verify. This means that you may want to cross-reference what he says he has for homework against what is documented in the portal.

“Trust but verify” shouldn’t be daily, but should be used when you have that uneasy feeling that work has gone undone. Ask your child to log onto the portal with you there; do not do it on your own.

6. Work on communication rather than the schoolwork itself.

The question remains, “What do you do if the work still goes undone without your support?” The answer is complicated because the obstacle is typically deeper than missing assignments. So often, there’s a problem with communication.

Schedule a time to sit down with your child and discuss the issue without nagging or judging him. When kids feel as if their parents listen to them, they are more likely to listen to their parents. I can recommend a fantastic book and one that changed the way I deal with the students I teach and my own children. It’s called, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and How to Listen So Kids Will Talk. Check it out. It’s an easy read and so worth it.

In the end, communication is key and will help you navigate sticky situations when it comes to helping with schoolwork.

How much do you help?

Now over to you: How much do you help with homework?

Despite our recommendations above, we know full well it’s certainly not easy to find the right balance, and there is no one-size-fits-all way of handling it.

So let us know: What level of involvement works best for you and your child?

Leave us a comment below, we’d love to hear how you tackle it.

12 School Organizing Tips To Start The Year Strong (For All Ages)

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There’s that famous quote that holds true in almost every area in life: “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”

For our purposes though, let’s amend it slightly:

Eighty percent of school success is showing up AND staying organized.

I’ve worked with tremendously gifted students for whom learning came easy, but their performance in school did not reflect their true abilities. I’ve also worked with many students over the years who struggled to pick new things up, but managed to keep at it, stay motivated, and achieve success.

Surprisingly, it’s organization that usually makes or breaks students’ level of success in school, because it’s one of those “cornerstone” habits that impacts almost ever other area in their academic lives.

So whether your child is:

  • In elementary school and just starting to get the school routine down
  • In middle school and figuring out how to manage the increased workload in their classes
  • Or in high school and getting prepared for upper-level courses, SATs, and college applications

Below you’ll find a list of 12 school organizing tips for you to use to start off the year strong.

1. Set up a regular school “check in” time

First up is a common cliche in parenting: get involved.

Unfortunately, just “getting involved” in your child’s schoolwork isn’t quite the right approach, because more is not always better, and sometimes you can create even an even bigger issue than you started off with in the first place by being nitpicky or overbearing.

So before you jump in, spend a little time to think and determine what level of involvement you’re going to have with homework, grades, and other aspects of their academics. This way you have a good idea of what you need to discuss with them before you start.

Then, set up a regular meeting time with your son or daughter to talk each week about assignments, what’s going on in class, upcoming tests, and any other concerns they might have.

This shouldn’t be a lecture, so frame it as a conversation: “Can we set aside a few minutes to talk each week about school?” And leave it open for them to discuss how they’re feeling and what they would like to see you do better.

2. Don’t nag

Now that you’ve established a line of communication with your child, it’s extremely important to then give them the space they need to get organized and figure out how to manage their schoolwork in a way that works for them.

Kids may not immediately see the benefits of staying organized, but constant reminders are the last thing they want to hear. So when you are helping them get organized this year, make it clear that you don’t want to nag, you just want to set them up for success.

Then because you have a regular meeting time set up to discuss school together, use that time to suggest changes, voice your concerns, and make sure that they’re staying on track.

3. Set up a homework routine

Making the best use of time after school can be a BIG struggle, especially for busy families. Your kids just finished sitting in class all day, and the last thing that they want to be thinking about is studying and homework.

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That’s why this is one of those times that can benefit tremendously from setting up a routine that you hold to, especially for elementary and middle school students.

First, set a regular start time to help avoid the “I’ll do it later” syndrome. This could be:

  • Right after school
  • After 30 min break
  • Before dinner
  • After dinner
  • Right before bedtime

And consider scheduling in some downtime after school or other activities to give younger students a break.

For high schoolers it’s hard to tell them exactly when they have start, but using one of those “blocks” as a general rule can help curb the late-night stress of realizing it’s time for bed and they’re homework isn’t done.

4. Keep homework contained (but mobile)

Another problem that crops up during homework time is the seeming explosion of papers and books and binders all across the house.

Now interestingly, studies are now showing the kids are more productive when they vary where they do their homework. But that being said, it can be hard to stay organized when they’re constantly shifting spots.

So first off, make sure you’ve designated at least three spots that homework can be completed and try to stick to them. This will help eliminate some of the clutter if you have a space cleared off already.

Then, for younger students, you can try putting together a mobile organizer for all their school supplies that they can take with them from spot to spot. For older students in middle or high school, you can try helping to set up their backpack so that it permanently holds all of the supplies they’ll need to do their homework on a regular basis. This will also allow them to do homework during study hall, breaks, at the library, after practice, etc.

5. Get everything ready the night before

Now a lot of the family energy during the school week is spent on mornings, making sure that everybody is ready to go and out the door on time. But as they say, a truly productive morning starts the night before.

So instead of leaving everything until the morning of, a great way to stay organized is to do things like packing backpacks the night before the, making sure that all assignments are in there and ready to go, and making lunches the night before.

You can even put it all together into a basket or in a specific spot next to the door each time, something we call “The Launching Pad.”

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You can even have them set aside outfits for the next day. Say hello to less stressful more smooth school day mornings… just make sure to do it all early enough that everyone still gets to bed on time.

6. Improve the sleep schedule

A big part of staying organized is actually having enough focus during the day to make sure that you remember assignments, that papers go in the right places, and you have the ability to sit down without distraction and study or do homework on time.

And probably the number one contributing factor to that is getting enough sleep at night.

So making sure your child is getting to bed at the same time consistently will help improve their level of focus throughout the day. A great way to do this is to set an electronics curfew and enforce an hour of quiet time before bed for winding down.

This may not be a popular decision especially if you have kids who are older and in high school but they’ll thank you when they’re not dragging when they get out of bed the next morning.

7. Use color coding

A great way to make organization fun, especially for younger kids, is to use color coding. Now that’s not to say it can’t be helpful for older students as well, because the research does shows that it can help with visual memory. But figuring out how to get your kids engaged in the organizing process can be difficult, and this is one way to let them have some say over how they want to do it.

You can have them organize their notebooks and binders by color (e.g. math is green, science is red, etc.), or even go as far as using specific colored pens and pencils for either different types of assignments or different subjects.

And let’s face it who doesn’t love going to Target or Walmart to pick out some new stuff!

8. Label and organize binders and notebooks

Then once you have some initial color coding in place, you can further organize all of your notebooks and binders by adding in some labeling.

So not only can you have a binder for a specific subject or subjects but you can also designate certain sections within them for notes, homework assignments, study materials for tests etc. You can also create labels for things like papers that need to be signed and returned to the teacher, returned assignments that are already graded, and any longer-term homework or projects that aren’t due right away.

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Again this is a great way to get your child engaged in the process by allowing them to figure out what organization method would work best and to run with it, so put out the suggestion, and the let them determine how to get it implemented.

9. Schedule a weekly “Clean Sweep”

Even the most organized among us tend to build up clutter over time, no matter how hard we try.

So a great way to combat this is to schedule a 20 minute pre-arranged session each week where everyone in the house drops what they’re doing to clean and get organized.

Not only will this help your kids stay on track with their school organization efforts, but will also help foster a sense of family involvement so that it’s not just that your child is being singled out. They can see you and other members of the family doing the same.

10. Archive old assignments

Along those same lines, your kids are also going to have a buildup of old papers and assignments that aren’t necessarily relevant to what they’re doing in school right now.

Archiving and properly treating (i.e. not throwing them out too soon) all assignments should be a regular part of your organization routine.

A great rule of thumb is to make sure that you’re keeping old tests and quizzes and then tossing everything else. That way if there are any cumulative test throughout the year, your child will be able to reference back to previous questions to study, and will know which areas they need to work on where they may have gotten marked off previously.

11. Use an agenda book

It’s incredible the impact just getting something down on paper can have.

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So for students in middle and high school, an agenda book (or something like it) should be the official holding place of all things important. So encourage your child to fill it out with what homework is due, what tests are coming up, projects or after school activities, and anything else that’s important to remember each day.

Then once it’s down on paper it’s going to be easier for your son or daughter to figure out how to schedule time to complete their assignments based on when they’re due and how important they are.

12. Create a calendar for extracurricular activities

Finally creating a calendar for extracurricular activities is a great way to get the entire family on the same page.

Maybe you have a swim team practice on the schedule twice a week from 4:00 – 7:00. Maybe there’s band practice on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 5:00 – 6:00. Maybe there’s a big quarterly science project due at the end of the month. Whatever it is, getting it on a calendar the whole family can see will help everyone stay informed and on the same page.

You can even take a step further and give every person a different color to stay even more organized!

Time to get organized this school year!

Although these are just a few organization techniques that you can apply to your kids’ schoolwork and other activities, they can have a huge impact if used regularly.

That being said, there are a virtually unlimited number of organization ideas you can try, so don’t feel limited to just this list. Use it as a starting point that experiment and customize for what makes sense for your family.

Then, if you come up with something that works great, or if you have something that you want to share that’s not included in this list, go ahead and leave us a comment below. We’d love to hear what works best for you!

Why Is My Smart Kid So Scattered? And What’s the Real Impact on Grades?

smart but scattered image 1Every day I speak to parents who are stressed out and confused. If you live in the DC area, you can probably identify with being “stressed out.” But many are also confused at how their smart kids can be so scattered.

The parents who call our office looking for help are confounded by the fact that their kid is really smart (heck, most of these kids can tell you a story a mile long, remembering every last detail, and some have even been in the gifted program), but their grades are mired in mediocrity because they are perpetually disorganized and procrastinate like crazy.

Parents report that when left to their own devices without any parental oversight, these kids can’t keep up with their assignments and rarely study for tests, let alone remember when the tests are in the first place. And not surprisingly, when parents try to help, their overtures are resisted.

It just doesn’t make sense. How can a such a smart kid be so forgetful? Why is life with this kid so chaotic, with assignments left until the very last minute, stressing everyone out? And why, when help is clearly needed, do these kids push their parents away?

The Real Reason Kids Are So Scattered

Let’s start out with one of the most common reasons kids underperform in school — weak executive functions. Executive functions (EF) refer to cognitive processes occurring in the frontal lobe of the brain. They have to do with focus, problem solving, planning and organization. As you can imagine, these abilities are incredibly important in school.

So when kids aren’t all that focused or organized and have a hard time thinking ahead, we often assume that they’re lazy, unmotivated, or just don’t care about school. But actually this isn’t the case at all. It’s often that their executive functioning abilities, which do get better with age, are weak.

ADHD vs. Poor Executive Functions

Sometimes, parents wonder if a child with weak executive functions has ADD or ADHD, because the symptoms seem similar, and there definitely is overlap. A lot of kids have weak executive functioning abilities, but the problem might not be significant enough to warrant a diagnosis of ADHD. However, everyone with ADHD has executive functioning deficits.

The Disconnect Between Ability and Achievement

Regardless of whether your child just has weak EF or ADHD, it doesn’t really matter. The symptoms are similar and there’s almost always a divide between ability and achievement. Kids with weak EF are capable kids who underperform. They have the potential to get As, but they’re earning Bs and Cs, stressing you out, and falling further behind. The work they turn in to their teachers is not always in line with their intelligence. We see this a lot in writing. Very verbal students have a tough time organizing their ideas and sustaining focus long enough to get all their thoughts down on paper.

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Now, not all kids who have executive functioning weaknesses have problems in writing, but what they almost always have in common is difficulty staying organized. Their binders, backpacks and oh yeah, even their bedrooms are not the tidiest in town. And so often, when things are scattered, time management isn’t so great either. Prioritizing is not a natural ability. The students we see don’t think about homework in an organized fashion.  They don’t think to ask themselves “What do I have to do tonight? And what should I do first, second, and third?” Getting organized enough to prioritize homework is tough for some, but what’s even harder is planning out that book report that’s due in two weeks or that science project not due for another month.

What the Research Says: The Impact of Disorganization on GPA

For years, we’ve been helping kids to get and stay a bit more organized, and it’s not an easy process. Most kids need regular upkeep to develop “habits of mind,” and for many, this takes a long time.

As a classroom teacher, I always knew that the students who came to class prepared had a leg up. There was a clear difference between the ones who did their homework and had it filed away in the right folder and those who slapped down a few answers on a piece of paper and had to dig through their backpack to find it. But I never saw research on the impact of disorganization on homework completion. I just knew that my disorganized kids chronically underperformed, even if they could do well on tests (because they were indeed intelligent).

A few weeks ago, I was reviewing some new research when I ran across a study from The Journal of School Psychology. Here’s what I found: kids with attention difficulties turned in 12% fewer assignments than kids without attention problems. Although this doesn’t sound like a big number, the impact on grade point average for these kids was significant. The researchers found that the culprit wasn’t behavior during homework, like lack of focus, it was actually organization (bringing home the right materials, bringing the completed work back to class the next day, etc.). Disorganization was the most important predictor of homework completion and GPA.

What You Need to Know

The bottom line is that when your child has a poor sense of time and seems to have trouble keeping track of his things, it’s not intentional, and no amount of nagging or reprimanding him will help. Instead, what really helps is simply understanding that your child needs more structure than the average kid. Simple measures to set up routines and structures can work for all your kids.

Personally, I’ve found simple systems to be the best, and that’s because although I love to be organized and tidy, I have to work at it. It doesn’t come naturally for me and I’ve found that other parents have similar struggles.  By targeting a few easy-to-implement routines and strategies that can be done on autopilot, virtually any parent can help their child even if he or she is resistant.

The key is choosing the right strategies and using them consistently. Both elements need to be present to see lasting and positive change. If you want to reduce the stress in your household surrounding your kid’s organization and time management (or lack thereof), check out my online course Getting Past Procrastination: Get Organized, Beat Procrastination, and End The Homework Battles In The Next 3 Weeks.

“A” Grades Are The New “B” Grades: Grade Inflation & Why GPAs Are Higher Than Ever Before

When your kid gets a “A” in class, it’s not that special anymore. In fact it’s A LOT more common than it used to be.  And that’s not because they are better students–it’s because the teachers are less discerning.

WTOP’s Shawn and Hillary spoke with Ann Dolin, President of Educational Connections Tutoring, about the problem with grade inflation.

Click below to listen or if you prefer, read the transcript that follows the recording.

What is grade inflation?

Grade inflation is the tendency for teachers to give higher academic grades when the same exact work would have earned lower grades in the past. Now, an A is the most awarded grade in high school and in college. In fact, receiving an A is three times more common now than in 1960. The number of Bs and Cs has decreased making room for a lot more As. Although it’s interesting, the number of Ds and Fs given has remained about the same.

Why is this occurring?

In high school, teachers realize that getting into a good college is more competitive than ever, so many report they don’t want to decrease their students’ chances of a scholarship or acceptance.

But we’re also seeing that the average SAT and ACT test score for admitted college students has increased. So students are more capable, and some argue that that’s why grades are higher – more prepared kids equal higher grades.

But college is also incredibly expensive. Students not only want to do well, but they want to get their money’s worth. So they tend to take classes where they’re more likely to get an A. With websites like Rate My Teacher and Rate My Professor, students can post a rating and a review of their teachers. So often, when college students are in the process of course selection, they’ll look at these ratings. And one of the top reasons students chose professors is based on their tendency to give high marks.

What’s the downside to grade inflation?

First, when you’re a top student, it’s hard to stand out. A couple of years ago, I asked a local guidance counselor at a top performing public high school in Fairfax County about the issue of grade inflation. He said that at his school’s graduation, they stopped reading the names of the kids with a 4.0 GPA because over 25% of the graduating class had a 4.0 GPA or higher.

And a recent study published in the Journal of Economics of Education Review found that when it comes to college, students are actually taking easier classes, typically in the Humanities area, because these courses statistically yield higher grades, and they’re avoiding classes that yield lower grades, such as those in math, physics, and engineering.

2 Simple Techniques That Boost Confidence & Understanding: Review & Preview

For me, math was my Achille’s heel in school, and like many kids, I wasn’t alone. It was two simple ideas that turned learning around for me and these techniques work in virtually every subject.

I want to take you back to the year of 1983. The year of big hair, flash dance, General Hospital, and Three’s Company. I’m 14 years old and I’m sitting in my eighth grade algebra class, staring blankly at the formula on the chalkboard. I can feel my neck tighten and my shoulders tense up because I just don’t get it. I desperately want to get it, but I just don’t. I even sit in the front row of the class so I can pay even more attention. I mean, what kid intentionally sits in the front row? Every day, I’d walk into class and say to myself, “Ann, today’s going to be the day you focus long enough to learn this math!” But within five minutes, I was lost once again.

As it turns out, I had a very hard time focusing on the things that weren’t interesting to me that I found too complex. And the lecture-based way math was taught to me wasn’t the way I could learn the material.

At home, my parents tried to help me as much as they could. I remember one day I sat down with my dad at my little yellow Ethan Allen desk. My dad was a soft spoken, thoughtful man. He was an engineer so his world was all about numbers. He lived his days with formulas, solving problems to the precise decimal. So who better than him to help me understand algebra?

We finally worked through a tricky problem consisting of two variables. I said the answer was positive, but he said it was negative. I started to argue with him about why “x” was clearly positive, and in a moment of utter frustration my dad stood up, his face bright red, and hurled my math book against the wall. It exploded into this flurry of pages and I thought, “Oh my god, what is going on?”

Hearing all the commotion, my mother walked in and said, “you’re getting a tutor.” And thank God I did because that began my journey of understanding why I wasn’t getting all of this. It was my tutor Mr. Rogo who helped me realize that my problem wasn’t related to intelligence or ability, but instead had to do with my inability to focus in certain settings and to study effectively.

Reviewing Helped a Lot

The first thing my tutor did was go back to the holes in my learning and fix them and fill them in. This was a time of heavy reviewing. Then he showed me how to use examples in my book and notes to study independently. And we practiced problems to the point of overlearning, so that I truly understood the concepts at a deep level, not just a superficial one.

Previewing Sealed the Deal

Finally, he taught me the concept of previewing, which to this day is how we teach kids with gaps in their learning to overcome their obstacles. Previewing is different from reviewing, because instead of focusing on topics already taught, it focuses on knowledge not yet acquired.  For instance, if fractions were taught at the start of the year, reviewing them over winter break would be a wise thing to do, but previewing more difficult topics like quadratic equations that won’t be taught until April, will also set your child up for success.  You can preview topics that will be taught in the next class, or even in the next unit next month!  They don’t have to understand everything about topics their teachers have not taught yet, but becoming familiar with the concepts and how their base knowledge can be applied to more complex problems is a sure-fire way to prime them for what’s to come.

And the good news is that the review-preview technique works for any topics, not just math!

How Can You as a Parent Help Your Child Who is Having Subject Struggles?

First, understand that your child might be feeling down about the particular subject. When kids feel dejected, they’re going to be avoidant. It’s common for them to either put very little effort into their homework if they even do it all and to have a very low tolerance for frustration. What feels easy and simple to other students might feel overwhelming for your child.

Sometimes, kids will ask their parents for help, and if this happens in your home, it’s a good sign. It means that your child cares enough to get your opinion. When you’re in this situation and your child is stuck, like if your sixth grader is frustrated because she just doesn’t understand how to set up ratios in math, there are three ways you can respond: 

  • Option 1:“Honey, let me show you how to do this. First, set up the fraction like this and then you make sure the numerator …” But inevitably you hear, “Mom, that’s not the way Mrs. Smith says to do it!”
  • Option 2:“Suzie, I already went to sixth grade. This is your homework, not mine.” This might feel good at the moment, but if you want your child to come to you later on when he or she needs support, this probably isn’t the best response.
  • Option 3:“These ratios can be tough. Are there examples from your notes or do you have a similar problem like this in your book?”

What’s the best approach?

Option 3 is the best answer because you’re leading your daughter to the answer without telling her what to do. You’re helping her figure it out on her own which is a skill she absolutely needs to have in sixth grade and through middle and high school.

Now, if you’re feeling especially confident, you can help even more with the preview technique. When kids not only understand the skills involved in their homework but they also get a sneak peek and understand what they’re going to see in class the next day or even the next month, they’ll be better able to focus and feel a whole lot more confident.

When we tutor kids in content areas, we do a number of things during the session, such as reviewing by filling in holes and learning a skill to mastery at a deep level, not just superficially. But we also take the last few minutes of each session to preview what they’re going to see next in class. Previewing has been shown by research to not only improve confidence, but test grades as well.

 

Careless Errors: How To Fix Them Without Fighting

shutterstock_252865087“How do I help my child fix careless errors they made in their work?” is a question we probably get every day.

Do you let the mistake slide and have the teacher correct it? Do you fix it for your child so their homework is marked 100%? Or, do you show your child why the mistake was made in the first place?

When you remind your child not to make these mistakes and they continue making them, you run the risk of spending all night arguing with your child.

Here are 3 common situations regarding careless errors and how you can help students correct them without causing an argument.

 

  1. My son came home with a math test where he didn’t do as well as he had before and I saw that he made lots of very careless, silly errors. How can I let him know to double check his work once he’s finished, without sounding like I’m being negative or giving him a hard time?

Getting kids to check their work is really hard work! “Checking their work” can feel very overwhelming. And frankly, that’s why kids don’t do it, especially with homework. If your child’s homework is done and you say, “Now, go back and check your work,” what you’ll typically hear is “Yep, I already did that,” when you know that it’s nearly impossible that they went through every answer in such a short period of time. In testing situations, when teachers remind their students to review their work, this overture is rarely successful. Kids simply don’t have the mental fortitude to review every last answer on the test.

So, what can you do?pic-1

Encourage your child to highlight or circle the problems that are hard for them as they complete their homework. Have them go back and check or redo only the problems that are circled or highlighted. This reduces the amount of checking they need to do and makes the task more approachable.

 

  1. What can you do about the child who rushes through homework and puts little attention to detail in their work?

Ah, the rusher! This trait is really common, especially for younger kids. They don’t really see the value of homework. They will often slap down a few answers and call it a day because getting outside and playing with friends or jumping onto the X-box is far more exciting than homework.

If that is what’s happening in your house and it’s a chronic problem, consider Designated Homework Time.

Designated Homework Time is based on the principle that homework should take about 10 minutes per grade level. If you have a third grader and he’s doing homework in about seven minutes flat on a regular basis, tell him, “You know what? Your homework should be taking about 30 minutes so I’m going to set the timer for 30 minutes. I want you to sit here and do work for 30 minutes. If you really don’t have any homework (which is hardly ever the case, by the way) or you’re finished, you can read for pleasure or get ahead on an assignment.” By encouraging your child to use that whole half hour, you’re less likely to fight battles over rushing through assignments. Kids are more likely to stay a little bit more focused and spend an adequate amount of time on each problem instead of merely doing the work hastily.

 

  1. My daughter is constantly making careless errors in math. When she has a problem with long division, I say, “Check every long division problem by multiplying and do it after every single problem.” Would it be less overwhelming to remind her problem by problem or does that add too much time?

Certainly, there are some tasks in math that can be checked very easily. For example, a long division problem can be checked by multiplication. That’s a really easy way to find an incorrect answer. The idea of checking the problem right after as opposed to the end is a good one because waiting until the end to check work feels very, very overwhelming for kids. But most kids are not that diligent and when left on their own they will not take the time to review every last answer.

shutterstock_142812715If your daughter comes home with an assignment or a test with lots of careless errors, you can ask her, “What might you do differently next time?” Always look to the future. Don’t ask questions that require her to think about the past such as “What did you do wrong?” or “Why didn’t you check your work?” To kids, asking them to reflect on the past often feels punitive. I also like the question, “Knowing what you know now, what changes would you make on the next test?”

For homework, you can make checking work a game. Say to your child, “I wonder if you can check five problems on this worksheet. For each one, give yourself a tally mark and see if you can get to five.” Giving kids a goal for how many problems that they can check on their own makes something arduous a little easier.

 

Organization Rescue Kit

Back to school means scrambling to get things organized and ready for the first day of school. Before you stress about which school supplies to buy, watch our Tutor Coach, Jan Rowe, explain which binders are the best for organization and how to organize them.

Spending 3 minutes watching these videos now might just save you and your children headaches later and give you the boost towards perfect organization this year!

Organizing a binder

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGye_KKLGyQ

The best binders to choose from

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=68e4Z6Jc8RQ&index=10&list=PLHCQ9H856EWpIrOV8yAt2NvCJNYVilSfy

 

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Top Tips for Getting Your Child to Finish Summer Work

On Wednesday, I had the pleasure of being interviewed for a segment on WTOP radio about finishing summer work! Completing those school-issued summer assignments should be a big priority, and here’s why.

Listen to the clip or read below for all the tips.

 

With only a few weeks left in the summer, how much of a priority should summer work be?

Schools assign tasks such as reading books and math packets to get kids ready for the coming year.  And when they return to school, much of the instruction is based on those assignments.  So, if your child hasn’t done them, he’s starting off the year behind his peers.  Furthermore, high school report card grades are lower in the first quarter of the year than the other quarters.  To start off on the right foot with grades and confidence, be sure your child gets their work done before school starts.

What should you do when your child hasn’t even thought about all the work that’s due in just a few weeks?

The first step is to set up a time to talk in a non-judgmental way, even if you’re frustrated that your child hasn’t even cracked open a book.  Sit down with your child to help him break down the work into chunks.  For example, if a book needs to be read, determine about how much he’ll need to read daily and how he will do it.  Will he read with you or alone? Remember, especially for elementary school kids, it’s fine for you to read a page, and then have your child read a page.

And consider that if your child is really behind, morning and evening reading during the next few weeks will help your child get back on track.

What if you really just can’t get your child to focus?

One thing that works well for many families is to have “quiet time” for about 30 minutes each night after dinner – at least until the start of school.  During this time, everything is unplugged – no TV, computers, or cell phones.  It’s a time that everyone in the family, no matter how busy, drops everything and reads or works quietly.  Because it’s a family routine, there’s a lot less nagging when it’s an expected part of the day.

What if your child doesn’t work with you?

To be honest, some kids aren’t too keen on their parents’ overtures to help.  That’s where study groups come in.  If your child has an assignment, such as an essay or math packet that was assigned to a number of students, encourage her to invite friends over to work on it together. And if that’s not possible, Skype or FaceTime are great options.  This “togetherness” approach not only provides accountability but helps to make learning fun.

How about rewards to motivate your child to get that summer work done? Or should you withhold privileges?

Consider tying short term privileges to meeting deadlines. When the assignment is complete, privileges are granted. For example, when your child is done with a task, they can watch TV for 30 minutes or play with their friends. But for some kids, it’s simply getting started that’s the obstacle, and they really struggle with procrastination. For those kids who need instruction with time management, consider an after school program or an Educational Coach to help with strategies for reducing procrastination.

 

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Avoiding Summer Assignments? Here’s Help!

Schools assign book reports, math packets, and science projects over the summer to get kids ready for the coming school year. When your kids return to school, much of the curriculum is based on those summer assignments.
b9a7698b-714a-4246-a418-59d14c0cff50Did you ever notice your child’s first quarter grades are lower than other quarters? That might be because of avoiding summer assignments. To start off on the right foot with grades and confidence, it’s important that your child completes the work thoroughly, before it becomes too late.

To help your child tackle these summer assignments, set up a time to talk with her. Help her break down the work into manageable chunks. Split the math packet with 100 problems into 20 problems per week—that averages to less than 3 problems per day. If your child has to read a novel, split the book up so they have a couple of weeks to read a certain amount. Put your assignment agreement in writing, so every family member knows what is due when.

If you really can’t get your child to focus, try instilling a “quiet-time” period each night. It can be after work, after dinner, or right before bed. During this time, everyone is unplugged – no TV, computers, iPads, cell phones, or tablets. It’s similar to DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) that your child probably had in school. Because it’s a family routine, and it’s an expected part of the student’s day, there’s a lot less nagging.shutterstock_114896335

It’s okay to let your children have some fun this summer! See if they want to work on the math packet with their friends from class. You and the other parent can take turns overseeing the work to make sure your students are still on track. Being together provides accountability and helps make learning fun!

If none of these options work, consider a tutor with Educational Connections. With more than 200 tutors in a variety of fields, we guarantee you’ll find one to help work on those assignments.

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Study Skills to End the Year Strong

It’s not uncommon for kids to lose steam in the 4th quarter. The problem is that 4th quarter grades count just as much as the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd ones do. So, how can you keep your child focused to ensure he or she finishes the year strong?

Here are a few study skills to help kids stay focused and make that 4th quarter the best it can be.

Use Study Guides…the Right Way

Outside of taking notes on important concepts when reviewing for an upcoming test, good students will use a study guide, either one that they’ve created or one that their teacher has provided. Here’s how to go about both options:

Self-created study guides: study guides

Research shows that creating your own study guide is one of the best ways to improve test grades. Try to predict what your teacher may have on the exam.  Pull out old quizzes, find important parts of your notes, and ask others in your class what they think is important.  Find the main ideas from these topics and turn them into questions.  If you have a textbook, turn the chapter headings into questions and write them down.  For example, “Election of 1860: Democrats Split” should be “Why did the democrats split in the election of 1860?”

Creating a study guide helps students figure out what they already know, allowing them to refocus their time on what they still have to learn.  Knowing what you don’t know cuts down on time spent reviewing what you’ve already committed to memory.

Teacher-provided study guides:

The biggest mistake students make when they’re given a blank study guide is to complete it with their teacher, or independently, and then read it over many times to study.  Again, rereading is passive learning, and it will not stick for long-term retention.

Instead, before you complete the study guide, make two additional copies of it.

Without looking at the completed version or your notes, fill out what you know.  Now, look back at your book or notes to finish the rest.  The third time, complete it from memory or better yet, so you’re not memorizing the order of the questions, cut them into strips and rearrange them.  Now, complete it a third time on your own for maximum retention.

Distribute Your Practice

Procrastination can be one of the greatest hurdles when it comes to studying.  So often, students believe that cramming before a test will have the same result as studying over time.  The truth is that this method only results in knowing the material on a superficial level.  To have a deeper understanding and to recall the information not just the next day, but the next month, take advantage of a concept called “distributed practice.”

“Distributed practice” involves spreading out study sessions over time and breaking up the material in smaller chunks. By setting aside time each day to review a portion of the material, you are able to remember the information for longer intervals of time. For example, instead of studying for an hour on Thursday night for a test, you’ll get a better exam grade by studying 20 minutes on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

Study Before Homework

studying on computerIt’s not uncommon for students to put off studying because it’s not really a task they have to do.  It’s not graded, and there’s usually nothing to turn into the teacher. Homework is different because there’s more immediate accountability (i.e. it’s checked for completion by the teacher or they have to turn it in for a grade).  So, it’s easy to see why studying is put off until after homework is done or not even attempted at all.

An easy fix to this all-too-common situation is to set a timer for 20 minutes, and to study before starting any homework.  Simply reversing the order of tasks ensures that studying is at least started, and often completed prior to digging into the actual homework.

Make Yourself Accountable

Many who struggle with motivation have found that having an “appointment” to study with their peers via Skype or Facetime can provide much-needed accountability.

Just the other day, I walked by my high school son’s room because I heard a voice other than his.  He and a friend from his history class were quizzing each other for an upcoming test.  I heard questions like, “Do you think she’s going to ask about the causes of the revolution on the test?  How did you create your Venn diagram showing cause and effect?  This is how I did mine (holding up paper).”

Whether students study with one another online or in person, having a scheduled time to connect with someone else provides accountability they don’t get from studying alone.

Get Focused with Time Tracking Apps

ForestForest: Forest is an app that helps students stay away from their phones and focus on their work.  Here’s how it works: when you want to concentrate, you can plant a seed in Forest. Over the next half hour, this small seed will grow into a large tree; however, if you can’t resist the temptation to watch a YouTube video or play a game on your phone, your lovely little tree will wither away. Every day you will tend to a forest filled with trees (hopefully not too many withered branches).  Each tree represents 30 minutes that you have been focused on homework and not playing on your phone.  It’s a novel way to help kids beat phone addiction, often a real problem for those with ADHD.

Self control

SelfControl: SelfControl is an IOS app that lets you block your own access to distracting websites, email, and anything else on the Internet.  All you need to do is set a period of time for which to block, add the sites to your blacklist, and click “start.” This app doesn’t mess around.  By blacklisting sites students know will distract them from their school work, they can get those mundane assignments done by working diligently until the time expires.  Even if they restart their computer or delete the application, they are still unable to access the blacklisted sites. According to my 18-year old (he’s the one who told me about this app) and his friends, SelfControl is their go-to app when they need to focus. The bad news is that it’s only available on Mac.  PC users can check out Freedom, a similar application.

 

In the end, there are many highly motivating study strategies that can make a world of difference to your child.  These are just a few I suggest.  Encourage your child to choose one and give it a whirl to see if productivity and grades improve.

Have questions or want to know how I can help? Contact me at [email protected]

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