Ways parents can help their children with homework
As a tutor, I see students from a wide range of backgrounds and a diverse set of schools. The most consistently hard-working students I have are those whose parents are teachers. These students are fast and efficient in class, and they always do their homework to a high standard.
I know that the parents aren’t doing the homework for their children – the quality is consistent with the child’s classwork. And it doesn’t matter what subject or level the parents teach, just that they are teachers. The key thing that these educator-parents can do is confidently give their children the right sort and amount of help with their homework. Read on for tips on how you can do this too.
Students can struggle for a variety of reasons, and it’s hard to pinpoint this from watching them do homework. It can be tempting to simply give the answers they’re looking for, but this isn’t helpful in the long run. Instead, see which of these methods eases your child’s struggles:
Consolidation first – the purpose of homework is to consolidate things that have been learned in class. However, struggling students can work very slowly on each question and look at them in isolation, which means they don’t see the big picture. Start by going through your child’s schoolwork and asking them to explain what they’ve learned. It can also be helpful for them to copy out the schoolwork in a new form, e.g. turn a paragraph into a bullet-pointed table, or they can simply read aloud the information they’ve learned in class. Once the child has reminded themselves of the concept, they’re ready to consolidate this learning with faster and more accurate homework.
Confidence boosting – struggling students can fall further behind because they’re not confident in their answers. Don’t let them spend hours struggling over answers you’re sure they know. Instead, ask them to say their answers aloud to you. Once you’ve confirmed that the answer is correct, they can write it down. Reduce this support slowly by having them write an answer down and then pass it to you to check. Next, they can answer a whole page before you check. Finally, they can check their work themselves and hand it straight to the teacher.
Practice makes perfect – if your child consistently needs high levels of help with their homework, make a copy of their blank worksheet before starting. Do the homework together once, then ask your child to do it again without your assistance. This level of repetition isn’t useful for every subject, and it can be very time consuming, but it’s worthwhile for things like grammar rules, times tables and historical facts.
I’ve had countless students over the years who were bright, hardworking and motivated, but who somehow never managed to have the things they needed for class. These students are frustrating to deal with as they seem to have all the tools they need to do well, but they don’t put them into action. However, everyone’s brain works a little differently, and we all develop at different rates. Children are (usually) not trying to frustrate you, so if they seem to be consistently incapable of writing down their homework, having the right books ready, or meeting deadlines, it’s time to try a new approach to homework.
Model organisation – young learners often lack forward-planning skills. Model this by talking through the thinking process you use to stay organised, e.g. ‘I know I’ve got a big project due on Friday, and I need to read a book before I can start it. When should I go to the library to get the book? I’m not busy on Tuesday, so I’ll go then and read the book that evening.’
Different tactics – it takes a high level of critical thinking to look at a problem from multiple angles. Young learners don’t naturally possess this skill, and so they often get stuck using one method for something even if it doesn’t work. Kids can often seem careless because of this, for example, if they lose focus halfway through copying from the board, they’ll miss half their homework assignments. See if they can try a new technique such as photographing the board after class or having a friend double check they’ve written down all the homework.
Underline/star errors – Hong Kong schools are very strict about accuracy, and careless students can make so many minor mistakes that their marks don’t reflect their knowledge or intellect. Help your child become better at removing these minor errors by underlining them. Once your child is able to spot their mistakes more easily, you can put a star next to each line with an error in and see if your child can correct the work themselves.
Nobody loves homework, but it needs to be done. Unmotivated learners can make the task worse for themselves by drawing it out with complaints and delay tactics. Help your child become more self-disciplined and complete homework quickly with one or all of these techniques:
Competition time – there are many ways to add a fun, competitive twist to homework. You can photocopy your child’s worksheet and race to see who finishes first; your child can estimate the time they’ll take to complete their homework and face a silly penalty (e.g. hopping on one leg for twenty seconds) if they don’t meet it; or you can set up homework at different stations around your apartment and run an obstacle course between each one. When homework’s a little more fun, it flies by quickly.
Homework contracts – these are useful for older learners who want to become more responsible. Children should choose their own terms and agree to talk to you if they don’t meet these. Useful elements for a homework contract can be things such as whether phones/games are allowed before homework, and when homework should be done on weekends. Remind your child that finding the best way of working will be a process, and they may want to change the contract terms to suit their style of working.
Pre-planning – before your child starts any work, they can create a plan for the time and order it will be done in. You can help them to make the plan, but the final decisions should come from them. This is a great way to increase responsibility and motivation.
Willow Hewitt is the Head of English for i-Learner Education Centre. She has been teaching in Hong Kong for several years and has a highly experienced international team of teachers who love to share their knowledge and resources with parents whenever they can.