Tuesday, March 17, 2015

How Homework Takes Hours Every Night

Sometimes parents need to become their own scientist and understand why homework is taking longer than you think it should every night. Why is your child always avoiding homework, why do they constantly seem off task or unfocused? I like how Stowell Learning Center explains a common homework problem with students:

Imagine how you would feel if you struggled with something at work day after day.

Now imagine how your bright child feels to struggle with homework night after frustrating night.

As parents, it is confusing to see our bright child struggle with things we think they should get, isn't it?

So before your student shuts down entirely earning him labels like "lazy" and "unmotivated," let's look at what might be causing these unnecessary struggles.

Homework Tip
Homework Problem:
Takes hours to complete every night

The first step in discovering why your bright student struggles every night with homework is to look for hidden causes.

And the reasons for their struggles can be high in number and quite varied

  • Nightly struggles could simply mean that they don't have time in school to finish their class work and must bring it home to then be done on top of assigned homework.

  • Perhaps your child has perfectionist tendencies which translates to fear of committing anything to paper lest it be less than perfect.

  • Maybe the homework is just too hard and that is what takes them so long.

  • Sometimes, they could truly be assigned too much homework.

  • Finally, their struggles may be symptoms of underlying processing weaknesses.
Homework Solution:
Discover the Why of Repeated Struggles
Whatever the reason, it is important to know what they are so that you can work with your student, their teachers and other perhaps outside resources to stop the hours of homework.
  • If your child is bringing classwork home on top of homework, it could be because they are dawdling or distracted. If you see this seems to be the case, make sure the outside distractions are kept to a minimum during homework time...TV is off, NO texting, etc.

  • For those kids who have perfectionist tendencies which cause them not to get their homework done in a timely manner, give them a time limit to help them along. Unless there are major issues with the finished product at the end of the time, assure them that it is good and done perfectly fine for homework. In addition, reach out to the teacher and share with them your child's perfectionist personality and ask for their support in work being completed well, not perfect.

  • Sometimes, the homework is simply too hard. And trying to do work they can't do can extend a 30 minute assignment into 3 hours! Ask questions of your child to see if they really understand the work including the directions and the expectations of the teacher in the final product. If they don't understand the work, and you are unable to get them to understand it, write the teacher a note explaining what your child doesn't understand. Depending on the age of your child, encourage them to also speak with the teacher about what they didn't understand and to ask for help.

  • Yes, students can be assigned too much homework...especially in this era of testing! To aid you and your child in addressing this with their teacher, a rough guideline to follow is 10 minutes per grade, give or take 5-10 minutes on any given night. If your child consistently gets more than this don't hesitate to contact their teacher to see how you can work with them to help your child learning, without overwhelming them.

  • If none of the above seems to be what's causing your student to struggle night after night, the next thing to look at would be a weakness at  the processing skill level. Here are a few things to consider in determining whether skill weaknesses are present.
    1. Does your child learn something in school and they seem to get it, but then it's gone the next day?
    2. Does your child struggle to retain information?
    3. Does your child stop and sound out a word every time they see it, even though they've already seen it five times on the page?
    4. Does your child really, really resist a task? Even though they many not say "I don't get it," it's important not to brush off their resistance as just not wanting to do it! Many times, resistance has something to do with the way they're learning...or not learning.
Once you have a basic understanding of what is causing your student's struggles, be honest with yourself about whether you think it's something you can handle at home, if it's something that you need help with from the teacher, or even if you need additional outside resources to help stop the struggling routine. 
Does this sound like homework time in your home?

"Jenny,  please get started on your math homework."

"Ok, Mom."

Ten minutes later:

"Jenny, I asked you to start your homework."

"I am, Mom, in a minute."

30 minutes later:

"Jenny, are you done with your homework yet?"

"Not yet, Mom, I'm still working on starting it."

"You said you were starting it 30 minutes ago."

"Yes, but I've been texting with Tommy...it's called multi-tasking, you know."

All students are distracted from getting their homework done for various reasons.  And for bright students who struggle in school, we KNOW how much harder homework can be.  We KNOW it often takes longer and requires more energy.  Of COURSE they are going to find ways to distract themselves.

No matter what the reason your child gets distracted, there are ways to help keep them on task and focused.

This week's homework tip will work for any age student.  It won't solve learning problems, but it will help keep any student "on track" during homework time.  (Oh, and if used properly it can help you stay on task too!)
Homework Tip

Homework Problem:
Staying On Task

Many students are able to start their homework by themselves, but then have trouble staying on task. It may be because they are tired, hungry or simply just brain dead from their school day.

We understand that they need to do their homework, though, and having some ways to keep them focused can help the work get finished easier and quicker.

Homework Solution:
Use a Task Jar

This is a great activity to do with your child so they understand how it will help them stay on task. Grab a medium-sized jar, box, bin, etc., and fill it with the 6 items listed below. (You can even decorate it, if you'd like.) In this task jar are 6 small items that will help your child stay on task during homework.

Item 1: Medium size baggie
This is used to collect those "things" that help pull kids off task...cell phone, iPod, etc.

Item 2: Task List
This is simply a reminder to have the student review all the work he needs to get accomplished and to list them in one place, if helpful, before he begins. By seeing what work needs to get done, a student can sometimes feel better about starting. And encourage crossing off completed items so they are able to start feeling their accomplishments.

Item 3: Timer
Many students feel overwhelmed by the amount of time they think their homework will take them to complete. By setting the timer for just 5 minutes at a time they will begin to see how little time much of their work actually takes. When staying focused for 5 minutes becomes easy, add another 5, up to 30 minutes.

Item 4: Small bean bag
Once your student is able to stay on task for 15 minutes, set the timer for 60 seconds and take turns tossing the bean bag back and forth to help rejuvenate the brain and the body to be able to tackle the next 15 minutes. (With older students, just tell them to "go long!")

Item 5: Small water bottle
Staying hydrated is crucial to help the brain and body stay focused and on task. Taking small drinks of water at least every 30 minutes can make the difference between homework taking an hour, or hourS to complete.

Item 6: Task Tokens
These can be small tokens that are used to visually represent the student finishing their work for the day.  A poker chip, a quarter, a wooden nickel, etc., are all fun things for the kids to collect for a bigger treat at the end of each week.  Be sure to work with your child to develop a list of items the tokens can be used towards.  (For older students, it might cost you a little bit more!)

While students need reminders of staying on task, there is no reason those reminders shouldn't be fun and helpful. This task jar will become a positive way to remind them to stay on task while also reinforcing those times when they are able to focus for longer periods of time.

And it's so rewarding for students to know that they stayed on task, all by themselves.

What Students Say, What They Mean, What You Can Do

I made this graph around 9 years ago when I was finding that the majority of students and parents were saying the same thing every parent conference, every phone call, every year. Middle school can be a big challenge and change for parents and students. I read the list of "what students say" to a classroom of students and they almost said "what they mean" word for word, so I know I am on to something. My principal liked it so much they used some of the comments in their yearly presentation to new students & parents, but I thought the information might help other families too, so I posted the list here. Hope it gives you a good laugh or some great insight to some common school issues.

“Teachers open the door…you enter by yourself.” Chinese Proverb

What Students Say

I don’t have HW

The teacher doesn’t like me

The teacher didn’t tell me

I didn’t know

I didn’t understand “it”

The teacher wouldn’t help me

I forgot or I forgot “it”

I never failed a test before.  I was an A student.

I couldn’t find it.

I don’t have a pencil/pen/paper

I turned it in

My parent had a hard time helping me

I didn’t do it or it wasn’t my fault

I wasn’t talking
What They Mean

Of course I have HW.  I don’t want to do it.

I don’t like the teacher.  I get in trouble with my teacher for not following their procedures. 

I wasn’t paying attention. I didn’t bother asking the teacher.

I wasn’t listening.  I didn’t bother asking the teacher.

I wasn’t paying attention.
I wasn’t trying.  I didn’t bother asking the teacher

I wasn’t paying attention.
I didn’t bother asking the teacher.  I asked for help at the wrong time.

I wasn’t paying attention.
I didn’t bother asking the teacher.  I didn’t want to.  I’m lazy.

The transition to middle school is difficult & I’m struggling.  Or, I am more interested in social networking

I lost it, it’s somewhere in my messy backpack, I never did it.

I didn’t tell my parents what I need for school or that I ran out.  Didn’t want to get it.  I’m lazy.

I lost it, it’s somewhere in my messy backpack, I never did it. I didn’t put my name on it.

Parent didn’t understand the assignment or was too tired to do it with me.  I didn’t ask my parents.

I don’t want to take responsibility for my actions.  I was involved somehow & don’t want the blame

I was talking. I don’t consider it talking.  I was involved somehow & don’t want the blame. My eyes & body were not toward the teacher

What You Can Do

Check your student’s handbook.  Students are required to write their HW in their handbook.

Teachers enjoy the diversity of personalities in the room, but they have to uphold their classroom procedures.  If you need clarification on a consequence, please contact the teacher.

Encourage your student to speak to the teacher

Encourage your student to speak to the teacher

Encourage your student to speak to the teacher

Encourage your student to speak to the teacher

Encourage your student to speak to the teacher. Work with your student on staying organized.

Encourage your student to speak to the teacher.  Attend tutoring when available.  Work with your student on developing studying skills & staying organized.

Work with your student on staying organized.

Work with your student on staying organized.

Work with your student on staying organized.  Check your student’s handbook.  Students are required to write their HW in their handbook.

Be available to guide and encourage your student.  Students need to complete the work on their own now that they are in middle school

Teachers enjoy the diversity of personalities in the room, but they have to uphold their classroom procedures. 

Teachers enjoy the diversity of personalities in the room, but they have to uphold their classroom procedures. 

·         “What Students Say” are responses given by what parents and teachers hear the most in school
·         “What They Mean” are responses given by parents, teachers, and verified by students
·         “What You Can Do” are responses given by teacher and administrators to help parents guide and motivate their children from home as part of the effort for teachers, students, and parents to work together for student’s to be successful in the classroom. 

School Work and Noise Distractions

I always find it interesting at parent conferences when students tell me they can't get their work done because of noises, brothers and sisters, TV, music, etc. These things are mostly controllable so I found these suggestions from Stowell Learning Center very helpful.  

Trying to stay "on task" can sometimes be a major goal.  No matter what time of year, getting the mind settled down to do homework can be challenging.

Is your child one of those easily distracted by noises and talking?  Does it feel like any little noise can pull her attention away from her homework?

Is it difficult to "switch gears" and get the mind focused on homework?

Below you'll find a quick suggestion to help focus students on the task at hand.

Reducing Noise Distractions

Here's a simple way to reduce noise distractions and increase concentration at the same time:
Try using a pair of noise cancelling headphones and some soothing background music (classical is often a good choice) to block other sounds.

Step 1 - Get your student in their regular homework place, remove any distractions (cell phones, chat windows, TV, etc.), and just "settle" for a moment.

Step 2 - Now, add a pair of noise cancelling headphones (over-the-ear are the most effective) and switch them on. They will immediately eliminate a great deal of background noise.

Step 3 - Next, play music through them that will help keep the mind focused. Our clinic students have whole libraries of Samonas selections that help do this.

If you're just getting started, try getting a copy of Pachelbel's Canon in D, Beethoven's Sixth Symphony Movement #2, Beethoven's Seventh Symphony Movement #2, Bach's Air on the G String and Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring, or Dvorak Ninth Symphony Movement #2.

Make a playlist with several of these.

STAY WITH "classical" music," NOT "pop" music or even Christmas music. AVOID classical pieces like the 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky, Also Sprach Zarathustra by Strauss, Ride of the Valkyries, by Wagner, etc. as well as choral music. We're looking for smooth, flowing, non-distracting music.

Remember this, the kids don't have to love it. They may complain at first, but, in a short time, most students actually like it. With headphones and classical music students will get better focus and become MUCH more efficient with homework.

Give it a try and let us know how it works.


When is Homework "Finished?"

As a teacher, homework completion is a big topic. Students say they are done or parents believe their child is done. But when is homework "finished?" I like the suggestions Stowell Learning Center comes up with to guide families on homework completion.

Do you ever get into an argument over whether or not homework has been completed?

This seems like an easy question to answer..."Is your homework done?"
In reality, there are lots of ways this question can be misunderstood, mis-answered, or otherwise misinterpreted.
It's even worse when a teacher calls a parent and lets them know that homework hasn't been done for several days (or maybe even several weeks).  It's especially frustrating when parents have made sure to ask if homework is done.
There are only two ways this can happen:
  1. The homework wasn't actually completed
  2. The homework was completed but never found it's way to the teacher
This week we'll deal with the first one of these.  And it brings up an important question:
When is homework done?
Below is a strategy that will help you better define "finished" so that both you and your child have the same understanding.
What Does "Finished" Mean?
It happens everyday.  Your child gets an assignment, does that assignment only to find that what the student thought was "finished," wasn't.
Students may start assignments and then "drift into the ozone" because they do not have a clear picture of what "finished" looks like.   They are busy working, but they aren't too clear as to what they are supposed to accomplish.
You can help your child to understand "what finished looks like" by examining each assignment, then explaining, "You will know you are finished when..." and list the criteria.
For example:  You will know you are finished when...
  • You have completed all 10 math problems and checked them
  • Your name, date, and class period are at the top of your page
When your child is not working, point to the list of criteria you jotted down and simply ask, "I wonder if you completed this assignment based on these criteria." 
I heard about a teacher who used this technique to help students know what a clean desk should look like. 
She took a photograph  of a clean desk and posted it with a caption that said, "You will know your desk is clean if it looks like this." 
Help your child understand what "finished" really means for each assignment, jot it down on a paper or 3x5 card, and then make sure they meet all the criteria for "finished." 

In the long run it will save you lots of frustration. 
I would also add that students should be writing down their homework daily and using the list as a checklist for work completion. Too many students tell me "I forgot" when I check that their agenda is filled in everyday. These students need to go home and open their agenda up to use as a checklist for completion.  

Font for Dyslexic Readers now Available

The Dyslexie font uses slight changes between similar letters to help keep dyslexic readers from confusing them.For Dyslexics, A Font And A Dictionary That Are Meant To Help
November 11, 201412:16 PM ET

The Dyslexie font uses slight changes between similar letters to help keep dyslexic readers from confusing them. Dyslexie hide caption
itoggle caption Dyslexie
The Dyslexie font uses slight changes between similar letters to help keep dyslexic readers from confusing them.
The Dyslexie font uses slight changes between similar letters to help keep dyslexic readers from confusing them.
A designer who has dyslexia has created a font to help dyslexic readers navigate text, designing letters in a way that avoids confusion and adds clarity. And in England, two researchers are compiling a dictionary that favors meaning over alphabetical order.
Roughly 10 percent of the world's population is dyslexic. And as NPR's Nancy Shute reported in 2012, "People with dyslexia are often bright and verbal, but have trouble with the written word."
The people behind two new projects hope they can help change that.
Dutch designer Christian Boer's Dyslexie font has been around for a while, but it's been getting new attention thanks to being featured in the Istanbul Design Biennial.
The font defaults to a dark blue color, which Boer's website says "is more pleasant to read for dyslexics."
"When they're reading, people with dyslexia often unconsciously switch, rotate and mirror letters in their minds," Boer tells British design magazine Dezeen. "Traditional typefaces make this worse, because they base some letter designs on others, inadvertently creating 'twin letters' for people with dyslexia."
To avoid confusion, Boer designed letters that have a heavier bottom half, making it less likely that a reader might flip them. He also made some openings larger, and slightly tilted some letters that closely resemble others — such as a "b" and a "d."
In that sense, Boer's font uses a similar approach to another font developed with dyslexics in mind. OpenDyslexic (click here to get font to download) is a free, open-sourced font that's also designed to help prevent confusion, as NPR reported last year.
Graphic designer Christian Boer's Dyslexie font is being featured at the Istanbul Design Biennial.
Graphic designer Christian Boer's Dyslexie font is being featured at the Istanbul Design Biennial. Dyslexie hide caption
itoggle caption Dyslexie
Graphic designer Christian Boer's Dyslexie font is being featured at the Istanbul Design Biennial.
Graphic designer Christian Boer's Dyslexie font is being featured at the Istanbul Design Biennial.
Dyslexie also incorporates more space between letters and words, to help prevent a dyslexic reader from seeing a confused jumble of text.
Boer's font works with both Apple and Microsoft-based systems; it can also be added to a Web browser as an extension. The font is free for home users and available for a fee to schools and businesses.
It's not clear what font education researchers Neville and Daryl Brown will use for their new dictionary, which will cater to dyslexic readers' needs. The father-and-son team say the project builds on decades of research — and the understanding that the standard dictionary isn't very helpful for dyslexics.
Instead of using a strict alphabetical order, words in their dictionary will be organized according to their meanings, as the pair explained in a recent article in British newspaper the Litchfield Mercury.
"We teach literacy using an entirely different method to phonics, instead using the 'morphological approach,' which was developed by my father over 30 years ago," Daryl Brown says.
So far, they've organized nearly 50,000 words, sorting them by some 3,700 morphemes.
"For another example, the traditional dictionary places the words 'signature,' 'resign' and 'assignation' many pages apart," the Mercury reports. "But they are connected by the common morpheme 'sign,' pronounced differently across the three words."
The two researchers recently told BBC London that they've been working on the dictionary since 1982, when their research school, Maple Hayes Hall, was founded. They hope to finish the book by the end of 2015.

Writers Block & Getting Started On Writing Assignments

I think we have all had writer's block. But some students constantly get stumped on  how to break down a writing assignment and organizing their thoughts. This idea from Stowell Learning Center can provide some great ideas. 

How often does a short writing assignment turn into hours or days of sitting in front of a blank piece of paper?
Please know that you, and your child, are not alone! Professional writers sometimes have this very same thing happen to them.
Below you'll find a three-step process for getting ANY writing assignment started. Making this a part of every writing assignment will make ALL writing easier.
Can't Think of Anything to Write About

"I can't think of anything to write about!" whines Casey as he sits staring off into space hoping for inspiration to hit. And the 20-minute writing assignment just became an hour.

Even though teachers usually give some kind of a prompt or topic for students to write about, the minutes tick away for many students as they are "blank" about what to write.

Here are a couple of very simple strategies that will help:

1. It is easier to answer a question than to just write from scratch, so turn the topic into a question. For example:
2. Visualize the answer to the question you asked. List three to five things that you pictured. These become your details. For example:
3. Use words from the question to write your topic sentence. For example:
Many students find they have lots to say once they get started with writing. It's that initial getting started that's so challenging. Using these three steps will give students a structure to "jump start" the process.